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BMW Mini Cooper

BMW Mini Cooper Published: 31st Jan 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

BMW Mini Cooper
BMW Mini Cooper
BMW Mini Cooper
BMW Mini Cooper
BMW Mini Cooper
BMW Mini Cooper
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Do you drive this great classic or are thinking of buying one? Here’s how to ensure that you get the best out of your car for years to come

Chic and now cheerfully cheap, MINI’s once pricey first generation Cooper and Cooper S made between 2001 and 2006 are a hoot to drive and easy to maintain. Of course, the supercharged S is the one to have, but the 115bhp Cooper still feels lively and of course there’s lots you can do to make both models corner and stop a lot more effectively than when they left the Oxford production line!

1. Body & chassis

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It’s easy to make a Cooper look like an S with spoilers, aero kits and 17in Minilite-style 17in alloys, the latter of which generally change hands on the used market for around £50 a piece. The S bonnet with the extra vent looks cool but isn’t cheap and the sought after JCW aero kit is always in demand and therefore fetches a premium. Used rear bumpers can fetch £150 while a pair of sideskirts might be £350.

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Bear in mind some are hitting 15 years-old now, so you can expect a few knocks and bangs. Though corrosion shouldn’t be a problem, unless a car’s been badly repaired, there have been widespread reports of rust occurring on the inner door sill under the rubber where it seems some cars were left untreated so inspect this area carefully. Also, be wary of rust forming below bits of trim where water has been allowed to collect and also around the hatch.

2. Bottom end

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There’s a timing chain so there’s no need to worry about cambelt changes but the chains on cars with over 100,000 miles will now be wearing. High milers will also be using a fair bit of oil, so a rebuild might be on the cards anyway. In which case, why not go the whole hog and fit forged pistons and a big valve cylinder head which could liberate an extra 25bhp but only viable if you do the work yourself, though.

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MINIs from this era used Brazilianbuilt 1598cc; strong but needs regular oil changes using a fully synthetic LL01 spec to prevent its hydraulic lifters clogging – it takes 4.5-litres. Cooling is critical, especially on S, so keep an eye on level, ensure there’s no leaks from the header tank and the fan cuts in when it should. Also, be sure to replace the belt that drives the supercharger before it shreds.

3. Engine output

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On the S fitting a smaller supercharger pulley can boost pressure by 11-12psi, adding a useful 17-20bhp. Any benefits of going smaller than a 15 per cent reduction will be lost through excess heat and water cavitation. An uprated intercooler, air box and exhaust manifold will help, as will remapping the ECU which can add another 15-18bhp to the factory 163bhp. On the Cooper, you’re talking marginal gains such as fitting a reprofiled cam and a bigger bore exhaust.

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The Cooper S got a forged crank, forged conrods and different pistons so it can easily cope with the extra power. A weak point, however, is cooling to cylinder No 1 at the opposite end of the block to the water pump, which can lead to head gasket failure and cracked cylinder heads. Blowers themselves can also fail and become noisy; there were two types – the original grey coated one, and a Teflon version fitted to post July 2004 cars.

4. Transmission

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Superb six-speed Getrag ’box on the S is hamstrung by its heavy dual mass flywheel; to improve throttle response, invest in a Quaife diff and uprated clutch – the Clutch Masters six-paddle FX400 works well. The early Coopers were fitted with the troublesome Midland transmission, so there’s the option of fitting a post-2004 five-speed Getrag unit, or, better still, the S’s six-speed. Be warned however, conversion involves fair bit of work and expense!

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Six-speed S ’box is bombproof, but Midland five-speed fitted to Coopers up until ’06 was a timebomb waiting to go off! The first sign of problems will be loss of synchro, but can lose drive altogether if the crown wheel comes loose. Used parts available, but few breakers will guarantee another Midland and swapping the driveshafts, mounts, gear selector and cables if converting to a Getrag unit takes time so it’s not financially feasible unless you’re good at DIY.

5. Brakes

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Performance brake bundles are plentiful, with easiest solution a simple brake pad upgrade. At the front, the cheapest and most effective tweak is to fit the R53 John Cooper Works setup which had larger discs (294mm instead of the stock 276mm), standard on the R56 Cooper S from ’06. With a few mods the next step is to fit the R56 JCW stoppers, which are better still. Braided hoses are a logical addition to firm up pedal feel.

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BMW advise replacing the ABS sensors when renewing discs. On early cars there was a recall concerning their wiring which chafed on the inner wings, creating an earth – and creating a risk of fire. Most should have been sorted under warranty. There was also a recall on the handbrake lever, so again, check. Be sure to replace the brake fluid every two years and by now, the flexible hoses could be showing signs of perishing.

6. Trim and details

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There’s no limit to what you can do inside a BMW MINI which, given the fact that they looked pretty stylish anyway, means there’s huge scope for personalisation. High on the sought after list are John Cooper Works Recaro pews and these usually start at around £800 a pair. Complete leather interiors are also highly sought after and if you get lucky, you’ll be able to pick up a good second-hand interior from around £250-£500.

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Speedos and tachos sometimes give problems, and these are usually from £70 and £35 respectively second-hand. Malfunctioning window regulators (sometimes sorted with a sharp thump to the door panel) wiper motors and electric boot catches can also fail and it’s important not to underestimate the cost of replacing such items. A MINI that’s been through a few owners could be looking scruffy now, but luckily all the trim’s available second-hand.

7. Electrics & things

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Better door speakers will improve a Cooper’s sound system, but before you start ripping off the door trim be wary of damaging the membrane because it can result in leaks which can flood the body control module. An often asked for upgrade is to fit a later Xenon headlamp unit to pre-2004 models, and these usually cost roughly £200 secondhand. There’s all manner of different indicator and rear lights lenses available, from crystal to clear and everything in between.

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Electrics can prove fragile on early cars with random warning lights often indicating problems with the airbag wiring under the front seats, chafed wires on the offside of the engine bay where they pass near the engine mount or power steering issues where the pump wiring shorts out on the pump bracket. Other electrical niggles include dodgy alternators, duff window regulators, wiper motors that don’t work and electric boot catches which can all fail with age.

8. Steering & suspension

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Polyurethane bushes are the way to go if you want to firm up the front end and you’ll be looking to replace the front wishbone, anti-roll bar, trailing arm and engine mount bushes first. Mild lowering spring kits work well, otherwise there’s coilover kits available. The KW ST setup is good and includes camber plates. Bear in mind some MINIs may still be shod in runflat rubber, so replacing the original tyres with grippier alternatives will help. Just remember to carry a canister of sealant around…

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Worn wishbone bushes can spoil the MINI’s otherwise excellent ride and handling; if the steering feels vague, this could be the reason. The front subframe has to be dropped to replace them, so it’s not a fiveminute job. If the steering feels notchy, suspect a worn rack, and if the electronic pump itself fails, the steering will suddenly become very heavy. Used pumps are roughly £60. Any harshness through the body could be down to leaky oil filled engine mounts fitted to later cars.

And another thing…

Long time MINI specialist and MINI drag racer Paul Webster at 1320 MINI (http://www.1320. co.uk) says the early Cooper and Cooper S are sure fire future classics and that values can only go one way from here on. “People love the original cars and they’re still great fun to own. Prices are rock bottom at the moment and you can still get a really nice early Cooper S for under £5,000 – but I can’t see that situation lasting for long. Prices are definitely creeping up”.



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