Although BMW regards its 20 years old version of the Mini as an ‘icon’, Iain Robertson holds fast on the 61 years old Issigonis original for the true title, yet little seems to halt the Teutonic desire to enlarge and elaborate its comic-book rival.
A lover of food, my tastes are truly international, extending from really fast to comfortably slow and culinary. Having been fortunate enough to sample Chilli con Carne in a south Texan restaurant, where I learnt that honey was a natural sweetener used in the original recipe, my foodie travels have also revealed light honey used as a dip for fish in Italy. However, I have eaten fried rattlesnake in Canada (yes, it tastes like chicken), dried bear in Finland and whale stew in Norway.
Naturally, I love the varied flavours, spices and regional differences of China, India and even Japan. Yet, I also adore pizza, a rugged and wholesomely topped bread dish from Italy that, despite its peasant connections, is prepared to the highest standards by the food artisans of both the north and south of that Mediterranean country. Of course, it has gained notoriety as an ultimate fast food but none more so than in the back streets of New York, popularised by immigrants and exemplified most tastefully by the international NY chain known as ‘Papa John’s’, of which an outlet is sure to be located near to you.
One of its most popular toppings is ‘All The Works’, which includes its spiciest meats and zestiest vegetables. When BMW sought to engender potential customers to its larger Mini line-up, it insisted on a range-topper that would reflect a heritage that it had acquired from BMC/Austin-Rover Group. It was more than just a speculative nod towards John Cooper, former Grand Prix racer and team owner, who passed away sadly, just as the new BMW Mini broke cover. In fact, John Cooper Works (JCW) examples of the car have been produced since 2008 (first in ‘race’ trim, then as a limited production version), in all five Mini body-styles.
While Cooper S variants remain the most in-demand of all (53% of production), the ‘Works’ alternatives have allowed BMW’s Mini design team to explore their inner ‘hot rods’, with a blend of trim and power enhancements that result in stellar price tags and the inevitability of rare model collectability. By playing the zeitgeist game, BMW has managed very carefully to nurture a juicy, if thin, segment of the new car buying scene that is also into rare wristwatches and designer fashion goods. In keeping the full ‘Works’ options to a strictly limited pattern, price becomes no object and social standing increases accordingly.
The latest Works GP example (limited to just 3,000 examples, which is apparently ‘exclusive’ enough for buyers not to reflect on the true definition of the word), actually adopts the most radical stance of all, distilling race car character, with extreme design elements. Most obvious are the ‘raw’ carbon-fibre wheel-arch flares, or spats, for want of a better term, that sit proud of the standard car’s bodywork, in the style of early-1990s GT racing cars. While carbon suggests a weight-saving, the reality of being ‘attached’ to an otherwise stock body is a penalty.
The flares are certainly different and link with the equally radical ‘box’ aerodynamic spoiler atop the rear hatchback, which looks like an escapee from the World Rally Car formula. In reality, it would offer some form of ‘downforce’ at speeds in excess of 100mph, of which the car is ultimately capable of exceeding, even though the actual locations worldwide where it might be possible are disappearing fast. The front of the car is typically hot-Mini-fussy; a mess of cracks and crevasses that possess a notional airflow value but are actually without much. The tail features an equally fussy rear under-bumper, from which sprout a pair of large diameter, mildly megaphone, stainless-steel exhaust tailpipes.
A set of even lighter, 18.0-inch diameter, forged, four-spoke alloy wheels carry super-sticky tyres that might be fortunate to survive for around 8,000 miles of careful driving before needing to be replaced. Car designers love colour variances as an expressive medium and BMW’s team has been allowed to go haywire with the Works GP. What might be chromed on a regular Mini, is now an emphasising gloss black, a feature carried onto the side skirts. A racy red is used for the inner surfaces of the top-box spoiler and the air ducts elsewhere. The carbon surfaces are matt black.
While not wishing to bull-up its sorely overpriced stance, buyers need to be aware that, as with former GP versions (2008 and 2012), there is no rear seat, as the model purports to offer ‘weight savings’ over the standard car…of which there are none. The space is ‘filled’ by a red gloss, diagonal roll bar, which hints at its kitsch racing heritage…John Cooper is sure to be turning in his grave. Additional panels carry the ‘GP’ logo, as if the message has not been transmitted adequately.
Other interior elements are notable for the 3-D printing techniques that have reduced production costs by enabling short-run components, such as the aluminium steering wheel gearshift paddles, to be reproduced more efficiently and with greater design freedom. This is a first for the BMW Mini and it is also worth noting that the instrument panel ahead of the driver has been significantly reduced in bulk, with the greater use of digitisation. The large circular dial in the centre of the dashboard relays all of the other information and uses a twist controller in the centre console to access its various features.
Powered by a 302bhp version of the company’s 2.0-litre turbo-petrol transverse engine, the performance offering is around 5.2s for the 0-60mph blast, with a top whack of approximately 155mph. Economy, emissions and final pricing will be announced in due course but you can expect it to settle at around £36,000 at least.
Conclusion: Complete with its Union Jack taillights, the raciest version of the Mini yet produced is set for launch by the end of this year. It is certain to appeal to speculators, due to its limited production run and collectable status, if you are prepared to pay the price.