Mini EFI Upgrade: Dumping the Coolant

As part of installing the EFI kit for Hugo I need to install a crank sensor wheel, to make this a bit easier I though I’d remove the radiator.  The car has been stood for a long while anyhow so replacing the coolant and oil is a must before he’s back on the road.  I tried to remove the bottom hose but having never done this before I had a bugger of a time getting a screw driver into the jubilee clip holding it on.

The shiny bit in the middle is the clip I’m aiming for…

I thought that removing the top hose may make things easier as I may be able to move the radiator a bit and get easier access to the bottom hose, part of the kit includes a new thermostat housing too so thought I’d remove that at the same time.  After removing the hose I discovered a weird gunk in it which was a bit of a worry!  That’s when I noticed that the thermostat housing was only held on with one of three bolts!  Unsurprisingly there is more surface rust on the side that lacked bolts, it looks like coolant slowly evaporated or leaked and left behind the weird gunk.

Two out of three aint bad, they’re missing!



I removed the thermostat, also covered in gunk, and thankfully there was only coolant underneath.  Looks a bit rusty inside but it’s an old engine so not too worried about it.  I’m a complete noob with stuff like this though so maybe I should be?  Future Keegan will figure it out, that guys awesome with stuff like that.


I decided to have a cup of tea and do some research, at which point I realised I’d lost a couple of hours and didn’t get anything else done…

Project Hugo – The How

Wow, the last post for Project Hugo was two years ago!  A lot of work has happened in the interim but not much actual progress.  In part my anxiety diagnosis earlier this year, as discussed in my previous post, plays a part as I’ve been getting my head sorted before tackling the head gaskets but mostly it’s because I’ve been hitting my head against the wall with the sodding engine!

before (2)
Hugo when I collected him, with an engine that started and everything!

A Recap

The master-plan for Project Hugo is to take a Mini and modernise the hell out of it without ruining what makes it a Mini.  So far I’ve had a few tweaks to the engine, the suspension has been replaced with more modern kit designed by the original designer, the wiring loom has been completely replaced and an electronic ignition fitted.

Sounds Promising But…

Here’s the thing, I’ve always said I’m better with electronics and computers than engines so I’ll leave the latter to those in the know.  The problem with that approach is how will I ever learn if I don’t try?  To break the cycle I thought I’d have a go at tweaking the fuel mix as the exhaust and spark plugs were sooty as hell.  Very quickly I learned how not to tune a carb…

While troubleshooting this issue I discovered that though my Mini is supposed to have a ballast ignition I had a coil that was for a non-ballast car.  It turns out that the when I ran out of fuel on the original drive home and my mate had to replace the coil this was likely the same issue!  I decided to order a new coil and electronic ignition to make sure I had a kit that matched and cracked on, this was about a year and a half ago.  I swapped them out without issue but despite my best efforts I have never got the sod to fire though I’ve learned a hell of a lot about how the engine works by understanding why it isn’t.

broken down
A couple of hours after collecting him, parked on a curb outside a petrol station having run out of fuel due to traffic…

A New Plan

I went to EMF earlier this year and it was an unbelievable experience!  I could waffle for hours about how awesome it was, and I’ve been known to do so, but one of the last talks I saw got me thinking.  Engines are a bit of a dark art but the dark arts I know are computers and electronics…

Classic car, check.  Modernising the crap out of it, check.  Back to the Future reference, check.  Guess what happens next?

I’ve had a look into it and Specialist Components have been building kits for the Mini for a while now that give electronic fuel injection and apparently it makes the car a lot more reliable, smoother to drive, more power and better efficiency too.  Oh, also an auto-choke and a CAN bus interface for my digital dashboard!

From the rest of what I’ve learned in the work I’ve done so far I’m confident of getting this fitted and working and it’ll give me a big bit of knowledge to keep Hugo running for years to come too.  I’m trying not to think about the twin cam upgrade ST do either but pretty sure that may be added to the list for big upgrades in the future along with the five speed gear box.  Expensive but pretty much the ultimate upgrades I can do while keeping the original engine block.

So far this week I’ve done a load of work in the garage to get it tidy enough to work in and I’m going to start work on this in earnest later this week.  Alongside the engine mods I need to fit an MPI fuel tank as mine doesn’t have a fuel pump, to support that a pair of new fuel lines and wiring for the fuel pump.  Times like this I realise how much I’ve learned that I’m happy to tackle this rather than running scared!  Pride before a fall and all that but fingers crossed.

Project Hugo – The What

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!

Project Hugo – The Why

I’ve been planning the restoration of my classic Mini, which goes by the name Hugo, for years now and he is finally road legal!  The only issue is that a few days after this happened the wiring loom burned out…  While waiting for the new loom to be delivered my friend Chris has been doing some work on the shell to replace a few rusty panels and I’ve been researching some of the things needed to get my dream car up and running.  Before getting into the how of the project I’d start with the what and why, to that end I figured a post on the history of the project may be in order.

I’ve wanted a Mini my as long as I can remember and decided to buy myself one for my 30th birthday, a friend of a friend had a Mini 30 for sale for a decent price and that’s that!  The initial plan was to cram a VTEC engine in there, an idea my 15 year old self had after reading of one of the first conversions in the mid 90s in MiniWorld Magazine and as look would have it I knew someone who had a VTEC for sale, which I bought.  For three years the engine and car sat in my garage gathering dust, I’d bitten off far more than I could chew.

Earlier this year I decided it was time to crap or get off the pot;  The complexity of the build was daunting, so much so I didn’t know where to start, so I hadn’t.  To that end I decided to ditch the engine swap, sticking with the original, and concentrate on getting the car on the road then seeing what happens.  The long term plan has always been to modernise the car which was part of the reason to go VTEC, so I figured I’d stick to that idea and attempt to rebuild the car as if it was designed now rather than then.  Same engine but tuned and made as reliable as possible.

There are many purists out there that will balk at what I’m intending to do, taking the Mini and tweaking it here and there, and that by modernising it I’m making something that isn’t a Mini any more.  Here’s the thing;  The Mini has been hacked since day one, it has a long history of modifications, tweaks and rebuilds and without this spirit of tweaking we wouldn’t have the Cooper, the history of rallying and hell, even the Italian Job!  The heart of the Mini would remain but modern conveniences would be introduced.

“Modern conveniences” started with central locking and electric windows; it’s since grown to include a full digital dashboard, an auto-choke of my own design and thermal imaging.  More on this and the mechanical mods planned in an upcoming post.

So, that’s the why of the project.  TLDR; Because I can.

CAN Bus Project

I mentioned Project Hugo in the site update a while back and an idea I’ve been toying with is implementing a CAN bus for my 22 year old car, a Mini Thirty.  I say I’ve been toying with the idea, one of my friends at the pub starting talking about the advantages of CAN bus and after that I couldn’t resist!

In the Mini and most classic cars there is a “simple” wiring loom that uses simple techniques to get the job done.  For example, for the headlights and rear lights there is a switch on the indicator stalk that connects to a relay, this relay has a connection to the battery and to the lights.  Simple, does the trick but as every light and device has a couple of wires each the loom soon becomes complex, a bugger to wire, troubleshoot and if nothing else heavy!

The idea behind CAN bus is that each component of the car is networked and listens on a single bus and has a power feed.  This means that you only have to run a ring of cables around the car that each component connects to rather than having separate wires for each component.  There is a diagram on the following site that explains it quite nicely;

(Not an endorsement of the product, just a handy diagram.)

With regards to developing a CAN bus I purchase a dev kit which appropriately comes in a can!  It’s the Stallaris LM3S2965 and was about £55 from Farnell.  I’m still getting to grips with it and to be honest I haven’t managed “Hello World” yet.  As awesome as the .NET Gadgeteer, Netduino and Arduino undoubtedly are it’s always good to be reminded of that fact.  This project will include a steep learning curve but will be well worth it in the end.

For those wondering why I’m going to this much effort the answer is simple;  Why not?

It’s going to be a slog but the result is a wonderful little car with 1950’s styling, a modern Honda engine and massively updated everything.  It’ll allow me to integrate a modern car alarm very easily, I’ll be able to connect to a PC for diagnostics and control the components of the car programmatically too.  For example, if I want to have the side repeaters switch on in a constant mode with the headlights to act as running lights I can, same goes for the fog lights switching on with the main beam.  The beauty is that this behaviour would be switchable on the fly and I’d be able to add other behaviours too such as a rain sensor to activate the windscreen wipers and light sensors to switch on the headlights too.

This is without a doubt shaping up as the biggest project I’ve taken on so far but should be well worth it in the end.  More posts as it happens.