The MINI Diet

This story comes to us from MotoringFile contributor Brendan.

I met TonyB two years ago through North American Motoring and we’ve kept in touch sporadically since then. I bought my current suspension from him and a few other bits and bobs. A few Sundays ago, I made my way up the windy California backroad towards his house to talk to him about his car. In particular, I wanted to know more about weight saving techniques.

Tony’s house is at the top of a long, steep driveway. He does all his work on the least inclined section of the driveway as he has no garage. Every time I’ve seen his car taken apart it’s been out in the open, on ramps or bits of wood and cinderblock. Two weeks prior, the entire front subframe was on the ground. He was replacing the tie rod ends and the belt and tensioner. The day I interviewed him for this story, the subframe was back in place with the front end in what’s known as ‘service mode’ — the front bumper and bumper carrier off the car.

“I just finished installing the crush tubes here.” He motioned towards two slightly protruding black bits of metal on either side of the radiator.

The tie rod end procedure took him a little longer than planned because one of the parts went missing overnight. “We’ve got a bunch of raccoons around here. They sometimes take shit and you never see it again.”

Tony’s been in the MINI community for a while now. He bought his car new in 2003 and hit the forums hard. In the process, he became a sort of a mod pioneer. He’s the first to have a straight-back exhaust on an R53, and perhaps the first to remove his rear seats. He also partnered up with M7 Tuning to develop the DFIC, a replacement intercooler which channels air directly through the cores to exchange heat much more efficiently. His initials are on the side of each intercooler M7 sells.

As he reattached the tie rods to the car, we started to talk about his philosophy on weight saving. He told me there are three types of weight saving:

  1. Some weight saving modifications are also performance mods. The example he gave me was his exhaust. The stock exhaust on a Cooper S is heavy and by replacing it with a straight exhaust on his car, Tony has lost nearly 30 pounds. And because the straight exhaust is less complex and has better flow, it also makes for a horsepower gain.
  2. Some weight saving modifications have an indirect performance enhancement. Tony sold his rear seats because he didn’t think anyone he knew would want to have to squeeze in the back of his car. So, he took them out and sold them. He then turned around and spent that money on other performance mods.
  3. Some weight saving modifications are for the sake of weight saving. It’s hard to sell things like the hood liner (4 lbs) and so these kinds of changes are in order to improve the overall power to weight ratio by diminishing the weight side of the equation.

There are some issues with changing the car’s weight substantially without proper planning, however. “If you’re serious about stripping out weight then you need to invest in a coilover suspension. That way you can have your car corner balanced in order to maintain front to back balance. It’s much harder to take substantial weight from the front of the car compared to the back so it’s something to keep in mind. I’m working on relocating the power steering pump in the future in order to shift weight around.”

We went through his car looking at exactly what he’s done to cut weight. Rear seat delete, lightweight wheels with non run flat tires, stud conversion, straight exhaust, front and back wiper delete, Braille lightweight battery, hollow rear sway bar. There are too many mods to do justice to here.

“The forte of this car is nimbleness. They don’t have big V8s. Colin Chapman; I think he was the founder of Lotus, had a philosophy. ‘Simplify and add lightness’.”

I asked him about his car’s target weight. “Well, right now it’s around 2,424 pounds. I’ll be getting rid of the AC condenser and a few other things…” He took half a minute to do some quick mental math. “I can probably take another 75 pounds off the car just as is. That’s without replacing the rear trailing arms with the R56 aluminum ones. You hear about Miata guys taking paint thinner to their cars to lose more weight. But I don’t want my car to look like a track car inside or out, you know what I mean?”

I decided I had spent enough time chatting and got ready to hit the road. Tony tells me he thinks he’s got about two more hours before the car’s back together. As I wrapped up a few loose ends, he spied something in-between the passenger side strut tower and the engine.

“I think there’s a chipmunk or a rat living back here,” he said as he extracted a few gnawed-on acorn shells. “These can also add weight.”

Post photo courtesy of Flickr user AMcUK.

  • Trout

    I dropped about 40-45 pounds of unsprung weight by switching to lightweight wheels (16″ OZ alegeritta) and tires (Conti DW). So far I’ve also dropped 60 pounds of sprung weight through light exercise and eating seasonal/local/organic. The unsprung weight has had a bigger impact on the car’s performance, but other weight loss has benefits even when I’m not driving.

  • MINImofo

    I plan on losing 30 pounds of weight by going to the gym.

  • CV

    Watch out for those chipmunks!

  • jbkONE

    I don’t have perf numbers, but I can tell those who don’t know that lighter wheels/tires REALLY make a difference. On my R50, I replaced my stock 7spoke 15s with S-lite 17s and they weighed about 20-lbs heavier EACH. The performance hit was noticeable. LOVE the grip, but I can’t wait for these tires to wear so I can get back to the ligher feel and quicker accel (and better mpg’s) of the 15s.

  • I don’t have perf numbers, but I can tell those who don’t know that lighter wheels/tires REALLY make a difference.

    They also make a huge difference in ‘feel’ and turn-in.

  • tryon lippincott

    I also did the Allegritas but 17s with BFG KDW 2s that combo was like 16lbs a corner compared to going to every ones favorite the Dunlop Star Specs which would have weighted like 18lbs a corner. I also had a OS Giken clutch kit installed which weights like 30 or 40lbs less then stock. There is ways to save weight all over the place its just how much comfort do you want. If it is a full track car take everything out of the interior. If it a DD stick with stuff you know you can live without.

  • Bernie

    Imagine the weight you could drop by removing the roof and all side and rear glass. You would need a custom tonneau cover, and perhaps a permanent rear area metal cover.

  • Bernie

    I have been researching a way to replace the PS pump with an electric pump. I would mount in rearward, on the firewall. It would be lower power, but I want less boost. I have a 2006 Subaru Forester XT (turbo, Cobb Stage 1, 5 sp manual). I cannot just delete the pump because it lubricates the steering gear and rack.

    Better yet, just trade up to an AWD MINI.

  • r.burns
    1. Buy a R56 S which is lighter than R53

    2. Don’t remove any rear parts (like rear seats) unless you love understeering

  • that.guy

    Strange little article. Always very funny when a clearly overweight person gets into tweaking their car to make it lighter and then tries to talk to you seriously about what a difference it makes. Dude…

    My adds to the delete list:

    • Swap front seats for lightweight shells (-50 lbs)
    • Remove AC system components (-20 lbs)
    • Remove stereo and speakers (-15 lbs)
    • Swap Xenons for halogens (-15 lbs)

    Hunnert pounz rot thurr.

  • TonyB

    For the record, and for those who have met me “clearly” know, I’m not overweight. I think I might be up to 140 lbs, lol.

    Wheels are an absolute must, for a few reasons, that I will not go into here. I’m running with Volk CE28N’s, 16’s that weigh 10.75 lbs. With a 19 lb tire, 30 lbs a corner is a major difference from stock…

    The Xenon lights themselves are not heavier, but when one adds-in the included washer system and ballast, yes they are. I remedied that situation and the awful over-spray of those washers, while keeping the Xenon performance. Improved lighting / visibility is factor in safety, and performance…

    Removal of the A/C system, by several sources is actually 23 lbs. Be prepared for potential fogging / condensation issues though.

    As Brandon had noted, have an end objective in-mind, before going down any mod path. Losing my stereo was never an option, for me. It’s my commuter, at least one day a week.

    A stock M3 (E46) has a weight to bhp ratio of 10:1. By almost all accounts, a fast, powerful car. I wanted my MINI to be somewhere in that neighborhood, ideally better, but without making gobs of power or gutting the car out to where it looks gutted-out. I’m there already (just below 9.5), still with some more to consider.


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