Saturday, May 05, 2012

R56 MINI Cooper S DIY Satellite Radio Bracket

As a Christmas gift to myself this year, I got an XM Satellite Radio for the MINI. When Cindy and I went to San Francisco for our anniversary, the rental car we had was equipped with Sirius and I thoroughly enjoyed having that available. However, anyone familiar with the interior of a MINI knows that finding mounting spots for electronic gadgetry is a challenge.

Satellite Radio Location To BeFor me, the first challenge was figuring out what to do about the antenna. I really did not want to put it on the outside of the MINI. But, I still am not sure whether I even have a satellite antenna built-in to my regular antenna housing. I am thinking not, but the only way to verify that would be to get underneath the carpet under the passenger seat – a job I'm not really willing to tackle. So, I ended up putting the antenna up at the leading edge of the dash (where XM says it should not go). While testing that, I've just had the radio hanging on a vent and then for a month, I've wedged the bracket underneath the speedo trim. The radio has been prone to falling and is a challenge to hit the buttons since the plastic mounting brackets are so flimsy. And, I've had to put up with all the wires hanging around (I did tape them together a bit, but still).

Sat Radio Bracket TemplateSatisfied with the antenna reception, it was time to get the radio mounted a little more permanently. And since I prefer non-destructive mounts, this was going to be a challenge. The first thought was to somehow add it to the CravenSpeed mount I already have for my GPS. And that could be done according to CravenSpeed if I were willing to plunk down the $$$. But then I ran across a member of NAM who had made his own bracket and that prompted me to pursue the same.

I already had an idea of where I wanted the radio be located. Next to the tach at about the 9 o'clock position when looking at the steering wheel, within the circumference of the steering wheel (see the circled spot in the pic). This would keep it close to my normal lines of sight when driving, it would not be readily noticeable or apparent from inside or outside, and it would not block the air vent.

I visited Lowe's and found a sheet of 16 gauge steel. This seemed to be stiff enough to hold the radio in place and not flex much (if any) when I change channels. I also got some M4-.70x10 hex cap screws, some washers, and some wing nuts. Even with a can of matte black spray paint, total cost was only around $10.

The first step was to get a piece of cardboard and rough out the dimensions and shape of the bracket. The plan was to use the two lower screws on the back of the tach (which are also used to hold the CravenSpeed mount on) and just extend the bracket straight out from there. After a couple rounds of measuring and testing, I had the basic shape set. The short leg will extend down and provides space for the radio bracket to connect.

Cutting the steelI transferred template shape to the steel sheet and used my Dremel to cut it out. With a metal cutting blade, that worked surprisingly well. I even managed to get the edges and corners sort of rounded off. Just remember – wear some eye protection. As you can see, quite a few sparks were produced in the process.

With the piece cut, I was finally ready to move the tach off the steering column. That proved to be more difficult than I remember when installing the CravenSpeed mount, but I managed to get it. I then measured the distance between the screws (3.75 inches iirc) and got them marked on the cardboard template and on the steel bracket.

Finished bracket ready for install

The sat radio model I have (an XM One I believe) is actually composed of two pieces. One is the head unit itself which is just a little smaller than a typical GPS unit. The head unit slides into a “base”. From a marketing/functionality standpoint, this means I could buy a similar “kit” for another car and just move the radio between vehicles or I could buy a kit for the house and use the radio in my house. The base has the connectors for the power, audio out, and antenna along with cutouts for brackets. It also has a variety of slots cut into the back of it so it can be put on a variety of brackets. This includes four key hole type slots where you would put a screw or bolt head in the hole and then slide the unit down onto a narrower portion. I measured these holes as well and transferred them over to the bracket. Then it was time to drill – carefully so all the holes would be in the right place. This involved using the Dremel to start pilot holes and then a good metal bit for the heavy drilling.

Wing nuts hold things togetherWith that done, I hit the bracket with some matte black spray paint. Once dried, I put the four bolts on and slid the radio bracket into place. I decided to use wing nuts so I could tighten/loosen them by hand. So far so good. Next, it was time to attach it to the back of the tach. This would be the moment of truth as far as whether I had rework ahead of me. Great news – the holes lined up perfectly. Unfortunately, I think I stripped one of the screws when putting it back in. Pretty sure it should all hold together though.

I then spent some time getting the wires run up under the dash and to the unit. Had a bit of a scare when I couldn't get the power connection in because the bracket was just interfering with the connector. But I was able to loosen the wing nuts (glad I used them and was able to use my hands – very quick) and there was enough play to get everything situated and connected. The last step was to get the tach screwed back on the steering column and then figure out how high I had my steering wheel set.

"Night" shot of the installed unitWith everything set back to how it was, I powered the unit up and had a nice connection. I will say that with it installed, there is a little bit of flex when I push on the unit – more than I thought there was going to be even when working on the steel. However, in using it for about a week now, I don't see it as an issue. There is a very small bit of flex present when I hit preset buttons 1-4 (these are at the far left end of the unit). But for 5-10 and the channel up/down buttons, it is nice and solid. The biggest drawback is the screen of the radio is hidden behind the steering wheel, so I have to move my head a little bit if I want to see the artist/song info. I can live with that. The only task remaining is to order a hardwire kit for the power so I can free up my cigarette lighter. Short of that, I am back to a nice, clean, wire-free dash.



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