Texas Speedwerks X-Brace for the R50, 52 and 53
Product review by Jeff Howerton
Photos by Author
2) Shipment, Packaging, and Parts
3) Instructions and Installation
4) Behind the Wheel; Subjective Impressions
5) Lab Testing
6) Conclusions; Likes, Dislikes and Recommendations
Generally, we all want our cars to handle better, we bought performance cars right? There are probably more ways than you can shake a stick at to achieve your goals, but there are some basics to adhere to as well. The stiffer the frame of the car, generally in torsion, the better the suspension can work to do its job. The MINI is generally known as a pretty stiff car, as can be witnessed if you jack up the front at the front jacking point, the rear lifts at about the time. I’ve owned many “sportscars” in the past that were worse than a wet noodle in chassis stiffness. With the MINI being as accomplished as it is, making it better can be a tall order. There are a few items on the market to stiffen up the chassis on the R53/52/50, one of which is the X-Brace by Texas SpeedWerks.
When asked if I’d like to test the TSW product, I jumped at the chance. I’ve had other chassis stiffeners on the car before, and with 40,000 miles on the clock, a couple of things have happened. One, the car, an R52(convertible) has lost a little of it’s edge and smoothness with the accumulation of miles. Two, my posterior has developed a pretty good feel for what’s going on with the car as well. So with the ANSI calibrated smartness of my arse, and some tests to give real data, it was time to get busy with testing.
First thing I did in preparation for testing the unit was strip the remnants of old devices off the car. About 20,000 miles ago a brace system was put on the car, and over time and performing changes and maintenance, some of the pieces never found their way back on for one reason or another. But to make sure I was getting a clear picture of the before and after changes, I wanted to make sure I had some seat time with the car as stock and 40k in wear.
SHIPMENT, PACKAGING and PARTS
The box arrived in a discrete brown box labeled “fragile, do not lay flat, and glass enclosed”. I applaud the effort taken to make sure the unit arrives in good condition. It seems they have done everything in their power to make sure the brace gets to your door unscathed.
Upon opening the box, there is the brace and a simple two page set of instructions. Removing the brace from the box, the unit is made in mild steel with a beautiful gloss black finish. The TSW logo appears laser cut into the gusseting of the unit. It’s an awful shame to put something this nice under the car where it will never get seen. No other hardware or components are supplied as none are needed. The unit has the look of top notch construction methods and finish work.
INSTRUCTIONS and INSTALLATION
The instructions are a simple two page affair, but frankly other than the torque values for the bolts you will use to fasten the unit to the car you should be good. I put the car up on some ramps just for a quick test fit as it wouldn’t be installed until the weekend. Once under the car it is painfully obvious how the unit mounts to the car. Even without instructions, this should be a fairly easy job for most.
The only tools needed are as follows;
1) Ramps for the front of the car or a jack and jackstands
2) A ratchet and torque wrench
3) 16mm socket
BEHIND the WHEEL: SUBJECTIVE IMPRESSIONS
So having a plan for the testing program, I continued to flog the car the rest of the week after receiving the brace and holding it up under the car. I had set aside Sunday for the seat time portion of the test. Morning arrives, top up the gas, and off to the test route. The route is more than 50 miles that takes me up past the local lake and combines some nice long flat curves with some tight, nicely cambered 20-30mph switchbacks. It’s a pretty nice drive, ending in downtown Napa, yes wine country, and taking the local Interstate back home.
I had noticed in the week leading up to this part of the test that the car had felt slightly loose and unsettled compared to usual. It had me thinking the tire pressures must be off or something was wrong. I don’t remember the car being this bad in the past, but with an open mind setout for nice Sunday drive. Running the route once gave me a good baseline for the next phase. Pulled back in, drove onto the ramps, and jumped under the car to put the brace on. For some reason it seems the older I get the ramps seem to be getting lower and lower. Not to mention it was about 60F outside and I thought a moving blanket on the concrete was in short order for being under the car. The install for this unit is fairly simple; get yourself a ratchet, torque wrench and 16mm socket and you’re good to go. Less than ten minutes under the car and you are done. In this pit stop it took longer to go inside to hit the facilities and get a drink for the second round of driving than putting the brace on.
Back out on the road, and the first impression of the car was that it had seen a significant change. It took a couple of minutes to get back out on the twisty bits of the road, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised. A good portion of the rattles had quieted down in the interior. The car felt better but the best portion of the roads were yet to come. Once into the heart of the drive, my only reaction was, wow. The steering felt lighter, more precise and less labored in its action. Some how the car felt lighter but more planted at the same time. It felt like my old friend was back, but much improved from the past. As I said, having had other products on the car in the past had given me some expectation for how the car would feel. Well, the TSW brace went right past that expectation and then some. The brace makes the car feel as one piece, as it’s designed for, getting rid of that slightly rubbery detached feeling I had on the first run. I found myself pushing the car slightly harder and faster as it felt there was much more in reserve of the suspension and my confidence in the car had improved. The second part of the drive day was extremely enjoyable.
On to phase two of the test brings us into my garage. With the car up on jackstands, a torsional test to the car with and without the brace was conducted. The car was loaded in opposite directions and the full twist of the car was measured. This test is similar to driving up a steep slope from a level surface and having one wheel come off the ground, except that we alternate directions and measure the full amount of twist. The things we will do to our cars in the name of science.
The torsional test was performed in this way; set the car up on three jack stands and one floor jack, located at the right rear of the car. The two front stands located up near the front control arm attachment points, and the left rear at the end of the mounting section for the lower control arms. Dial indicators were placed at the left front and right rear of the car. The car was jacked until it just started to come off the right front stand, as measured with a feeler gauge. This has the car fully loaded across the right rear and left front. The dial indicators were set to zero. We then began to let the jack down which cross loaded the car. The jack was continually lowered until the left front just started to lift, as seen with the dial indicator. We held the jack still and took a reading of the right rear dial indicator for total flex. This test was a crude version of a proper beam test but I thought it might give us some data to see how the brace affected the car.
The test was first performed with the brace off and the deflection over 5 repetitions fell between .410” and .523”. This seemed like a minimal amount of flex compared to observations of other cars in the past. The brace was put back on the car and testing repeated. On the first measurement a .468” reading was measured. I thought something must be wrong and reset the car to take another measurement. Now a .466”. Well I took 3 more and get all of the readings falling within a few thousandths of an inch. With the brace on it seemed to twist the same as without with the numbers falling just about on the average of the twist without the brace. The test was done with both the doors opened and closed and the difference between the two was negligible.
I now began to wonder how the brace could make the car feel so good and not show any improvements on the twist test. Well, it actually did reveal something, the flex was extremely consistent, almost scary in its precision. The data showed that it did take a good deal of slop out of the chassis. Since the brace ties the front subframe to the body of the car, one would assume that this area of the car is a problem area and the brace has fixed this admirably. In addition, if the brace was designed to stiffen one area of the car, this may not show itself in a full chassis twist. I wanted to go out and perform more tests to pinpoint the exact spots in the chassis that the brace was most greatly affecting, but I had already spent the better part of three days total testing the brace and my time with the test unit was about up.
Knowing my time was limited with the brace, I emailed TSW and had several dialogues with their engineer that developed it. Listening to how they tested the unit it was clear the unit addressed one area of the car, and that the full body twist test that I performed may not, and did not, show the full effectiveness of the brace. The best analogy I can give is I had used a yardstick to measure something that needed a set of fine calipers to reveal the true difference.
I am disappointed that the data did not back up the in seat observations of the effectiveness of the brace. I will be the first to admit, the test I used my not have been the best choice for testing the brace and definitely did not do it justice. Given more time with the brace a proper test could have been devised to measure its effectiveness, but it was time to send it back. Despite the data that was collected, I wanted to keep the brace; I had to have the brace. It feels like something that should have come with the car from the factory. I called TSW and asked if I could buy the unit, and they said it had already been sold and there was no stock left. Regardless of any amount of groveling and pleading, the brace would not remain with me and was sent back. What can I say, I really liked the brace and as soon as there is more available, I’ll be eager to get one back on my car.
As far as suspension modifications go, what you bolt to the pickup points is only as good as the base itself. Having been through the MINI cycle of parts and modifications to the suspension and chassis, I’d say this would be one of the first and best modifications you could do before changing out the suspension pieces on the car.
CONCLUSIONS: LIKES, DISLIKES and RECOMMENDATIONS
1) Simplicity of install
2) Quality of materials and workmanship
3) Fit and finish is excellent, the unit lined up perfect with the mounting points
1) Needs to be removed for header removal (But any brace system does)
I feel this is one of the best modifications you can make for the handling of your MINI. I know many folks have the rear swaybar as one of the first and best mods for the suspension but I’d put this right up there at the top of the list. If a person were serious about setting up the car for hardcore handling, I believe this would be one of the first components to firm up the base for future modifications.
In a way I feel I failed the product, not developing a proper test for its purpose. But, that is what sometimes happens with limited budgets and resources. Sometimes in science, you don’t always get the results you expect, but dammed the science; I must have one of these on my car.