Everything in MODeration: 5 Wallet-Friendly R50/53 Mods

Driver's Side Cabrio Brace

With this article we are introducing our latest MotoringFile contributor Brendan Nystedt. Brendan has been a MINI enthusiast for quite a few years and currently owns a 2006 MINI Cooper (R50). Look for more from Brendan – especially on the topics of modifications and the R50/R53.

One of the greatest things about owning a MINI is the variety of ways to make the car yours.  Numerous vendors offer all sorts of add-ons from full chrome interior kits to skid plates to rear wiper delete kits. These five mods are my favourite mods which didn’t cost me very much and have added even more enjoyment to my 2006 MINI Cooper.

1. Front Cabrio Braces.

Originally developed for the R52 (first-gen Convertible), these braces fit between the lower front frame and the strut towers.  The engineers at MINI deemed these a necessary addition to the Convertibles due to the lack of a roof.   Now, they can be added to your MINI so you can take advantage of the additional structural enhancement.  They are cheaper than buying a full-blown front strut brace and have a stealthy, stock-like appearance.  Because the cabrio braces are a stock part, they may be ordered through your BMW parts counter or through various discount BMW parts houses on the internet (mention MotoringFile for a discount at sponsoring dealers).  Additionally, for those willing to pay a bit more, Way Motor Works offers them powdercoated in red or blue.  Out the door for a stock set I paid around $48 including shipping.  That gets you 2 braces and 8 torx-headed bolts with which to attach the braces.  Count on about 45 minutes to install.  It can be very tricky getting the bottom bolts lined up properly.

Caveat Emptor: Because these were developed for the cabrio, the mounting holes were added in the chassis to coincide with the Euro release of the drop-top MINI in 2004.  Cars built from approximately 2002 to early 2004 likely do not have the threaded holes with which to mount the braces.  Be sure to check for the tell-tale black plugs where the bolts thread into.  If you’re hellbent on installing the braces, early MINI owners have drilled holes and used bolts, nutserts and one even welded them his to his car.  Check around on North American Motoring and do your homework before attempting such an installation.

Where to purchase: Your local BMW Parts counter, Sponsoring dealers (Morristown, MINI of Manhattan, Otto’s MINI), Way Motor Works.

2. FES Auto-Up Circuit.

Picture courtesy of FES Auto

Sold by MINI patron saint Matt Richter, FES offers this time-tested design based off the original Ian Cull Auto-Up circuit.  What this device does is add auto-up windows to your MINI.  This means no more holding the toggles up while trying to shift.  Instead, a quick double click up on the toggles sends the windows closing of their own volition.  But, as they used to say, that’s not all.  The Auto-Up Circuit also includes a programmable feature called Track-Mode DSC.  This feature automatically disables DSC when the car is started.  FES advises that this only be used on a race track but I know of at least one speed demon who drives his MINI without DSC most of the time in order to avoid the dreaded electronic nanny.  On the latest version, there’s even more features than the version that I have.  The Auto-Up Circuit costs $50 and is available on FES Auto’s website.  The instructions are included and require a few torx drivers and some muscle to remove the knee bolster panel underneath the steering wheel.  Which leads me to my next mod.

Where to buy: FES Auto

3. Euro Parcel Shelf.

Courtesy of Moss Mini

Back when men were real men, women were real women and MINI drivers all waved at each other, BMW used to allow orders of this excellent part.  It’s a replacement for the flat, textured piece of plastic that goes underneath the steering wheel.  It gives the driver a great place to stick parking tickets and half-eaten crullers.  Because of the fact that the part isn’t Department of Transportation approved for US consumption, BMW no longer sells it on this side of the pond.  But fortunately, one company still stocks the piece and sells it– Moss Mini.  They charge $130 for the shelf and a rubberized mat which goes on top of the shelf.  A good one-two combo of mods would be to install the FES Auto-Up Circuit at the same time as installing the parcel shelf.  It could save the intrepid modder from having to remove the stock knee bolster twice.

Where to purchase: Moss Mini

4. CG Lock.

Taking corners quickly is just about a MINI’s favourite activity.  But, the problem is that the driver often will slide around in his or her seat, losing touch with what’s going on while trying to defeat the forces of physics.  This device lets the driver cinch down the lap belt, effectively pinning down the hips to the seat bottom.  The manufacturer mentions that their product offers most of the effective restraint of a full racing harness.  This is a great mod for those thinking about getting a race harness in their MINI.  Race harnesses just aren’t safe in street cars because the driver is pinned down in the event of a roll-over accident.  Race harnesses are meant to be paired with a roll cage, keeping the roof of a car from collapsing if it goes ass over teakettle.  But, in a street car the harness locks the driver’s torso into the seat so it cannot move to the side if the pillars collapse, crushing the driver.  CG Lock allows performance-minded drivers on road and racetrack an alternative to a harness while enabling clear communication between your backside and the road.  The CG Lock is available at many Pep Boys locations nationwide as well as direct from their website.  Mine set me back around $60.  Expect to pay between $40 and $60.

Where to purchase: Pep Boys, Helix Minisports

5. Aftermarket Air Filter

Courtesy of Outmotoring.com

Even if you’re not concerned about the performance of your MINI this is a great mod.  I bought a K&N filter as my first modification to my car.  BMW designed the MINI to use disposable, paper element filters which are not only wasteful but also lacking in the efficiency department.  By buying a cotton or foam filter you’re making an investment for the lifetime of the car.  In fact, the K&N filters have a million mile warranty and are washable.  K&N quotes horsepower gain but I feel the best reason to buy this filter is because you can use it again and again.  Make sure you order the right part for your particular model year and transmission.  Expect to pay around $50.  Also, in order to clean the filter you’ll need to spend another $15 on the cleaning kit which is good for many filter cleanings.  Be sure to take a minute to feel warm and fuzzy that they’re still (for the most part) made in the USA.

Where to purchase: Local chain auto parts stores, Outmotoring.com

I’ve found in my ownership of a MINI that some mods come with luck.  My best advise to the modder on a budget is to troll your local craigslist relentlessly.  If you’re not lucky enough to live in a place with many MINI owners, join a forum (the best for the US being North American Motoring) and start checking the marketplace section.  Many of the parts on my car were purchased from other MINI owners as take offs from their cars (suspension, sway bar, toggle switches, stainless exhaust).  You never know what kind of great deals and eccentric parts and pieces you may come across.  Make friends, mod your car, learn new and interesting things.  That’s what motoring is all about.

  • Colton

    THANKS! Just picked up my first MINI (R53) yesterday and was looking to see what I can do on a budget.

  • nervous

    I’ve got the CG Locks – love them!

    I also have the euro parcel shelf, but haven’t installed it, yet – have been considering the FES Auto-Up Circuit. This seals it – looks like I’m going to combo the installation. Thanks!

  • One of the best things I’ve ever purchased… Ian Culls Auto Up.

  • …CG Lock. Great for autocrossing …Parcel Shelf. Great for trips (handy place for all kinds of things. Just be sure to secure them before getting into the twisties. …I had a K&N on the 03 MC, but not on the 06. Sadly the filter is a different size on the two cars. Back in 06 when the car was new I could not find a K&N filter to fit the 06 MC. Maybe it is time to look again. I did not feel much a difference in power, but as mentioned liked the idea of reusing a filter. …The auto up is next. John

  • indimini

    Adding the aux port to the stereo as part of the parcel shelf/auto up circuit install also worth considering if you’re doing those mods.

    I have all 3 in my R52 and wouldn’t want to give any of them up.

  • Great article, Brendan! Makes me miss my 06 R53 just a bit..!

    Any volunteers for a follow-up article for the R55 (well and R56 falls under that too)? 🙂

  • for the money another low cost mod that I’ve really liked on the 03 MC and now on the 06 MC is the “Light In Sight” ($16.00) lens which sticks on the windshield. No more bending over, or sticking my head out the window to see an overhead stop light.

  • Micah

    Best bang/buck on an R50/53 IMO: stiffer rear sway bar. I run an H-Sport 25.5mm tubular bar — just over $200, easily adjustable, straighforward install in your garage as long as you are reasonably competent with tools, and it signifiacntly improves the handling of your MINI.

  • that.guy
    Best bang/buck on an R50/53 IMO: stiffer rear sway bar.

    +1 (as they say on the innertubez)

  • goat

    Great article and playfully written! 🙂

    Good choice of “key mods”… the AUXIN is vital too as others mention.

    Glad to see the comments about using harnesses in a street car without the accompanying roll bar… not enough modders (at least outside of the MINI world) understand this.

    Finally, rear roll bar is great especially for the autocrossing set but another approach (particularly suited to those doing high speed backroad running and trackwork): camber plates first, then fine-tune with more rear bar as/if needed.

  • Bwana Yak

    I second the “Light in Sight” lens, and I would include the Multivex wide-angle mirrors for both sides of the car to eliminate blind spots.


  • This is Matt “Dr Obnxs” Richter, and thanks for the plug! But I’d be a total slime if I didn’t mention and thank Ian Cull for the original developement and letting FES carry on with the product. The latest version has a couple nice added features: we added a piezo buzzer to give audio feedback when you change modes, and you can control up to two accessories with the device as well.

    BTW, we just did a run of 250 units, so they are in stock!


  • Re: Multivex mirrors…

    Personally I’m a big fan of the OEM aspherical mirrors instead:


    They are a European part, but I picked some up from NewMINIStuff.

  • Great article! Many things that i was not even aware of and all at very reasonable prices.Got any more of these goodies up your sleeve ?

  • Jack Grouell

    Another item to consider when adding the EPS – wire in and fit a 12V outlet – Handy for charging cell phones and lots of other gadgets. How to info on NAM.

  • Versus

    I’m a big fan of broadway rearview mirrors. Being able to see out of your side back windows by looking in your rearview is not only sweet, but really makes you feel much safer maneuvering on the highway as it helps to reduce/eliminate blind spots.

    Lyle Vinyl Styles carries them and you can even get them engraved. http://www.lylesvinylstyles.net/ check under accessories.

    BTW, if you’ve never checked out Vinyl Styles, it’s a must if you’re interested in cosmetic mods.

  • bee1000

    Don’t forget a shorty antenna! Choose your favorite: Alta, Cravenspeed, Honda S2000, whatever.

  • Gary (the other one)

    Woot! If you count my CAI instead of the drop in filter, I’m 5 for 5 on this list! :thumbsup:

  • nervous

    What is the best aftermarket filter (and why) for a ’06 JCW CAI?

  • zm

    hmm–so, would the cabrio braces do anything for a MINI w/ a strut tower brace?

  • BilboBaggins

    +1 for the Ian Cull two touch up device. That was the second mod I made to my current R53 MCS. The first was a “Light In Sight” fresnel lense stuck to the top of the windscreen right in front of the driver, allowing you to see traffic lights when you are first car in line without having to contort you neck. http://www.lightinsight.com/

    Will never own another MINI without one. I had it installed before I left the dealers lot with my second R53. Just peeled it off of my old MCS and stuck it on my new one. The two touch up went in as soon as I got home.

  • Jerry

    I love the idea of the “auto up”, and always thought this was a necessary add-on. What has kept me from purchasing it is that I DON’T like the idea of having to double click to engage it. It seems like too much effort to me, why not one click? Its a deal breaker for me.

  • Art

    Well I do have the parcel shelf which is a great place to store things, the light in sight is something everyone should have plus a sway bar sure helps in the twisties. But rather than a drop in filter I got the DDM filter along with a Megan exhaust. Definetly makes for a more enjoyable ride.

  • Bimjo

    Jerry- I just installed one and there is a one-touch option for windows up function. Works great & I can’t imagine being without it now.

  • that.guy
    hmm–so, would the cabrio braces do anything for a MINI w/ a strut tower brace?

    Unless you are fine tuning your suspension for track work and carefully logging data you will not notice any difference, with or without a strut brace. And even then…

  • Nicely done! Some great suggestions for newbs who are picking up a second hand MINI and discovering the wonderful world of MINI…

    Congrats on the new gig as well!

  • ted brown

    The CG-Lock should be in all cars. Wake up car manufacturers and insurance companies… these save lives and make the driver at one with the car… the whole joy of motoring… to get out of recession we need innovation… well this one is a gift horse. Essential for any serious motorist and anyone who wants a safer drive.

  • Brendan

    Thanks for the warm reception, all. We’re working on some new content for the site. I finally have the time this week to write some responses:

    John DeCrema: K&N does indeed make a filter for 06 MCs because I own it. It’s the funny shape that the airbox has for 05-06 due to clearance for the manual tranny’s shift linkage (remember they changed to Getrag for those years).

    I don’t personally own a Light-in-Sight so I didn’t put it on the list to all of those who love the mod. More power to you. Thanks for adding to the list for people who are interested.

    Jerry- The V.7 Auto-Up circuits do have true one click auto up, I think. Check out the FES auto site for more details via the link below the item.

    And for anyone advocating rear sway bars I considered putting that on the list but the cost often can exceed the budget I was aiming for– around $150 per mod maximum. Like I mentioned at the end of the article, you can often find them being taken off cars on NAM when folks trade in their cars because of approaching babies and other reasons.


  • jon

    The Cabrio braces you refer to is the bright aluminum piece in the picture, right? My ’05 MCS NON-convertible has them from the factory (?) I never knew they were NOT supposed to be there!—?

  • jon

    Except for the functionally irrelevent K&N drop-in filter, I agree with all five mods listed, as well as most of the other mods mentioned. I would say, however, that if you need better handling than a stock Cooper S already offers for daily street driving, you might want to consider simply surrendering your drivers license instead of spending $$ on something like a rear sway bar.