Most owners go looking for their cars, but in the case of this modified Mini Cooper S R56, it found its owner, and he was clearly the perfect partner.
It’s hard not to fall for the charms of the Mini Cooper S R56, with that punchy turbo engine, its still-compact size and its incredibly capable chassis. It’s the handling in particular that sold Ronnie Michelini on what would become his modified Mini Cooper S R56 – not that he needed much convincing, mind.
“I have always appreciated the Mini styling. Then my dad got a 2016 Cooper S, and I definitely liked the way that car felt driving down the road,” he smiles. And while he’s owned and modified a selection of cars over the years, including a pair of 2006 V6 Honda Accords, and the BMW E36 3 Series project he’s just started, it seems fated to own a Mini. “This car found me,” says Ronnie. “It came to me as a customer car that needed an engine rebuild, and when I quoted them for the work, they quickly offered to sell me the car.
It was completely bone stock, neglected, missing two wheel arches and just generally in rough condition. My plan had been to fix it and sell it for a profit, which never happened,” he laughs. “I couldn’t let it go once I fixed it and started driving it around. I knew I wanted the car within literally three blocks of my test drive. The handling is what convinced me – it got my attention quickly, especially since I like hitting the mountain roads, so I saw the potential immediately.
Modifying the Mini Cooper S R56
“Once you get the right parts on these things, nothing in its class beats the driving experience – I’m very, very pleased I kept the car,” he adds with a grin. Of course, it’s impossible to own a Mini and not mod it, and with Ronnie’s previous projects and his love of keen driving, it was not long before he was looking for ways to improve his Mini experience, and it all started with the chassis.
As we’ve established, out of the box the R56 is a fantastic driver’s car, one of the best used cars you can buy in 2023 in fact, but some upgrades can make all the difference and really transform the way it performs. “I wanted to stiffen everything up and make it handle the turns as much as my budget would let me,” reasons Ronnie. With that in mind, the uprated Megan Racing Euro coilovers not only improve handling but also deliver a tasty drop.
Joined by a Hotchkis rear anti-roll bar, Godspeed camber arms, plus a JCW front strut brace, Ultra Racing rear torsion bar and under-brace, and finished with Powerflex bushes throughout. Ronnie’s goal was to tighten up his R56’s handling, and that comprehensive selection of chassis upgrades has done that and so much more.
Upgrading the wheels
With the handling sorted and his Mini sitting pretty, Ronnie started shopping for a set of wheels that would better fill out those arches, and his choice is an excellent one. “I had seen the wheels I have on another Mini, and I just thought it was a very fitting wheel for the car. At the time of purchase, I didn’t realize it was a very popular wheel within the Mini community – but I still like them, and they fit the car well. I am going to be switching to some WORK wheels this year, though,” adds Ronnie, and it’s always individuality and the drive to be different that guides our choices. But, of course, the 17” Fifteen52 Turbomacs that are currently on his R56 look fantastic and really suit the whole look of the car, and they’re wrapped in some suitably hardcore rubber.
Ronnie has chosen a set of Hankook Ventus RS4 tires, designed as road-legal track tires, and these offer masses of grip and traction. Finally, completing this comprehensive selection of chassis enhancements are the brakes, because spirited driving requires serious stopping power, and that’s exactly what this setup delivers. Up front sit substantial Wilwood 6-pot calipers with 327mm two-piece rotors, while at the rear you’ll find 298mm two-piece discs, and braided hoses all-round as the finishing touch.
Modified Mini Cooper S R56 engine tuning
With the chassis properly sorted, the R56’s stock power level could now be safely increased without there being any danger of it overwhelming the car’s handling limits, and while Ronnie started out with small plans, the engine mods quickly began to escalate. “I was trying to free up the intake path a bit. I just did some research on Facebook groups and forums to see what was working for people.
The engine upgrade process progressed one part at a time over a three-to-four month period after getting the engine rebuilt,” Ronnie tells us, and the turbo four-pot has been treated to some rather tasty upgrades. The most significant of these is the BorgWarner AirWerks 41mm turbo, and it’s joined by a Forge intercooler and silicone hoses; there’s an NM intake, a Milltek downpipe, a BSH catch can and both a noise tube and intercooler muffler delete. This combination has given this modified Mini Cooper S R56 a very welcome boost in power that has made the driving experience even more exciting. It allows Ronnie to make the most of the chassis, and we love the custom engine cover that really brightens up the bay.
In terms of overall aesthetics, Ronnie has ensured that his Mini has plenty of presence. “I definitely wanted to get JCW bumpers and sideskirts on as soon as I could find them; after three different trips to Mini Cooper dismantling yards I had all three pieces, all in wrong colors,” he laughs, but it was worth the effort for the instant improvement in aesthetics they provide. The Maxton Design front splitter and side blades, along with a GP diffuser, plus Union Jack rear lights and a rear wiper delete make for a cleaner look.
The interior was the last part of the car that Ronnie turned his attention to, and he’s really gone all-out to make this cabin look and feel special. “I was trying to track down JCW Recaro Sportster seats but quickly realized they were way too expensive, so I got the regular Recaro Sportster CS seats instead”. He explains, “I wrapped my dash in Alcantara because I personally have not seen that on a Mini yet, and I made a bunch of carbon fiber dash pieces in my garage and at work. I got rid of the useless rear seat and built a custom TIG-welded cage to take its place, which was a really fun project to see come together. Even though I partially copied what Minis already have available, nothing beats building it yourself.”
If all that wasn’t enough, there’s a custom carbon steering wheel and an AEM CD5 gauge pod that replaces the rev counter, and the finishing touches are the comprehensive audio install, while in the glovebox you’ll find a Nintendo Classic Mini, and we love that.
Ronnie has been working on his R56 for three years on and off and the build is impressive anyway, but even more so when you realize he started with a ratty $800 Cooper S with a blown engine. His efforts are rewarded; he’s put together a seriously nice Mini. This build delivers on every level but also throws in a whole load of individual touches that make it that much more special and personal. Naturally, Ronnie is far from finished, and there’s plenty more to come on this MINI journey, and while it hasn’t always been plain sailing, there are no regrets here. “There have been a lot of ups and downs with this car, but I really enjoy when it’s all working properly,” smiles Ronnie, and this Mini really found its perfect partner in him.
Looking to buy one? Check out our R56 Mini buyer’s guide complete with most common problems.
Tech Spec: Modified Mini Cooper S R56
1.6-litre Prince; BorgWarner AirWerks 41mm turbo; Forge intercooler and silicone hoses; NM carbon intake; Milltek downpipe; BSH catch can; noise tube and intercooler muffler delete.
Getrag six-speed manual.
Megan Euro coilovers; Hotchkis rear anti-roll bar; Powerflex polybushes; Ultra Racing rear torsion bar and under-brace; Godspeed rear camber arms; JCW strut brace.
JCW bumpers and sideskirts; Maxton Design front splitter and side blades; GP rear diffuser; Union Jack rear lights and rear fog lights; rear wiper delete.
Wilwood 6-pot front calipers with 327mm two-piece discs; Wilwood rear calipers with 298mm two-piece discs; stainless lines.
7.5×17” Fifteen52 Turbomac wheels; 215/45 Hankook Ventus RS4 tires.
Custom carbon steering wheel; Recaro Sportster CS Alcantara seats; Schroth four-point harnesses; four-point custom rollcage built by owner and colleagues at Artec Fab; carbon rear seat delete; AEM CD5 gauge pod (replaces tach); Alcantara dash; Rennline track mats; double-DIN Kenwood head unit; 8x Kicker speakers; 3x Kicker amps; 10” Kicker L7 sub; Nintendo Classic installed in glovebox.