Every time I make a pilgrimage to Mount Panorama for a major race I get into the spirit of the occasion by driving from Sydney to Bathurst and home again in something relevant to the big race. With this year’s 50th anniversary of the Cooper S’s victory, there was really only one choice: a modern version of the mighty Mini. A fast one!
MINI Australia put me in the newly launched Convertible John Cooper Works model for a week of, quite literally, flying the flag – at least while I had the roof up. The silver and black JCW certainly turned heads with its tasteful Union Jack-patterned top.
The JCW drop-top sits above the Cooper and Cooper S Convertibles in the range and MINI Australia hope it enjoys the same success as the hatch model, with almost a quarter of all threedoors sold being JCW variants.
The new hot-rod Convertible is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine good for 170kW of power and 320Nm of torque. It’s paired to a six-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels. The asking price is $54,900 (plus on-road costs) and a six-speed manual is available. The new JCW Convertible has an upgraded chassis with two-mode adjustable dampers and larger Brembo brakes.
In short, it’s a pocket rocket with plenty of performance and sharp handling that’s not obviously compromised by being a cabrio. There’s great pulling power from down low in the rev range and plenty of punch beyond. The sports exhausts bark under acceleration and crackle and pop off the throttle.
There are faster cars in its market segment, but none more fun, which is what a weekend at Bathurst is all about. I proudly showed off the JCW to members of the big Mini contingent on hand for the golden anniversary and, not surprisingly, the Union Jack was invariably the first talking point.
A run in the Mini parade on Saturday would have been a buzz, but for three reasons. Firstly, I would have deprived a more worthy soul of taking their pride and joy around the famous track. Secondly, had I ventured on track top-down I hate to think what might have lobbed on my lap thanks to the blokes on the hill. Finally, this undeserving soul wasn’t invited!
In any case, I had the unique pleasure of accompanying AMC helper Jason Chaplin for a lap of the track in his red rocket. Yes, I’m the geek in the passenger seat taking photos. Jason had made the trek from Albury with his car and were chuffed to tick it off their bucket list.
The passion for the Mini marque all these years on remains as strong as ever. Likewise, the importance of Bob Holden and Rauno Aaltonen’s feat on October 2, 1966 to tragics like Jason and Fred Burley (owner of our feature Cooper S) can’t be understated. What’s more, the Cooper S’s presence at Bathurst this year is a reminder that the Great Race wasn’t always about Holden and Ford V8s. And neither will it be in the future.