Darth Blog Entries

The following are written as web-logs.

24th Jun, 2008


I bought the car about 3 years ago when my NA MG Metro engined mini was just not quick enough anymore, with the intention of just driving and enjoying it. But it all changed when the head gasket went on the way to buy my girlfriends Pink Smart car (I think it was trying to tell me something. PS - She drives a mini now). I trawled the net for some help as I was contemplating 'giving it a go' as my dad had done one before (I later found out that he didn't even use a torque wrench!! - Yes my dad is a keen bodger!). That's when I stumbled upon I posted a message in the help section describing what had happened, and within a few minutes I had a response!! All of the guys were really helpful and encouraged me to give it a go myself. There was even offers to come over and give me a hand if it all got too much. Bear in mind, at this point I had never done anything with cars except the most basic maintenance, so this really was a big thing for me. So I got stuck in and pulled it apart - gulp.

Owff with his head! I could see (even with my primitive knowledge) that the head gasket was not right. There was a spit from the fire ring into one of the waterways. I posted up an image and got feedback, confirming that this was my problem and that it was either down to detonation or just a tired gasket, and to stop it happening again, I should fit an intercooler, lower the boost (standard 7psi at that point) or drop the compression ratio, all of which I had no idea about how to do! So I went to a local engineering company to have the head checked over and to have the face resurfaced. Once returned I put it all back together, carefully following the Haynes and Manual and heeding the advice from the forum. It was really straightforward and I was chuffed to have done it all myself. When the car started on the first turn I was over the moon and everything seemed to be in order. Until I drove the car. It was making an occasional metallic 'dink' noise when under load. Again turbominis were there to help. The diagnostic opinion was that the car was suffering from detonation, but it was strange as it was intermittent. I decided to take it for a diagnostic run at T&M in Colchester. Ray was on hand, and felt that it must be a worn valve guide, dropping a little oil into the bore occasionally and leaning out the mixture. He was still confident enough to give it a tune and a power run though and it made 110bhp at 9psi. The drive home was astonishing! Never had the car been so smooth in the power delivery and it was pulling harder then I ever imagined it could. The occasional 'dink' was a little disconcerting though. to the rescue! I sent the head off to BENROSS to have the head checked and the chambers enlarged to drop the CR to 8.4:1 (The price was irresistable!) In the meantime, I checked through a load of old posts to see how people had gone about fitting an intercooler within the limited space. I got a 2WD Cosworth intercooler from eBay. It was a squeeze and the brake servo didn't help. Jon Flanigan (Giallofly) supplied a modified plenum chamber to plumb it in and Avonbar supplied the hoses. It looked okay, but it did look a bit like it was forced into there.

The head arrived back, and to my delight, Steve (BENROSS) had de-coked all of the valves, changed the valve guides (This was the problem) and even done a bit of FREE porting for me! Brilliant! Once it was back together again and started I was distraught! It was running so rough. At first I put it down to tuning, but no matter what I did, it just wasn't right. After checking over a few points that TM had suggested, I decided to pull the head. It was blown!!!? After a couple of hours running? Again, I consulted TM about the problem and a few suggestions were made. One of the was that he head was not correctly torqued down. I hindsight I should have payed more attention to this suggestion as after getting through another 2 gaskets a had my wrench checked. When set to 55nm, it was 'cracking off' at 24nm! No wonder the gasket was blowing! So off to wrench heaven it went and a new one was entrusted to the job.

To no surprise whatsoever, after getting it back together, it started and drove perfectly. I was chuffed again, and of I went to go and have some fun! And that's exactly what I did as the car performed flawlessly for 8 months of all weather conditions. It had a great response at the Ace café and was showing up much 'faster' cars at ever given opportunity. The boost had crept up to 12psi. With the compression now dropped and the detonation cured it was pretty safe. Until I returned from holiday.

I was really excited about getting back into the mini after 2 weeks away. But withing 200m something popped. "Oh dear" I thought. Much to my delight, it was just a boost hose that must have worked it's way loose. Once tightened the max boost had mysteriously risen to just under 15psi. There was no sign of anything untoward so I left it there for a couple of days. Big mistake! As I overtook a van along a straight bit of country lane, one of the wheels struggled for grip and as this grip was regained there was an alarming noise. It was the most unpleasant noise that you could ever hope for from a car, Like grinding metal, and with a complete loss of drive it was quite obvious that there was a drivetrain failure of some sort. This was confirmed when the sump plug was removed and I was greeted with broken up helical dentures.

Months passed as I searched for options to get the car fixed. The easiest option of replacing the box, drops and diff were overlooked in favor of a complete rebuild or new fully built engine & box. Remember - I have no idea what I am doing, I' have no mechanical experience other than Technic Lego and Mechano and that was years ago! Once again came to the rescue as member 'Carl' had decided to try something new with a Starlet 1300 turbo engine and was selling his, nicely spec'ed, A-series. I was already making 167bhp with a standard head and the transmission was full of straight cut gears. Perfect.

The engine was collected and within days the head was sent to BENROSS HQ for the full works. The engine was treated to a new water pump, oil cooler, starter motor, Nippon Denso alternator and braided hoses and was cleaned and painted black.

It took about 6 months (evenings & weekends) in total before the engine was fitted. This was mainly because I decided to overhaul the front & rear suspension and brakes using fully adjustable Minispares bottom arms, heavy duty adjustable tie bars, Gaz dampers, minifins, Mintex pads & shoes, braided hoses and Minispares 4 pot alloy calipers. Also the new intercooler required a lot of planning to get it to fit behind the front grille and wouldn't have been possible without the addition of the Megajolt ignition system.


It should be mot'd by 05/07/08 and the rolling road/suspension setup should be done within a week after that. I'm itching to get back into the mini and start surprising all of those 'fast' cars again.

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