On the evidence of the press images that Mini issued a couple of weeks ago, the forthcoming John Cooper Works will be even madder than the previous generation R56 model. Although Mini claims this is just a concept for the time being you can bet your house on the production model looking just the same, which is to say utterly bonkers. How much front grill treatment does one car need anyway?
The R56 JCW didn't look as insane as the new version apparently will, although it did have a deeper front splitter and a couple of rather unattractive warts on the rear bumper to set it apart from the standard Cooper S. The driving experience, though, was unhinged.
The 1.6-litre turbo engine was a real bruiser. Peak power was some 210hp and torque rose to 207lb ft on overboost, but the delivery was even more impressive; there was just no lag and the torque curve seemed to flatten from 2,000rpm. The JCW felt properly quick in a straight line and had sufficient tractability to make Boxster drivers sweat.
The chassis was just about up to it. On dry, flat surfaces the front tyres could handle the grunt, but on a greasy or slightly uneven road the car would be tugged this way and that under full power. It was the chassis balance, though, that really defined the JCW because it was just so desperate to get all out of shape given half a chance. I remember exploring this on a test track one autumn and being staggered at how readily the rear end would break free at corner entry.
I don't remember any massive yaw moments on the open road, but that rear-led balance could still be felt. It made the JCW wonderfully adjustable and engaging to drive. It was a properly thuggish little hot hatch that subverted the standard Mini's cutesy image brilliantly.
That made it one of the more loopy cars in its class, I remember thinking, because as a Mini it would inevitably have been sold to kept wives and spoilt teenage girls who simply wanted the top of the line model. I wonder what they made of its lift-off oversteer characteristics in third-gear corners.
I once drove a JCW some 2,000 miles in three days from England's southeast to Monaco and back. I was in search of rally nirvana and so scrambled up to the Col de Turini in the Alpes-Maritimes north of Monaco. Having effortlessly cruised the autoroutes for 10 hours the previous day, the JCW then lit up the col as if it had numbers on its doors.
It was an impressive car back in 2008, but at more than £21,000 before options there was no escaping the fact that it was an expensive one, too. A few years on, JCWs are starting to dip below £10,000, just as this 70,000-mile examplehas done. It looks good in black, has a decent optional kit count and even comes with a warranty and care package. I reckon it's a lot of car for the money. If you are tempted by one make sure you know the difference between proper JCWs and the lesser John Cooper Works-kitted Cooper S. On this occasion, you'll want the warts.