In my previous post I covered why I want to modernise my Mini and in this post I want to cover some of the intended mods.  Some are simple, some are sensible and some are downright bonkers and I intend to tackle them in that order!  As I’m still driving my first car, second if you don’t count the POS I had for a few weeks, I’ve never really had mod cons other than in rentals!  A ’96 Vauxhall Corsa Merit by the name of Neville, normally aspirated 1.7D that came with a radio, not even a cassette player!  I intend to make up for this with gusto.

The original vague plan to modernise the car was to add little mod cons here and there that modern cars have like central locking, an alarm and electric windows and for ICE I figured a Bluetooth/DAB head unit would do the trick.  I’ve since decided to build a full digital dashboard, replacing the analogue instrument cluster, and designing a system that wouldn’t look out of place in a car of today.

I started with this idea back when I though implementing CAN was a good idea but I’ve since learned how much of a pain wiring looms are so sod that!  Rather than replacing the loom I’m going to integrate with the existing, replacing the control switches in the dash with solid state relays to enable computer control but maintaining the original wiring loom.  This gives the benefits of modern control but better still keeps the original design in place so I can still ask for help from Mini experts.

The basic architecture of the system will be a microcontroller board monitoring and controlling car systems in real time and a PC based interface to act as the interface.  This gives the benefit of a real time monitoring system that comes online very quickly but can hand that information to a PC which has the power to do something with it.  Speed, tachometer, temperatures and the existing instruments will all be consumed in various manners by the microcontroller, likely an Arduino, then transferred to the PC using serial.  This project will only metaphorically fly but will share learnings from an earlier project.

The Toys


The PC will very likely be one of the Intel NUC machines, with a Core i5 processor, up to 16GB RAM and HD 5000 graphics it’ll be more than fit for purpose.  Another bonus of these machines is that they have very low power requirements for the spec and can run off 12-19V, with a DC-DC PSU they are ideal.


For screens I’ve decided to go big or stay home, to that end two iPAD retina screens will be repurposed and embedded in the dash; one as the instrument cluster and another as a secondary screen in the centre for navigation and entertainment purposes.  The screens in question should be powered by the Oscar adapter, an open source controller board that is ideal for my needs as it is based on Arduino and give full control of screen brightness, with a light sensor this means I can adapt the screen brightness to ambient conditions and not be blinded while driving late at night.  Plus the resolution and pixel density is astonishing for the price and as they are designed for tablet usage the power requirements are tiny too!


For Entertainment I’ve decided not to bother writing an MP3 player interface for it and will instead give it two main sources; Radio and an external player.  For DAB I have purchased a Monkey Board, it’s an open source DAB/FM receiver designed for hobbyists to build their own digital radios and the holy grail for Car PC enthusiasts!  For the external player I’ve a Bluetooth module which supports hands-free calling and A2DP, at a tenner it’s a no brainer.  I’m also going to have a line in socket so that anyone in the car can easily hook up and play their tunes.  A computer controlled input switch should do the trick to get the audio from these devices to the PC and from their to a 4ch car amplifier.


Doing all this and leaving the engine as is would be daft, the car currently has it’s original 998 engine coupled to a four speed box.  On top of the stage 1 kit my friend Chris fitted I’m planning on moving up to stage 2 or 3 and replacing the gearbox with a five speed option, likely from Minispares.  Their five speed boxes have a standard ratio for gears one to four, giving the standard acceleration curve for the car, but the fifth gear is an overdrive gear and takes the stress off the engine while cruising.  They are ideally suited for the smaller engines so should be a good combo and make motorway driving a lot easier.

The Grand(er) Plan

All of the above is pretty mundane and doable, now we get to my aspirations.  Starting with a simple idea that everyone takes for granted; an auto-choke.


Like all old petrol cars, my Mini has a choke.  As I’ve been driving a diesel for 14 years this is a new concept to me and after researching how they work, should be easy to automate.  A choke controls the fuel/air mix into the engine to allow more fuel into the engine when you first start it to allow it to warm up, as it does so you let the choke out and allow more air into the engine.  As my setup will have a temperature sensor in the engine and as I’ve access to 3d printing kit I’m going to make an actuator that hooks into the end of the choke cable and automates this process.

Climate Control

Yup, I’ve set myself the challenge of installing not air-con but a climate control system.  This precedent has kind’ve already been set as the Japanese model Minis had aircon units as an option with a chiller unit mounted under the passenger side of the dash.  Rather than follow this model I’m intending to source a combined cooler/chiller unit, one of these to be precise.  It’ll be a tight fit but by replacing the fan switch with a relay or other driver and using a similar actuator as the autochoke for the heater cable I reckon it’s doable.  Mounting the plumbing may be tricky but as there are already Minis with aircon they have proven it can be done, I just need to figure out how.

Computer Vision

I’ve been interested in robotics since the first time I saw Transformers and computer vision technology has always intrigued me.  To that end I’m going to use Open CV along with a slew of camera to enable lane tracking along with vehicle and obstacle detection.  There are loads of examples of this already working so I’ll not be starting from scratch.  The Core i5 should now make a lot more sense!


I work for the Satellite Applications Catapult and the biggest project I’ve worked on thus far involved making lots of interactive maps.  As such, it would be rude not to integrate satnav into the system really!  Not sure what tech I’ll be using yet but I’ve plenty of ideas and options.

Thermal Imaging/Night Vision

Yeah, why the hell not?  Modern cars have night vision as an option and KITT could see in the dark so why the hell not?  For night vision I have the simple option of a modified webcam with the IR filter removed, coupled with halogen headlights that throw out a lot of IR this should give a longer view of the road at night than my eyes can pick up.  For seeing through fog, I’m thinking a PathfindIR should do the trick.  This will be a hell of an expensive upgrade though so definitely the last item to be added, if ever!


That’s the plan, ambitious as all hell!  I’ll be starting with the microcontroller as knowing how fast your going and how much fuel you have left is key and then building up from there.  More details on each item as I build, and inevitably rebuild, each part!