Jul 4 2009 Ian Johnson
MINI John Cooper Works
LAST month 25,000 enthusiasts from more than 40 countries converged on Silverstone race circuit to wish the legendary MINI a happy 50th birthday.
It is amazing to think that this car is now so old. As a young and somewhat inexperienced motoring journalist in the early 1960s the Alex Issigonis-designed Mini from BMC was one of the first cars I tested - and what a revelation it was. Bear in mind that the Morris 1000 was still in vogue and the world was just transporting itself into a much more modern automotive age.
The Mini was just the car to power the new thinking. With wheels placed at all four corners, transverse-engined front-wheel-drive, almost ridiculously small size for the day and age, the Mini spoke a new language to a new generation - and it has never stopped shouting its iconic message that small can be very beautiful.
It immediately became a trendsetter and although the original type was killed off in the disasters that followed the crash of British Leyland, subsequent custodian of the Mini design BMW gave the whole idea a new spin.
Rather than resurrect the original design and market it as retro wheels, BMW invested heavily into a whole new small car which featured many of the styling cues of the old Mini.
The new car was called MINI (all in capital letters) and in the time leading up to the golden anniversary, BMW introduced a model bearing a link to a man who helped to make the original car such a fantastic success in motor sport - John Cooper.
Harking back to the old days and remembering the best Mini I ever tested - the Cooper S - it was amazing to step into its successor, the John Cooper Works model which is the sensation of the range.
This is the car for the performance fan who wants to be different. Under the bonnet beats a 1.6 four-cylinder 16-valve petrol engine boosted by a twin-scroll supercharger. The engine and transmission are adapted from the MINI Challenge race car.
It is very much 'welcome to the wild child' when you take to the road in this car because it is such a sharp performer. It equals in today's standards what the original Cooper S was in its day. Then the Cooper could attain 100mph which was very fast for a small car, but today's John Cooper Works model ups the ante to 148mph.
But the big secret of this car's exhilarating way of doing the business is its torque factor. This fastest ever production MINI develops an impressive 260Nm of torque - a figure that can be extended even further to 280Nm due to turbo boost.
Needless to say that the 0-62mph sprint is impressive at 6.5 seconds and a spin-off bonus of this remarkable car is its potential to achieve 40mpg.
It is brimming with handling technology including dynamic traction control as standard, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, cornering brake control, electronic differential lock control, dynamic stability control and hill assist.
All this may remove much of the edge-of-the-envelope stuff of the old Mini Cooper S when it comes to driving enthusiastically, but it is much safer without blunting this car's edge.
Another big sales pull of this car is the option to personalise. This car, in addition to the Chili pack of extras was packed with numerous goodies which transformed it into a very individual vehicle.
It has certainly come a long way from the days in which we thought our Mini was so different by planting a clip-on headrest onto the driver's seat.
MINI John Cooper Works
Mechanical: 211bhp, 1,598cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
Max speed: 148mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Combined mpg: 40.9
Insurance group: 17
CO2 emissions: 165g/km
BIK rating: 18%
Warranty: 3yrs/ unlimited mileage