Project R56

Our R56 Project, over the years, has become very much a two-part exercise.  When the R56 was first released, we were really excited at the opportunity because we’d had such success with the R53.  The R53 MINI Cooper S was Unichip’s very first venture into the Plug-n-Play world when the car was released in 2002.

Within about six months after R53’s release, we started selling a kit that left no footprint for dealers to see, which was easily installed at home, made the car more fun to drive, and it was a success both in the US and overseas markets.  We continue selling those kits today, and talk to guys who have been happily driving with their kits for years.

When we learned the MINI’s next engine was a turbo, we were thrilled because turbo’s offer so much potential… we beat the bushes and found a dealer that let us jump to the head of the line (cash talks) and get one of the first cars in our area…


As with any new project, the first step is verifying the schematic so the Unichip can be electrically connected to the car.  Although it may sound like a relatively trivial exercise, the schematics can be a little interesting and “ground” isn’t always “ground.  Getting it right is a critical first step and it starts with cutting and pasting together a hundred or so of these… like an electrical jigsaw puzzle…

With the electrical system diagram all pasted together, we build and test the schematic to ensure the Unichip sees all of the signals we need to manipulate and that it is invisible to the ECU.  After about a week of testing, measuring, and probing, the Unichip is installed and the Start button gets pushed for the first time… and the engine started and came up to idle just like the Unichip wasn’t’ there… at this point in the process, that’s exactly what we wanted!

Next up… Let’s make some power!

As anticipated, the R56’s new turbo engine proved to have plenty of extra power waiting to be tapped.  We quickly found that by raising the boost and tweaking the fueling and timing, we could get the bone stock engine to produce almost 30 bhp and 30 lb-ft more than stock…

With the Unichip installed, driving the car was a completely different experience and we immediately began building maps for different bolt on configurations and put the harnesses into production.  Shortly thereafter, we released the kit.

Harness troubles

With a couple of weeks after the kits were released, we started getting calls about the cars entering a strange limp more… unfortunately, nobody with the issue was local and what people were describing didn’t really make much sense.  We worked diligently for several weeks trying to duplicate the problem without any luck.  Finally, after getting a kit back and tearing the harness apart, we found the issue.

The OEM pins used by MINI in the ECU were unavailable to our harness manufacturer so they hand built substitute pins which at first seemed to do the trick nicely.  Unfortunately, we found that eventually the normal high frequency vibration from the engine caused the female pins to expand.  That expansion caused momentary open circuits between the OE ECU male pins and the PnP females… thousands or an inch, happening for milliseconds, but to the OE ECU signals seemed to be disappearing for a life time and  – to protect the engine – the ECU put the engine into a limp mode.

It didn’t happen to all of the kits, some of them were working fine from day one… but it did happen to a unacceptably high percentage of customers.

Once we found the problem, we could create a fix, and we worked hard to retrofit the harnesses for everybody who told us kit was experiencing the problem.  From a manufacturing perspective, however, the fix was so labor intensive it was cost prohibitive.  We decided if our harness manufacturer couldn’t come up with a better production solution we would have to stop offering the kit for sale.

After several months of trying, without a better solution presenting iteslf, we reluctantly stopped selling what had been a very promising kit.

Straight-to-Sensor Harnesses (STS)

Flash forward five years… Our harness manufacturer informed us that the plugs for the 5.7L Tundra were about to become restricted… which means they would become unavailable to us.  With no solution from our supplier, we decided to find one ourselves.

The plugs that were becoming restricted were the large ECU header and the connectors that plugged into it.  There were, however, different plugs where we could tap into the required signals to accomplish the same tuning changes.  We went to work and began designing a replacement for the loom in our best seller.  After some field beta testing, we released the redesigned kit and it was a huge success… customers praised the installation simplicity, the reliability is second to none because the loom is so simple… when our next project came along (Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ) we decided that was the way to go.  Within two months after release, we had another success on our hands.

Project R56, Part II

Confident in the new design direction, we decided take a another look at the R56 through new eyes.  Power and performance had never been an issue, and now we perhaps had robust solution for the harness.  We had long ago sold our test vehicle, so the first thing we needed was a car.  We found one – in fact, two – just down the road at Craven Speed and we’re in their debt for their generosity.

We spent about a week with the first car essentially redoing the initial electrical work all over again and identifying the connectors we would need to create the loom.  After some back and forth with our local plug supplier, we found we could get everything needed and built a prototype harness.

With the prototype harness complete, we programmed a Unichip computer with the one of the maps we built during Project R56, Part I and connected everything up.

The initial test drive immediately brought a smile to our faces as the ample power we had previously untapped was there again.  We drove the car for about a week and then gave it back to the Craven Speed guys for some beta testing and they soon had the same big smile….  “addictive” was what one of the owners said.

We ordered the necessary connectors and began building STS R56 looms.

R56 STS Kit

Beyond performance, as with all of our kits, our goals for this kit are the easiest possible installation and no footprint for worry free play… when you remove the Unichip, there’s no indication the kit was ever installed, so there are no warranty hassles to worry about.

With this kit, the harness installs at the MAP sensor, the Boost sensor, the MAF, the Crank Position Sensor, and a temperature sensor… here’s a link to the instructions…

The kit comes complete the Zip ties, Velcro strips, and everything necessary for the installation.

Up next, Kits In the Field…


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