Aussie Sir Jack Brabham and Pommie father and son Charles and John Cooper were major players in top level car racing for many years during the 1950s and ‘60s, with Brabham winning the F1 world championship in 1959 and 1960 driving Cooper cars.

Sadly, none of them are with us anymore, but John’s son Mike Cooper is still involved in the road-going Minis that bear John Cooper’s name. The JCW – John Cooper Works – Minis have been the high-performance versions of the Mini range for many years and hold a special place in the minds of all Mini enthusiasts, not just those who are into fast cars.

We visited John Cooper Works in England in 2003 and spent a full day with Mike who was running the business by that time. A wonderful day of chatting, eating and, of course, driving the latest JCW Minis.

Mini was by that time under the careful stewardship of BMW. Mike Cooper is no longer building the JCW models, but continues as a consultant with the engineers and stylists at BMW who are continuing the long tradition of making Minis even quicker.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time chatting, eating and, of course, driving the just released third generation JCW Mini. This time at the Phillip Island racetrack, as well as on interesting country roads on our way back to Melbourne.


From memory it was warmer in England all those years ago than it was in the near freezing conditions in southern Victoria that was being blitzed by some sort of weather event created by the Antarctic.

Thankfully the fun factor provide by JCW Minis overcame the vicissitudes of the weather at The Island as we thrashed around in a series of brightly coloured gen-three JCWs.

The latest JCW Mini uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that produces 170 kW of power and 320 Nm of torque, the biggest every numbers. Best of all top torque is spread all the way across the rev range from 1250 to 4800, with a hefty punch still on offer until you approach the sixes.

Peak power is reached at 5200 rpm and continues until 6000 so there’s fun under your foot all the time.

At The Island the turbocharged engine just kept on pulling and 230 km/h was on dial before we had to brake for the scary high speed kink that signals the end of the long downhill straight.

Huge Brembo brakes haul off speed very promptly and even at Phillip Island with its ultra-fast straights and hard stops never had us anywhere near brake fade.

Electronic stability control and a clever electronic differential lock play their part in reducing lap times.


Run-flat tyres have improved over the years, but are still not as smooth as conventional tyres and the sporting 18-inch tyres (Dunlop on some of our review cars, Continental on others) created quite a bit of road noise on the coarse-chip surfaces traversed on the open road.

All our test cars had six-speed automatic transmissions as six-speed manuals won’t be getting to the docks downunder until September or October. Much as we love driving manuals in high-performance machines we have to admit the automatic JCWs are quicker and more economical than manuals. Paddle shifters do give you full control over gearchanges – but we can’t wait to get our hands on a manual.

Minis are all about style and the JCW takes that route in its reshaping when compared with the standard Cooper S. Probably the most instantly noticeable change is the addition of a red bar across the centre of the grille. Larger cooling slots in the lower front, including one for an auxiliary radiator make an engineering statement, but mean there’s no space for foglights.

Reshaped door sills are part of the aerodynamic package and a large rear wing at roof level adds downforce. Grey coloured spats around the wheel arches further increase the positive statement made by the Mini.

Sports seats are exactly as we like them, good side grip but not so deep as to make entry and exit a pain. Should you not want to do any hard track work you may choose to have seats with shallower bolsters.

BMW’s topline Professional Navigation system is installed and infotainment is provided by a tuner that has DAB+ added to the usual station options. There’s Extended Bluetooth with music streaming.

Mini by JCW has a slightly old fashioned head-up display that relies on a small screen sitting in the top of the dash. There’s nothing old fashioned about the range of information it provides, though. As well as the usual speedo reading it can display gear indicator, engine rev, shift lights and sat nav instructions.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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