MC2 Project Clubman



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Clubman Is In The House

We take delivery of our Project Clubman, get some JCW upgrades and knock off some miles.

After months of waiting, the MC2 staff finally took delivery of their 2008 Clubman S, the magazine’s project vehicle in March 2008. We had to wait a little longer than we would have wished, but since our project car was first being used as one of the vehicles for the U.S. launch held in Monterey in February, we had to bide our time.

As equipped our Clubman S has a base price of $23,450 plus the following options: Lightning Blue Metallic paint ($500); Blue Leather/Carbon black cloth seats ($1,000); Premium package consisting of dual pane sunroof, auto a/c, MINI Hi/Fi Sound system ($1,500); Sport package with 17-inch wheels, sport suspension, Xenon headlights ($1,500); limited slip differential ($500), Chrome line interior ($250); Chrome line exterior ($250); while turn signals ($100) and a destination charge of $650. Total MSRP is $29,700, not including the JCW gear or nav system, which we’ll detail later.

Putting the key into the ignition, we started the engine and headed out the San Bernardino Freeway to the 15 (during a LA rush hour, no less) and off to Las Vegas for this year’s AMVIV, where to Clubman went on display at the MC2 Booth. During the event we took a run out to Red Rock Canyon and cruised The Strip at night. When the show was over, we folded down the back seats and loaded the Clubman to gunnels with our luggage, canopy and about 20 heavy boxes of magazines. With the car loaded and a full tank of premium in the tank, we headed the 1500 miles home.

So five days and a total of 1800 miles later, our Lightening Blue Metallic/Silver project car is safely ensconced at MC2’s World HQ and ready for mods. In fact, the car already has some mods. The nice folks at MINI USA installed some JCW performance gear on the vehicle before we took delivery, including a strut brace, 18-inch JCW wheels shod with low profile Bridgestone run flats, plus a carbon fibre hood scoop and mirror caps. As an extra special gesture, Desert MINI of Las Vegas stopped by our booth at AMVIV and installed the MINI navigation system. (They told us they didn’t want us to get lost on the way home!)

First Mods

Gas mileage is on everyone’s mind these days; we can say that we‘ve been behaving ourselves behind the wheel, and benefiting from it with an average 34 mpg. From talking with some of you, and our own experiences, the turbo engine is likely capable of an average of 34-35 mpg at best, with a freeway best of 38-40 if kept near 60 mph. This pales in comparison to the diesel-equipped Clubman’s hyper-efficiency in Europe with their 65-70 MPG ability. (The Clubman diesel should be available 2012 in North America, if the testing and EPA acceptance of certain technology is allowed into the US).

So far, the only disappointment is the Bridgestone 205/40-18s run-flat tires. We applaud MINI’s efforts to use this technology across the MINI lineup (except for the base 15-inch rubber) but admit to having a dim view (along with many, many US MINI owners) of the ride quality fun-flats deliver vs conventional tires.

It’s our opinion that the low profile 35 and 40-series tires is the culprit for the common complaint of noise and ride quality of run-flat tires by MINI owners. To that end, we replaced the 205/40-18s with a set of 205/45-17 Dunlop tires, and consequently, a new set of PIAA wheels. This way we have two sets of wheels, with one set for winter use and the other for summer use. 

One of the disappointments with the Bridgestone run-flats is their low Treadwear Rating of 140. We’re looking for something in the 300 range, which puts us out of the Ultra High-Performance and into the High Performance arena. In the Northwest, this lesser-performance rubber compound could last 40,000 miles, as it’s “harder” than the soft and sticky tires with their low treadwear ratings.

We’ll be mounting the rubber on PIAA wheels. They offer several sizes and styles for MINI that has one thing we consider important: the JWL stamp. While not as prestigious as the German TUV approval, it does mean PIAA wheels have a high degree of manufacturing quality that the inexpensive wheels don’t often have. One day soon all wheels will meet a global standard for strength and being a 100% round wheel, which the TUV standard demands. The 18-inch JCW alloys currently on our Clubman (built by BBS) already meet this standard.

For a Clubman that will likely see a few autocross days, we’re looking for a suspension that is adjustable. Almost ready for primetime, TC Kline’s coil-over shocks could be the hot ticket in this area. For those wanting a less-expensive suspension with versatility the Koni FSD shocks adjust themselves and are reasonably priced from Mini Mania and others.

We’re very pleased with MINI’s JCW coil-over and anti-sway bar systems, but we’re interested in trying others, such as Tarrett Engineering’s adjustable anti-sway bar. With the extreme price of the Bi-Xenon headlights systems, you can bet we’ll be covering them both with a thick plastic film for protection against breakage from flying rocks!

Turning to our under-bonnet needs, the one distinct fact we’ve noticed is the heat on the bonnet’s exterior around the scoop is too high. We’ve looked at the turbo blanket available from Way Motorworks and the heatshield with Aerogel from M7 Tuning: the two solutions have big differences in price and how they attach.

As we saw from testing Unichip’s MINI in this issue (page 52-53), the large Alta intercooler really works, eventually decreasing the heat emanating from the hood scoop, so we will be talking with Alta and a newcomer to the US market, Forge Motorsports in Florida. Forge is a large player in the UK/European turbo market. They offer some solutions in the intercooler and turbo-controlling hardware we will need to address as we develop extra power from the installation of the Unichip system.

The one system we’re really getting into is the exhaust. We’ve heard several manufacturers brag about 10-15 horsepower from their header and exhaust combinations. Several tuners say the way to go is 4 into 2 collectors, with Jan at Revolution Miniworks leading the charge with his dyno-tested 4 into 1, 16-gauge headers. With a choice of known names like Borla, Magnaflow and the recent emergence of Powertone, we’re hoping to dig into not just power but audible tone, their fitment, quality of welding, and price point these next several months.

Finally, style’s important, so we’re talking with Bavarian Autosport about a Hamann styling kit, as the JCW aerokit will not be available on Clubman until year’s end. Also, we’ll paint the wheel arches like as was done on the two MINI features vehicles shown in this issue. Minspeed makes a nice kit to replace the Clubman’s rear verticals and bumper cover, too. Wonder what that’ll do for the muscular three-quarter appearance that MINI styling spoke about?

Changing Tires And Wheels

First on our list of changes are comfort and appearance changes: the Bridgestone run-flat tires and the 10-spoke black JCW wheels are on the garage shelf. Originally fitted with the 17-inch 5-star Pace wheels, MINI fitted our Clubman with the JCW 18-inch wheels for our project. We like them very much, but the Bridgestone tires with their low 140 treadwear rating are not to our liking because they deliver a harsh ride and the noise levels produced by their tread pattern on our Northwest asphalt roads is just too high. So we are mounting a set of 205/45x17 Dunlop SP Sport 01 tires onto a set of 17x7 PIAA Euro Tech Vintage alloys with an offset of 45mm (vs the 48mm factory offset).

To get back to the Dunlops: with a high 280 treadwear rating, we can expect a much longer lifecycle, but may be trading out some cornering power in exchange, but we anticipate an improved ride quality. The cold reality of tires is that few of us can drive anywhere near the g-load the tire and car are capable of, so super-sticky and low profile 18-inch rubber is more a statement of image than it is the driving prowess of the MINI’s driver, or even the MINI itself. Yes, the Dunlop rubber is still a run-flat technology tire, but we’re very interested in evaluating Dunlop’s run-flat technology and are planning an in-depth story about it in an upcoming issue.

The trade-off in the tires sizes appears to be almost identical in revolutions per mile for the two sizes, with the obvious decrease of about 6-7 tenths of an inch in tread width for the Dunlops. And because of the reduced offset of the new wheels, we have reduced the potential for rubbing of the suspension. The choice of offset, wheel width, tire width and tire diameter, is a package of dimensions of which you have to pay great attention, so we use the Tire Rack website for our comparatives.

Securing the new PIAA wheels is a set of four, McGard wheel locks. This is a necessary caution, even though Project Clubman is garaged and has a good alarm system, there are times when it is parked in public.

Under The Hood

One matter many turbo owners are asking us about is how to cool down the engine and the area around the hood scoop. With a reported problem from a few owners (in the Southwest US) about the factory scoop buckling after extended high-heat driving, we must admit that even in our cooler geographic of Seattle, we have noticed that both sides of the scoop are way too hot for us to put our hands palm down and not get a little singed. Way Motorworks makes a simple solution of a turbo blanket to go around the turbo “snail” itself, and M7 Tuning now has their exclusive Aerogel and heatshield available, but we want more than just heat shielding, we want a cooler air charge inside the engine.

We recently found that Waylen Hunsucket (of Way Motorworks), now the owner of Minspeed is carrying the lineup of Forge Motorsport, a leading British manufacturer of turbo performance parts. He sent us their intercooler core, which possibly has the best welding quality we’ve seen on this type of part. It is virtually a work of art and a real pity that we have to hang it in the front apron to catch bugs!

Our first step will be baseline measurements using the new GTechPro Performance Meter, as well as get a heat probe so we can measure the hood heat. Then we can install the Unichip ECU module and the other parts we have so far. We’ve been really good on the gas so far with a great 33.9mpg from a combined driving cycle and several tanks of Chevron gas.

Electronic Goodies

Some of our best finds these past few months have been in electronics. We have installed a portable GoPro camera and a GTech Performance Meter so we can both enjoy and evaluate our Clubman.

The 4.5-ounce GoPro camera retails for under $200 and its versatile mounting components get two thumbs up from both editor Peter and myself. Constructed of polycarbonate plastic, the F2.8 lens encased in this impact-resistant case has a 170-degree view of the scene, high/low sound adjustments, is waterproof to 100 feet and has six mounting abilities. With a 2 megabyte card it can take 56 minutes of video, as well as 5 megapixel still shots, shooting a frame every two or five seconds, depending upon setting.

Whether it is used as an exterior or interior mount in your MINI to record you on track performance, or just to capture some runs over country twisties, the GoPro camera is clearly one of the best values we’ve found. Yes, there are better quality units on the market, but they weigh 3-4 lbs and cost hundreds more, and don’t have the mounting system, or the waterproof case. You’re going to see MC2 using our GoPro system quite a lot for editorial needs as we can take it directly on to a laptop while at an event for live coverage a few hours later on GoMotoring.com or in MC2 magazine.

Like the GoPro camera, the GTechPro RR performance meter is almost palm sized and has abundant features for it’s under $200 price. Using a large window-mounting suction cup and missile guidance technology, with three precision accelerometers, the GTech meter measures speed and distance to give 0-60 time and various distance/times, as well as torque and horsepower. It’s powered via the lighter socket, so it is completely portable. Its 2 megabytes of FLASH memory also records over an hour of runs, and with the included Serial cable will put it all into your laptop.

Admittedly, to use the GTech properly requires a reading of the 148-page owner’s manual but you’ll be able to access features that allow you to use at a track day with four MINIs, operate in one of three modes, record 0-40, 40-70 mph times, and the all-important 0-100-0mph. That’s great bragging rights for both power and brakes.

The next step with our Clubman is to start installing the power parts from Peter Foglia at Minspeed (www.minspeed.net). The Forge Motorsport cold air intake will give us better response and a throatier sound, while the intercooler (some call it a charge-air cooler) will reduce the incoming air temperature for cooler combustion. Something any tuner will recommend for those of you in the hotter climates, especially with solo racing competitors. Forge made an excellent job of this piece, too!

Adding A Little Style

The innovator in MINI graphics, Aesthetic Creations took a serious look the last year at vacuum-forming some parts like the door handles and other complex exterior surfaces with plastic overlays, some of which are available in carbon-fiber finishing. They shipped us the gas cap and front door handles for a starting point, and we are very pleased with the fit and finish.

The parts came to us with the 3M VHB adhesive (also used on the MC2 GoPro camera we use for our videos) already in place. All we did was wipe clean the door handles and gas cap, remove the protective paper backing from the VHB tape and slip them into place. Made of a polystyrene-derived plastic, the matte black gas cap fits great and takes just a minute to install.

Due to MINI factory tolerances, we fitted the door handles with the optional, black vinyl tape where there might be a faint (less than a 1/16 inch) reveal of the chrome handle once the new carbon fiber covers were fitted. The handles are constructed on a plastic base with 2x12 twill carbon fiber (same as MINI uses), a gelcoat and gloss finish. They fit over the OEM handles perfectly, with no chrome showing. We used the VHB tape to secure them, but we’re told it’s not necessary on every install. It’s not coming off, unless we take a crowbar to it!

One note here: Our Clubman had a complete failure of the key fob’s ability to communicate with the system to lock/unlock. MINI said it required re-initializing but MINI Northwest ordered a new one for us under warranty. In contacting a few dealers we’ve become aware this is an ultra-rare failure, but installing these handle covers makes using the actual key very tough for large fingers. They do make these handles for comfort access, too.

One of the most unique and expensive features of the Premium Package on our project car, is the Dual-Pane sunroof. Quite frankly, given that the demographic of the Clubman has a large skew towards 40-plus, 2-person families, the rear sunroof is a waste of money. In addition, the system weighs about 190lbs, so we hope MINI does away with this soon.

ZippeeShade sunroof shades are a great find. They come packaged in their own storage case and uncoil instantly for installation, revealing a UV-resistant silver and a black side. Zippee says an iron can be used on low setting to get rid of the wrinkles before installation using the suction cups on the top side that fits to the underneath of the sunroof (once the factory mesh screen is slide back allowing installation). It couldn’t be any easier to install and really blocks the sun. It is just what MINIs in the Southwest really need!

The metal badge is from American Mini Mates and is done in the cloisonné style of enamel badges. It’s 3 3/8- x 5/8-inches and attaches with a two-sided adhesive tape. You could buy two more for under the fender gills, too.

The final, and very simple, cosmetic change is the Black shifter knob. Manufactured in Italy, they’re available in polished chrome or satin black anodized finish, with a choice of several national flags and the traditional Cooper red/white stripe as the flags sit on each side. The two, interchangeable flags are secured by two Allen, or hex, screws that are hidden by a mounting collar. The collar also hides three additional Allen screws that secure the knob to the shift stalk. The shift pattern is engraved onto top and these custom knobs will fit all models and years of MINI.

These are so well made and so unique, that we’ve decided to offer this shift knob through our coming renovation of the MC2 website, and the re-launch of our GoMotoring.com. Look for Black knobs, the GoPro camera, Vincie Bags, Wheelwax, Motoring Mugs™ and our new swag in our store.

Project Clubman Contributors:

Craven Speed License Plate Bracket: www.waymotorworks.com
Dunlop Tires: www.dunloptires.com
Exterior/Interior Trim: www.aestheticcreations.com
Forge Intercooler Core: www.minspeed.net
G Tech Pro Performance Meter: www.gtechpro.com
GoPro video camera: www.goprocamera.com
JCW performance parts: www.miniusa.com
M7 Aerogel Heat Shield: www.m7tuning.com
McGuard Wheel Locks: www.mcgard.com
PIAA Euro Tech Vintage Alloy Wheels: www.piaa.com
Tire & Wheel Advice: www.tirerack.com
Turbo Blanket: www.waymotorworks.com
Unichip Performance Module: www.unichip.com
WheelWax: www.mc2magazine.com
Zippee Shade: www.zippeegear.com