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MINI CLUBMAN COOPER S (R55) PROJECT

MINI CLUBMAN COOPER S (R55) PROJECT

Posted by James Howe on 7th April 2021

The R55 MINI Clubman is one of the most characterful modern-classic cars around – and in Cooper S form it’s fast too. We find out what it’s like to work on, in association with Teng Tools

The longer, estate version of the MINI first appeared in 2007, six years after the launch of BMW’s front-wheel-drive hatchback. Known as the MINI Clubman (despite the original classic Mini estate never called a Clubman, as this was reserved for the square-fronted models), it was equipped with a small offside door to gain entry to the rear seats – although front seats can also be tilted to access them as well.

This longer version of the MINI is based around the second-generation model (known as the R56 in hatchback form) so it hasn’t inherited the steering, gearbox and suspension troubles associated with the first-gen models.

Instead, our project Clubman Cooper S has a BMW/PSA-developed 1.6-litre (1598cc) twin-cam turbocharged 173bhp petrol engine that also powered the 2006-onwards hatchback Cooper S.

Teng Tools

R55 MINI Clubman Cooper S: Assessment

There are a few issues to be aware of, even with what is a fairly modern car. The car’s engine is known for timing chain issues, usually noisy on start-up, with some chains stretching and eventually snapping into pieces.

Other common problems associated with the Cooper S Clubman include a couple of camshaft-related issues. The high-pressure fuel pump is driven off the inlet camshaft, and this is known to fail and leak internally. The first you know about the problem is when trying to start the engine, which will require several turns to build-up the fuel supply.

A brake vacuum pump is attached to the end of the exhaust camshaft and can fail, sometimes resulting in the camshaft being jammed, which will most probably break the timing chain, leaving the bottom half of the engine rotating.

We’ve noticed a strange noise coming from the engine after switching off, which we initially suspected could be caused by the aforementioned brake vacuum pump. However, on visiting MINI specialist mad4mini in Leeds, the turbo actuator was suggested as the more likely culprit. It’s located below the air filter housing, close to the engine bay bulkhead.

In the garage

One common problem mad4mini is keen to address concerns a de-coke of the engine. The direct-injection system results in a build-up of carbon around the back of the inlet valves. If this carbon build-up is excessive, the valves will remain open, resulting in loss of compression and fuelling problems. The official BMW solution is to clean those valves in situ using special blasting equipment and a handful of broken walnut shells.

On the road, our  R55 MINI Cooper S Clubman feels solid and sure-footed. The steering seems to wander at times, so perhaps the wheel alignment needs checking, along with the tyres, although the low-profile non-runflat tyres fitted to our car are known to wander and tramline a little.

Car Mechanics editor Martyn Knowles found there was some juddering under braking at times, so further investigation is required. Maybe the front discs are warped or there are suspension and tracking issues.

The suspension feels firm, but positive. There are MacPherson struts at the front with lower arms, whose rearmost bushes can wear, just like on the earlier R50 MINIs. At the rear, the suspension is also similar to the R50 MINI, with strut-style coilovers, trailing arms and upper and lower control arms. Plus, there are anti-roll bars all-round.

While the Cooper S Clubman may not be too expensive to run, it’s also very refined and feels very modern. There’s a six-speed manual gearbox, climate control, automatic exterior lights and an assortment of toys including a double sunroof, although this doesn’t appear to be working at present – and the electric side windows are very slow to move up and down.

We spoke to Mintech Spares, who sell secondhand spares for the BMW MINI. They explained the bulky double sunroof can become too much for the electronic mechanism to move, especially if water gets into it. With a new mechanism costing around £1400 fitted, their solution is to disable the rear sunroof, which allows the mechanism to control the front sunroof. Total price is £250+VAT (£300).

Doors opened up

Our Clubman Cooper S has an impressive dashboard and instrument display, but they don’t tell you much – the temperature of the coolant or the oil pressure aren’t displayed. Instead, there’s a menu system to pair your mobile phone, display the outside temperature and calculate fuel consumption. Useful features, but any engine problems are assumedly catered for with warning messages.

From our photographs, this Clubman looks clean and tidy, but the rose-tinted glasses really do need to be taken off. The lacquer has peeled off the exterior paintwork around the driver’s exterior door handle and along the nearside of the bonnet. The colour of the bonnet-mounted plastic air scoop seems to be a different shade to the rest of the metal bonnet. Mad4mini blame the colour difference on the heat from the turbocharger. A cheap solution, perhaps, is to remove it and paint it black, which in our case, will go well with the black bonnet stripes.

Boot flooding

Open the rear barn doors on our project car and whilst there’s no hint of damp from the false floor, after we removed all the contents, we discovered a couple of litres of rainwater inside. And to make matters worse, there are no drain plugs.

Unlike the first-generation MINI hatchbacks, where water escapes inside via the high-level brake light, reg-plate plinth and boot seal, the Clubman doesn’t seem to share these issues. This one has got us scratching our heads as there are no signs of how the water has got inside. All we can do at present is remove the water and monitor the situation.

We also have other water issues at the opposite end of the car. After drying the bonnet prior to taking some photos, we opened and raised it and found lots of dripping water seemingly escaping from between the inner and outer skin of the bonnet. Perhaps water has come through whilst driving the MINI, seeping in via the air scoop and around the front and sides.

Our biggest concerns with our Clubman relate to engine matters. Oil is leaking from the engine, close to the front bumper. We’ve already added nearly one litre of engine oil to keep it topped-up, although the engine didn’t seem to lose any on a recent longer drive.

MINI Clubman Cooper S engine bay

A common cause of oil leaks on this engine is from the oil filter housing. When we visited mad4mini, they couldn’t see if this was the cause of the problem on our car because the exhaust manifold and its heatshield are in the way, but judging by the drips from underneath the front, they are confident this is the cause.

It’s perhaps promising we’ve discovered several problems with our Clubman, and it’s maybe easy to see why because the servicing has been neglected. Typically, the annual MOT test for this MINI has usually passed without problems for most years, which often gives new owners a false sense of security and reassurance that a car has been well-maintained and looked after.

The previous owner of our Clubman bought the car in August 2020 when it hadn’t been serviced for nearly 27,000 miles and almost five years (according to the stamped service book). Thankfully, there’s a service stamp for later in August, although there’s no indication as to what was done.

So we contacted the garage, which is based in Basildon in Essex. The garage owner remembers the car and recalls changing the oil and filters, although the customer didn’t want the pollen filter changing. He also remembers renewing the anti-roll bar D-bushes and recalls the oil leak, which he suspected was coming from the rear main oil seal. He was right in thinking it was from around this area, because we’ve seen oil residue here, but we’ll start with the more common cause – the oil filter housing.

Perhaps the oil leak and the prospect of having to remove the gearbox to fix a leaking rear main oil seal was the reason for selling this MINI Clubman within two months after its last service.

During that same month as the last service, our Cooper S Clubman was submitted for an MOT test and it passed, after which the owner only kept it for a couple of months before deciding to sell – which is where we come in, having bought it at auction for £2600 hammer price. So far, we’ve driven it for almost 500 miles and not found anything too disturbing to make us regret buying it.

Interior

We’ve already devised a modest list of maintenance and repairs. Fortunately, we have nationwide parts supplier Autovaux ready to source just about everything we’ll need and mad4mini can advise and assist with specialist work, such as a de-coke, timing chain renewal, fixing the oil leak and investigating that noise when switching off the engine. They have also noticed the upper strut mounts at the front have perished.

There are some precautionary repairs we may need to consider, such as the plastic thermostat housing, which can fracture and leak. With our MINI being nearly 12-years-old, it’s highly likely the thermostat has already been renewed, but it may be worthwhile changing it anyway, and completing a coolant flush at the same time.

We’re confident our list of jobs will grow, but at the moment, we seem to be at a good starting point for this project. There’s lots to do and a mixture of work that can be completed on a DIY basis and with specialist tools and knowledge:

To-do list

  • Fix boot leak
  • Fix sunroof
  • Identify engine noise after switching-off
  • Fix engine oil leak
  • Lubricate electric windows
  • Repair peeled lacquer
  • Replace timing chain
  • Replace upper strut mounts

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