I firmly believe we're entering an era where those who have never seen a "proper" Mini will outnumber have. We're coming to a time when, for most people, a BMW Mini is a "real" Mini and the old one will simply be a historical oddity. A cool one, but still.
John Cooper's involvement with Alec Issigonis' Mini wasn't a simple one. To get a racier Mini on the roads, Cooper had to do some pretty solid convincing. Thankfully, Issigonis took the bait and a legendary car was born. The Mini Cooper would go on to be an iconic name, one that would win races and the hearts of millions of people the world over.
When BMW bought the Mini nameplate, there was no question that Cooper would be back. But what involvement would John Cooper have? It would have been sacrilege to leave the man whose name charmed a generation out in the cold. John Cooper became THE Mini tuning guy -- he took the basic Cooper and Cooper S cars and turned the wick up a bit...a lot, actually. He died shortly before the fruits of his latest labours could be fully realised, but his name lives on.
After a while of operating as an official partner of BMW, JCW was bought outright by the company, becoming the Mini's M Division. JCW's cars are the most hardcore Minis money can buy -- they're faster, more technologically endowed, and all-round better than the more pedestrian cars. However, when a Mini's life is coming to an end, JCW is given its time to shine. The engineers put away the sensible pills and start taking acid.
The GP cars come with more powerful engines, tuned suspension, tweaked camber, silly spoilers, a brace bar in place of rear seats and a rather lovely noise. The Mini GP cars are "Mini Plus" and they're hard to get hold of. JCW only makes a limited number of them, a few to send off to the wider world to show the masses that Minis aren't all "cute."
The latest GP car, GP II, is an utter hoot to steer. It's fast, comes with a slick change, and can be manipulated on the road in ways that can get you in to trouble...I loved it, bar one thing: It's easy.
When I'm behind the wheel of something a bit "jazzy" I want to feel like I'm working for my supper. I want heavy steering, a chunky gear change, and a feeling that the car is a bit difficult. The GP II is...easy. It's like driving any other hatchback. Albeit one that'll bite if you poke it in the wrong place. The original GP, based on the first BMW Mini requires some work to steer, and I liked it. I also preferred its supercharger whine over the GP II's more conventional turbo thrum. Still, all the GP IIs are sold now, but if you can find one I'll wager it won't be cheap.
So here's to John Cooper, a man who created race legends, a nameplate that got under the skin of millions and made some very funky BMWs go very quickly indeed.