Gen 1 Suspension

At some point most of us on MT would have been on the receiving end of abuse (notably from LordF) for not having coilovers. All the “wheelgap” banter has caused a stir on many an occasion and even caused some to exit shortly after they arrived.

 

For those that have thicker skin and have decided to stick around may also find themselves confused by what it all means. Whacking a set of coils on will obviously eradicate the infamous gap stock minis suffer from, but for those of us who still want to enjoy and enhance one of the best attributes of the Mini, that is its handling, a more holistic approach should be taken.

 

I am by no means a suspension guru and have learnt what is written here as I am going along. Most members I have spoken to just want a car that works well on the road and this is who this guide is primarily aimed at. I have tried to be as balanced as possible in writing this article and hope it can help many more enjoy their Minis in style!

 

Foundation

 

Okay, so step one. You have been abused to the point where you cannot take it anymore and want to end it all by buying coilovers. STOP!! Don’t fail even more by not addressing the fundamentals. Decide how you want your car to handle and think of an overall goal.

 

Do you want it very low, do you want to be able to press on regardless of the weather conditions, or do you want a set up that can be adjusted for road and track. Think before you spend as this will save you cash in the long run. Suspension is a very subjective thing and what is deemed nice to one can feel total pants to another.

 

If you are going for serial weight saving it may be worth deciding how much you are removing first as off the shelf kits are designed for stock weight and you may need custom springs etc.

 

Once you have decided which way you are going its worth starting with the below.

 

OEM check

 

Does your mini suffer from any handling problems currently. Is the steering vague, are there any knocks, does it feel unstable at speed etc.

 

It is worth having a look over your tyres to make sure they are wearing evenly. Get all your ball joints inner and outer checked for play. Lowering is notorious for bringing out all the problems which were borderline and it can feel disappointing after having expensive kit fitted if its not handling as you thought it should.

 

Check the rear control arms as they can bend in impacts, as well as the bushes at the front of the trailing arm. Wear causing toe changes under breaking. Get your front rear wishbone bushes checked as these are usually dead at around 40k and cause all sorts of interesting feedback through the steering wheel.

 

 

Lastly, get an alignment check. Most shops only charge £15-20 for a check. If it is out, it could explain some adverse handling characteristics. If you are lowering there is no point getting it rectified as you will need to align again after all your chosen parts are fitted.

 

 

 

Coilovers

 

So the sand has been washed out, but exactly just how much? If you are going for comfort on the street, the tried and tested coil over the years is the AP non adjustable / KW V1. KW do a stainless steel coilover that needs zero maintenance and could be easier to sell on in the future due to lack of rusting etc. KW are also re-buildable at a cost of £100 per corner so worth bearing in mind.

 

The above are non adjustable so if you are not happy with the car after they are fitted you should read the rest of this guide. If you are still not happy sell and buy something else.

 

There are mid range coilovers available that are not only height adjustable but also damping adjustable. These range from popular Meister R to BC Racing, KW V2 & KW V3. The price tends to be higher but will give you more flexibility. Also note that stiffer coils, although will give a harder ride, will mean you don’t necessarily need to upgrade other items such as anti roll bars etc. It’s always best to look at each product in isolation and see if you feel it will give you what you need.

 

      

 

However always remember that with most things, you get what you pay for. A Meister R may come with camber plates where a KW V2 won’t, but the KW is more suited for road comfort and again is stainless.

 

For track use there are many options only limited by your budget. JRZ, Ohlins, KW Clubsport, it all depends how deep your pockets are. Some of the pricey items will still do well on the road as well as take the abuse on the track. All will be re buildable so your investment is protected.

 

Again be honest with yourself and what you are looking to achieve. If all you do is commute its pointless dropping £2.5k+ here.

 

When lowering look out for driveshaft wobble. Some live happily with it, I couldn’t so raised it. Also check the manufactures spec sheets to see where the optimum lowering range is. Ask other members who is running what and what type of driving they do.

 

Anti Roll Bar Links

 

Okay now you’re lowered, the abuse has stopped but you’re still not happy with the way it handles. Don’t suffer in silence!

 

The front roll bar link on the Cooper is pretty long and does flex under heavy load, more so when the car has been lowered. The same is true for the rear. If the roll bar is not parallel with the trailing arm its not going to be working properly and you wont see maximum benefit from your expensive coils.

 

Dependent on how low you’ve gone you will need adjustable end links. There are many brands, NM Engineering, Whiteline, Alta etc. Some are longer than others so check before you buy. These are used to bring the ARB’s back to their stock position so they can work as normal.

 

As an added bonus they will usually be thicker in order they can transfer the load to the roll bar more effectively. You will also find the car will coast better when the bars are in their normal operating window.

 

Look out for rose jointed and ball jointed ends. Rose joints are more effective than ball joints but require regular maintenance and greasing. Ball joints are like oem in that you have nothing to do. As these ends usually screw out on decent end links, when they wear you can just replace the ends.

 

 

Ball Joint Spacers

 

These are metal shims that are placed between the hub carrier and outer ball joint. These reset the “roll center” back to somewhere around factory setting dependent on how low you went.

 

I have found these to decrease bump steer, reduce dive under braking and reduce roll further at the front when making sharp directional changes. For the price they cost they really are a bargain mod.

 

 

Rear Camber Arms

 

If you have gone pretty low, you will probably notice your rear wheels look like they broken. The angle they sit at is known as camber and too much of it will make the car slow to react to steering inputs and generally feel sluggish. It will also make the car prone to more understeer.

 

Popular RCA’s are SPC, Hardrace, Hotchkiss. They all do the same thing but lighter is better when it comes to suspension components. You can either bring the camber back to factory settings or opt for a more aggressive set up consisting of minimal rear camber. This will increase the likelihood of the car oversteering if you lift off mid bend.

 

 

Anti Roll Bars

 

Anti roll bars are an interesting item. If you are keen to keep straight line comfort for the roads but want less roll, this is where an upgraded bar comes into play. It provides resistance when the car is loaded in a turn but moves freely in tandem with the opposite side when the car is driven in a straight line.

 

Rear bars are usually the first port of call being a relatively easy fit. Upgrades start from 19mm up to 25mm. The stiffer the bar, the more prone to oversteer the car will be. Bear in mind a Peugeot 106 rallye used a 24mm bar and only weighed about 900kg, the 25mm may not be as crazy as you think on a 1200kg car. There are a few forum members with varying degrees of girth, so ask and you shall find.

 

Front bars have cause controversy in the past but I am personally a fan. People say they cause mass understeer and that the challenge cars had thinner ones etc. What people forget is that the track cars also run very high spring rates that have nothing in mind but the fastest lap time. If you are interested in a comfortable ride but don’t want the roll associated with it from the front, a thicker front bar is the way to go. If you are matching this with a stiffer rear, it usually neutralizes the balance.

 

Good companies include, Hotchkiss, Whiteline, Eibach etc

 

 

Front Camber Plates

 

The stock mini has anywhere between 0.30 – 0.50 of negative camber up front. Even increasing this to 1 deg negative will make a positive difference. You are effectively leaning more heavily on the inside of the tyre most of the time, but when you corner hard and the car leans, you will in effect be getting more of the tyre in contact with the road. This increases overall grip levels in spirited driving.

 

With stock camber, the car tends to lean too hard on the outer shoulder causing uneven wear and a “roll over” feeling on the tyre. There are many brands, Vorshlag, SPC, Ireland Engineering. Some are fixed some are adjustable. It’s again worth thinking about what you are going to be doing with the car.

 

 

R56 / GP Alloy Rear Trail Arms

 

This modification involves swapping the heavy pressed steel arrangement out for the updated arms. They are lighter than the stock items, but as the weight is un-sprung, the overall effect of the weight saving is much higher.

 

You will notice the front and rear of the car feels more connected and working in harmony. The car will skip less and glide over bumps. It is a potentially expensive modification for no visible benefit, however one drive of the car after fitting will have you feeling it was worth every penny.

 

   

 

Limited Slip Differential

 

If you are lucky enough to own a Mini that was specified with the optional Limited Slip Diff then you are probably already aware of the benefits it brings.  By being able to transfer the power to the wheel with the most grip you inevitably will benefit from higher corner speed ability.

 

Aftermarket units such as the Quaife ATB (more road biased), or the Cusco or OS Giken will all try to achieve the same end goal, but all have different concepts in their approach.

 

A stiffer front anti roll bar can achieve to a limited extent a limited slip effect as it keeps the inside wheel from getting in a position of lift where it spins, but for those harder core you wont be able to beat having the real deal.

 

Again speak to the tuners on here and ask other members experiences.  

 

 

 

Additional Items & Conclusion

You will find items such as strut bars (upper and lower), uprated engine / gear box mounts will also assist in your quest to corner faster. These stop the heavy engine moving around under hard cornering & braking and generally keep the car more composed.  Think of it as a tight six pack as opposed to a floppy beer belly.

 

The braces keep the chassis from flexing and the front upper makes a noticeable difference, even on a stock car.

 

Don’t forget your hunter alignment. This will tie everything together nicely and give you even tyre wear and centre your steering wheel. Another nice bit of icing on the cake is to have the car corner weighted. This involves equalizing the weight over the 4 contact patches of the car with the driver in. It makes for a more balanced car overall.

 

 

All the opinions are subjective and the guide just a general overview to try and help you enjoy your Mini that bit more. Last thing you want is to be sans abuse on the forum but have to put up with a car that doesn’t handle / drive as you like.

 

It would be good if other members can add objective experience of their parts in a balanced fashion. This way new MT’ers can decide what will work best for their needs.

 

Lastly don’t forget your tyres & alloys. Minis come with heavy oem alloys & runflats that are very hard. It doesn’t help the cornering cause due to their heavy weight. Non run-flat premium sports tyres are lighter and offer more grip. There is plenty to choose from dependent on your budget. If you can afford the best, it is well worth it, as it will mean all the hard earned spent above can be fully enjoyed.

 

R compound road legal tyres offer higher levels of grip but will wear faster.  Ideal if you don't drive your car too often.

 

 

 

Drive safe and happy cornering!!