An old maxim states ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ This statement sums up the MINI aftermarket succinctly. Once the first-generation cars were unleashed on an unsuspecting automotive industry, an enthusiast following appeared shortly thereafter. Once owners were given a chance to use their cars for longer periods of time, small niggling issues popped up here and there. One such issue was the driving force behind the development of InvisiLens: glare on the MINI’s gauges.
Richard Woo bought his MINI in 2005 and quickly noticed that the gauge lenses would often reflect light in unforeseen ways. Richard says that he “hadn’t experienced this in any other carâ€¦.most other cars have a functional design to help prevent ambient light from interfering with gauge readability. Their gauges are inset into the dash and shielded by a visor, and the lens in front of the instrument panel is tilted downward.”
So, with an engineer’s eye for solving problems, Richard went to work on coming up with a better material for the MINI’s tach and speedo lenses. “After a long search, I found a possible candidate in a premium plastic that is anti-reflective on both sides. Optically, it outperforms glass. The material is expensive but the small size of the lenses makes it affordable, and I purchased samples for experimentation. I wasn’t sure whether I could find a way to actually mount it in the gauges. I fabricated some lenses with power hand tools in my garage.”
This solution eliminated both glare and the haze that the stock MINI lenses have out of the box. He made one set for himself and put the idea away for a while. In 2009, his brain turned to the issue of mass-production. Because of the way that much of production is sent overseas, it can be hard for a boutique product like Invisilens to get off the ground without a sizable investment. Richard discovered that laser cutting the lens material was the best solution for cutting out the lens material.
Enter TechShop, an extremely unique business. They call themselves a “membership-based workshop” and offer classes and tools of the caliber only industrial-grade businesses usually have access to. Leaving his garage behind, Richard was able to leverage the laser cutter at his local TechShop to streamline a right-sized production run. A neat detail Richard added to the design is an engraving which is not visible once the lens is installed.
So, what is the final product like? Excellent. Installation takes about 45 minutes and requires fairly standard hand tools. The tach pod has to be removed from the car in order to be disassembled and the trim ring and lens of the speedo must be taken off to install that piece. Although I should be clear I benefitted from the assistance of Matt “Dr. Obnxs” Richter, founder of FES Auto.
Disassembling the gauges and removing the stock lenses revealed just how scratched my lenses were. The light surface swirling and scratches made the clear plastic cloudy. Also, it became clear why a stick-on film wouldn’t be sufficient to cut the glare– both lenses are slightly concave. Adhesive vinyl would be a nightmare to apply.
The real magic comes into play when the lenses are on your car. In high-contrast driving situations such as in a forest, glare is eliminated entirely. True to its name, the InvisiLens disappears in the nighttime and the driver is left with the crisp typeface of the lit gauges behind the moving needles.
InvisiLens is offered by FES Auto, the same company that sells the Ian Cull Auto-Up Circuit and their own patent-pending configurable shift light. The price starts at $60 for the first-gen cars (R50/53) and $140 for R56 cars (The tach lens will fit the newer facelifted 2011 models but the speedo lens, I’m told, is incompatible for the time being). It’s a mod that you’ll take advantage of every day and come to miss if you drive another MINI without InvisiLens.