Driving the 2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP, I am reincarnated as Paddy Hopkirk in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally, driving his legendary 33 EJB, a Mini Cooper S, to a smashing victory. He got a telegram from The Beatles!
Hypercars may be out of reach, with their $2 million price tags, but for $45,470 (as tested) you can be in one of these racers for the street—if you can find one. According to Andrew Cutler, head of communications for Mini USA, only 3,000 were made globally, with the U.S. getting 450. And 90 percent of the Stateside examples have already been claimed.
The little rocket is a two-seater to save weight, and somehow Mini managed to get 301 horsepower (and 331 pound-feet of torque) out of its two-liter twin-turbo four. It’s coupled to an eight-speed automatic that—I’m just guessing here—Paddy Hopkirk would be upset to see.
But he’d be very impressed by the power this little guy puts out. Stomp the gas pedal and it squats down and blasts forward with a great deal of noise and fury, even if the actual progress is relatively modest. I loved it, but also wondered if I’d get tired of all the drama in day-to-day use. The suspension is also so stiff you feel every imperfection in the road. And back seats sometimes come in handy.
The styling is something. It’s supposed to look menacing, with its bold GP graphics, gigantic wheels, prominent hood scoop, huge rear wing, molded air deflectors, but instead it looks cute.
John Cooper is, by the way, integral to Mini’s performance history. In 1961, he tweaked the little 850-cc car and introduced the Mini Cooper 997, a huge success that was capable of 80 mph. The Cooper was a great rally car for racers like Pat Moss, Timo Mäkinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Hopkirk.
The variations just keep on coming: close to 50 of them over the last 18 years. Can you believe the Cooper Goodwood (circa 2012), which sold for $52,000 and included such features as premium leather, walnut burr trim, lambswool carpets, and a turbo 1.6-liter with 181 horsepower? Only 140 came to the U.S.
“Customization is at the core of Mini’s identity,” said Ishaan Khatri, product planning manager for Mini USA. “People really like to do their own variations. Most of it is focused on pure aesthetics.” The company makes it easy for customizers with a huge number of options. Other Mini special editions arriving on the scene now are also performance oriented.
The 1499 GT is meant to salute the 1275 GT, a performance variant from 1969 that offered a mighty 60 horsepower and zero to 60 in 13.3 seconds. Vikash Joshi, product planning specialist, pointed out that it also boasted the ugly Clubman front end. Luckily, the 1499 GT is prettier, with a midnight black body with gold graphics and piano black detailing. Details include a John Cooper styling package and seats, plus dual-zone climate control.
The 1499 refers to the 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, which has it way over its ancestor—134 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, and a fifth of buyers are opting for it. It’s on sale for $27,040.
The Mini Countryman Oxford Edition is based on the brand’s rather bulbous wagon. The original wood-paneled version was much better looking, but the current Countryman is popular because of its cargo-carrying ability. Like the 1499, the Oxford adds details that would make it more expensive if ordered individually. It gets an 8.8-inch display, a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, upgraded 18-inch wheels and more. MSRP is $26,500; the all-wheel drive variant is $28,500. To add all the features a la carte would lead to a car costing $32,100.
Patrick McKenna, head of marketing and product planning, dispelled the popular myth that Minis sell primarily to women. “The brand skews slightly female,” he said. “We see more of a male skew on the upper performance models.”