of 5.3 million units. Although the Mini went through a number of changes to its engine and name, the final model based on Issigonis’ design that rolled off the production line in 2000 looked almost exactly like the original 1959 car. After BMW bought the Rover Group (which at that stage owned Mini) in 1994, the German motoring company went all out to develop a more modern Mini and, at the 1997 Geneva Motor Show, two futuristic-looking concept Minis were displayed. When BMW sold the Rover Group in 2000, it retained ownership of Mini and, in 2001, the brand-new modern Mini built at its plant in Cowley, Oxford, was launched.
As expected, there was an outcry from diehard fans, who mocked the newcomer’s larger dimensions and faux-historical design, but despite the cynics, the new Mini struck a huge chord with a new generation of young, trendy, moneyed buyers and proved to be a huge commercial success.
Over the next decade and a half, a clutch of models were released, including a convertible, the Clubman and the chunky fourwheel drive Countryman.
Last month in August, I got the chance to test-drive the new Mini John Cooper Works, the most powerful Mini in production. Basically, John Cooper Works means a really speedy Mini with increased power and superior handling.
On a balmy autumn day, I got to put the new model through its paces around the northern outskirts of Joburg and in a gymkhana-type setting laid out on a roof at Montecasino.
The new John Cooper Works – with its sports suspension kit developed by racing experts – is superb and totally fulfils its promise of fast and furious. The 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder sparkignition turbo engine delivers 170kW of power and 320Nm of torque, so you’ll easily roar to the claimed 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds with the help of its new Steptronic automatic gearbox.
What I really love are the incredible pops and splutters that emanate from the engine and exhaust, which the “sound engineers” must have had a field day creating, as well as the exclusive John Cooper Works sports seats in Dinamica fabric with integrated headrests that help make this a driver’s dream ride.
Racing on the roads in the Muldersdrift surrounds, trying desperately hard to keep to the speed limits, the Mini roared into its own. It’s an amazingly firm drive, with a responsive chassis, a lower centre of gravity than its predecessor and 17-inch wheels that can be pumped up to 18 inches as an option.
Back in the city, the newly developed Brembo sports brake system was impressive and, on the gymkhana circuit, the new model’s agility, speed and power came into play. It’s blatantly clear why this Mini has earned its John Cooper Works badge.
What it does demand, however, is a buyer with deep pockets.
The six-speed manual version that arrives in October requires a cool R418 000 and the Steptronic model, available now, is priced at a somewhat steep R440 000.
Back in the 70s, my granny’s Mini cost her less than R2 000.
But luckily, memories cost nothing.
RED FLASH The new Mini John Cooper Works fulfils the promise of fast and furious fun