John Cooper Works Mini Coopers: A Brief History

John Cooper Works Mini Coopers: A Brief History

Who is John Cooper, and what is Cooper Works?


John Cooper with his son, Mike

A name that is now synonymous with high-performance Mini Coopers, John Cooper did not start his career behind the wheel of the famous British hot hatch. Together with his father, Charles, Cooper worked as a constructor of Formula racing cars, starting out in Formula 3 and eventually building for Formula 1. In 1955, the Coopers revealed a mid-engined sports car, a revolutionary design that would go on to propel the Coopers to back-to-back constructors’ and drivers’ championships in 1959 and 1960.

At the height of John Cooper’s racing fame, the Mini was born. Chief Designer Alec Issigonis and Cooper had been business partners and friends dating back to the former’s time with British Motor Corporation. During the initial phases of the Mini’s development, Cooper recognized the sporting potential that the economically designed Mini possessed. The short wheel base, low center of gravity, and light weight made a perfect platform for Cooper’s tuning outfit to modify.

Following successes in the 1960 Monte Carlo Rally, further tuning began on the Mini. Additional power was added, disc brakes were fitted, and a host of other modifications fired the tiny hatch to unprecedented dominance in rally racing during the 1960’s. Combined with a series of successes on road and street courses, the Mini Cooper would come to be known as the most accomplished racing platform of the decade. With those successes would come a near insatiable demand for Cooper Works tuning kits. Thus, the Mini “Cooper” was made available to the public, and was also offered in Cooper S guise, featuring even more power than before. The production of these vehicles was advantageous to Mini: the homologation allowed them to be used in Group 2 rally racing.


The Monte Carlo winning Mini Cooper

Although production of the original Mini would last until the late 1990’s, it was not until the revamp of the Mini marque through BMW’s backing that the John Cooper Works name would again come to the forefront of the motoring world. At the turn of the century, John’s son Michael was the head of the Cooper Works firm, which was at the time a publicly traded company known as John Cooper Garages. Prior to the relaunch of the Mini brand, BMW recognized how important it would be to align the new Mini with the heritage of Cooper Works. Beginning with the R50 Mini Cooper, a Cooper Works kit would be available and again signify the highest performing Mini Cooper available. The tuning kits would progress further, eventually becoming factory-built John Cooper Works Minis. The relationship culminated with BMW purchasing the rights to the name and eventually purchasing the company as a whole in 2008.

John Cooper Works Tuning Kits and Vehicles (Pre-BMW)

1961: The first Mini Cooper model featured a larger engine as compared to the standard Mini, twin carburetors, front disc brakes, and a short ratio gearbox.

1963: The Cooper “S” was unveiled, featuring an even larger engine, fortified bottom end, and even larger power assisted disc brakes. The Mini Cooper S was produced with two different sized engines, in order to comply with two different racing classes.

1971 marked the discontinuation of the Mini Cooper name from the Mini line in the United Kingdom. Models badged as Mini Coopers were still sold in other European countries but in most cases were just standard Minis.

1989-1991: Although not technically a Mini Cooper by name, the 1989 Mini ERA Turbo marked the fastest-ever version of the original Mini to be officially sold through dealerships. Often hailed as a successor to the original Cooper and 1275GT Minis, the car featured a turbocharged Austin Rover engine producing an impressive 94 horsepower propelling the car to a top speed of around 115 mph. Only 436 examples of the ERA Turbo Minis were produced.

1990-1991: The Mini Cooper RSP model marked the return of the Cooper line and its’ sporting ambitions. The RSP featured a 1,275cc engine and a standard oil cooler.

1994-1996: Mini Cooper 35, Monte Carlo, and Grand Prix models were produced in celebration of historical racing achievements and longevity of the Mini marque. These Coopers featured John Cooper touches such as performance upgrades and signature decals.

1997-2000: The Mini Cooper Sport 500, Mini John Cooper, Mini Cooper S Works, Mini Cooper S Sport 5, Mini Cooper S Touring, and Mini Cooper Sports LE were produced during these last few years of the original Mini design. Each of these Coopers featured the standard S treatment along with visual and further performance upgrades, peaking with the Mini Cooper S works, which featured an output of 90 horsepower from a fully reworked motor, gaining it the distinction of being the most powerful Cooper ever made to that point.


Mini Cooper RSP and Mini ERA Turbo


John Cooper Works Tuning Kits and Vehicles (Post-BMW)

The John Cooper Works name made a return for the first generation Mini Cooper produced by BMW. Originally offered as dealer add-ons, the acquisition of John Cooper Garages by BMW in 2008 saw the switch from Cooper Works packages to factory built John Cooper Works vehicles.

R50 Cooper JCW Kit: The first tuning kit produced for the new Mini Cooper was made for the R50 base Mini. Featuring a flowed and ported cylinder head, improved airbox and filtration system, free-flowing cat-back exhaust, and a remapped ECU to go along with special emblems, the JCW kit for the R50 brought a power increase of 11 horsepower. Although only a modest increase, these modifications could be performed without voiding the factory warranty. This kit was eschewed in 2004 in favor of the JCW sound kit, which was merely a unique intake, cat-back exhaust, and tuned ECU for the base Cooper.

R52 and R53 Cooper S JCW Kit: Released in 2004. the Cooper S tuning kit marked a considerable increase in power for the first generation Mini Cooper S. The JCW Cooper S Kit contained the following improvements: ported cylinder head, 11% reduction pulley for the supercharger, colder temperature range spark plugs, improved exhaust system, remapped ECU, and decorative badges including an individually numbered engine plate and certificate with Michael Cooper’s signature. 2005 marked even more performance upgrades for the JCW S Kit, including uprated injectors, an upgraded air intake system, and a further ECU remap to account for the new injectors. Power was increased to 200 and 210 horsepower respectively with the JCW Tuning Kit.

R53 JCW GP Kit (GP1): Limited to a production run of 2,000 units, the GP1 is essentially a factory-built JCW car but still had to be ordered as an additional package. The GP1 was built at the Mini plant in Oxford before being assembled by hand and painted by Bertone of Italy. The engine was modified to produce an impressive 218 horsepower thanks to an uprated intercooler among a host of other improvements. A limited slip differential was also fitted as standard. The exclusive color scheme featuring a “thunder blue” painted body with a “pure silver” roof make the GP1 instantly recognizable, along with chili red accents to the mirror caps and brake calipers. The bodywork contains a new front and rear bumper, side skirts, under-body paneling, and a carbon fiber spoiler.


R53 Mini Cooper JCW GP Edition


R55, R56, and R57 Cooper S JCW Kit: In 2007, the JCW Tuning Kit was released for the 2nd generation of Mini Coopers. Due to the nature of the now turbocharged Mini Cooper S engine, a small change in intake and exhaust systems along with an ECU remap saw the kit provide an increase of 17 horsepower, bringing the total to an impressive 192 horsepower from the 1.6-liter mill. This kit is commonly referred to as the “Stage 1” kit amongst tuners and enthusiasts. In 2011, the Stage 1 kit was updated, adding a small plaque with a series production number mounted on the engine, along with front and rear JCW badging.

Factory John Cooper Works Minis

Mid-2008 marked the first factory built John Cooper Works Mini Cooper. Previously, the JCW package could only be ordered as a dealer add-on, now a car can be fitted with a JCW treatment directly from the production line.

R5X Mini John Cooper Works: The R56 JCW is a completely new version of the R56 Mini Cooper Hatchback, featuring a maximum output of 211 horsepower thanks to a larger exhaust, modified turbo charger, and an ECU remap. The R56 JCW also sports an electronic limited slip differential, dynamic traction control borrowed from BMW, and 4 pot JCW brakes produced by Brembo specifically for the John Cooper Works models. These mechanical features go along with unique exterior and interior colors, as well as special badging to denote the John Cooper Works heritage. The 2nd generation Mini Cooper JCW is also joined by the R55 Clubman, R57 Convertible, R58 Coupe, R59 Roadster, R60 Countryman, and R61 Paceman in the Cooper Works stable, with the Paceman and Countryman featuring different engines and ALL4 all-wheel-drive technology.

R56 Mini John Cooper Works GP: The GP models are the most highly sought of all modern Mini Coopers. With an extremely limited production run of a mere 2,000 units, it is quite a rare sight. The GP features an additional 7 horsepower over the standard JCW, exclusive Mini Challenge Series wheels, specially designed Kumho tires, fully adjustable coilover suspension, and 6 piston Brembo brakes for even more stopping ability. These mechanical upgrades are joined by a GP specific paint scheme, as well as red accents on the mirror caps and brake ducts. The interior features a pair of unique Recaro sport seats fitted with side-impact airbags, a rear-seat delete, and a rear strut brace for added rigidity.


R56 Mini Cooper JCW GP Edition


F5X Chassis Mini John Cooper Works Cars: With the release of the all new F56 platform in 2014 came a rumor of future John Cooper Works cars, and Mini delivered in 2015 with the F56 JCW. The F56 version features an all-new 2.0-liter turbo mill from BMW, producing an impressive 231 horsepower. This new mill propels the F56 JCW to a blistering 6.3 second 0-60 sprint. As with all of the JCW cars, further unique details are added, including JCW specific seats, badging, color options, and brakes. The F56 JCW also distances itself from the layman Mini Cooper S with an upgraded intercooler and piping, ECU tune, JCW specific exhaust, shorter transmission ratios, and additional cooling capability. The F56 JCW is also joined in the Cooper Works lineup by the F57 Convertible JCW.

Future of Cooper Works Mini Coopers

Although the Cooper Works lineup has expanded to nearly every Mini since the relaunch of the brand in 2002, the name has not been marginalized by using it on lesser models. The John Cooper Works badge is still reserved for the highest performing, most sporting Mini Coopers, and that standard has been upheld to the current day.


R58 Mini Coupe JCW

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