No man is an island, as they say. Neither is any man a T-junction or dual carriageway, as no-one says. I’ve waxed lyrical in the past about the inextricable link between man and machine, in particular his/her chosen mode of transport and what this choice says about us to the onlooking world.
Since selling my excellent Audi A6 Avant in June 2011, I’ve been without a ‘car’ of my own, but a couple of weeks ago I came in out of the cold (literally) and rejoined the rat-race – I bought a bona fide automobile. The effect this has had on my life is infinitely more than the mere convenience of owning another car, it’s had a huge impact in a more spiritual sense.
Some may argue that I never really went cold-turkey on the transport front as I would never sell Matilda, our beloved VW Type 2, I own a Vespa which I classed as my everyday transport and ultimately, I could use my wife’s Citroen whenever the need arose. So why the tangible shift in attitude, just what can a humble car bring to aid one’s wellbeing?
As a hopeless car addict who’s owned one in some shape or form since he was 16, through thick or thin, in good times and bad, I couldn’t possibly have predicted the effect that non-ownership would have on my life. As handy and, in many ways, more convenient as it is to switch from car to scooter, I just couldn’t bring myself to jump whole-heartedly into the two-wheeled camp. The sensation could only be described as treachery, as many people would ask ‘So, what’s replaced the Audi?’ and I’d point sheepishly at my pretty Vespa, quickly uttering some pathetic excuse, like ‘I’m in-between cars at the moment’ or ‘It’s so I can save up for something’. Like someone who’s covering up for recently being sacked, I just couldn’t face the fact that I didn’t actually possess an everyday car to call my own.
A huge part of how we view and judge each other is based on what we do, both professionally and for pleasure. It generally doesn’t take too long for perfect strangers to realise that cars are of substantial importance in my life, usually because I’ve bored them to death about it within half an hour of introduction. It was therefore acutely alien, not only to me, but to my friends and family, when I was without an automobile, like a yin without its yang, like Ant without Dec – you get the idea.
So, just what vehicle has brought me in from the wilderness, what’s ended the drought? Well, having made no secret of my desire to own a late 80’s Porsche 911, that was the plan, but then our Victorian house started falling down so that budget literally went up in smoke. An Oak Green 16v Mk2 Golf Gti was a slightly cheaper proposition, but they were mostly going the same was as my house – crumbly. The highly desirable E36 M3 Convertible in Estoril Blue was my next target but I was told one too many tales of astronomical running costs for one of those and the idea lost its appeal.
So……. just what ended up fitting the bill? Well, it’s built beautifully by BMW, it’s a very hot hatch with some of the usual practicalities this brings and it’s roughly as quick as an ’87 911…….. It’s a MINI!!! Not just any MINI though, it’s a Cooper S. Not just any Cooper S though, it’s a JCW Cooper S. Pushing out 210bhp through the front wheels, courtesy of a supercharger and various engine upgrades, performance is, shall we say, spirited, especially in this treacherous icy weather we’re currently enjoying.
If anyone’s considering a Works MINI, just bear in mind that it’s fairly uncompromising in many ways. The suspension upgrades, coupled with 17” wheels make for a ride that eventually forces you to weave across your lane, avoiding the many pot-holes in an effort to preserve one’s spine. The trade-off is obviously limpet-like handling characteristics, just don’t expect to waft to one’s destination, it’s more of a trial than a waft.
By far the most characterful part of an early Cooper S is the supercharger and its unmistakable whine. To say this scream is addictive would be an understatement and the faster you go, the louder and more satisfying it gets. I’m currently achieving an average of 30mpg in my Works but if you suffer from a particularly addictive personality, or a heavy right foot, those economy figures could easily tumble, along with your bank balance as you constantly top up the tank with the 98 RON petrol it demands.
I seem to be painting a fairly negative picture of my new pocket rocket so far but I’m just getting the potentially bad bits out-of-the-way first. Having sorted the fiddly seating position to my liking, this car is evidently serious quality and gravely serious fun. It is so obviously a 0.5 series BMW, they just refused to put their moniker on it, partly because it’s front wheel drive, partly to preserve the MINI identity without linking it to the far more grown-up BMW range. Space inside is a lot more reasonable than I envisaged and my daughters find the rear seats palatial. One word of warning though, whichever way you look at it, THE BOOT IS SMALL. I presumed that a spindly single Maclaren buggy would squeeze in – I was wrong.
Having been generously specced at the factory, my MINI wants for nothing, neither do it’s occupants. Everything’s either heated or electric which gives the sensation of sitting in a little M3. The extra weight added by these luxuries may detract from the go-kart sensation a Works offers but they’re more than welcome if you like your creature comforts.
Like every good relationship, any initial doubts I may have harboured about my new acquisition are rapidly dissipating as the satisfaction of MINI ownership shines through. Perhaps more importantly though, I feel complete again.
By Ben Harrington
- First Look: 2003 Mini Cooper S (motortrend.com)
- [VIDEO] MINI JCW GP gets new presentation video (inautonews.com)
- First Drive: 2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 John Cooper Works Prototype (motortrend.com)
- 2014 Mini Cooper Spy Photos – News – Car and Driver (minioftampabay.wordpress.com)