In 2003, Mini fans packed their local cinemas with the release of The Italian Job, which like the 1969 version saw a trio of Mini Coopers taking leading roles. For South Africans there were extra bragging rights with Charlize Theron as one of the stars at the wheel of one of the pocket rockets.
Of course, the old guard mumbled that the storyline wasn’t the same, it was shot in Venice and Los Angeles not Turin and that the cars were now BMW-made (nicknamed Bini) and not the original giant-killing Mini Cooper S models of ’69 (they were actually 1967 cars plated to look like 1969).
But love it or hate it, for the freshly formed John Cooper Works (JCW) company of Michael Cooper, son of John Cooper (racing car maker and tuner responsible for the original hot Mini), it was a marketing triumph. Suddenly everyone wanted stripes and spotlights on their road-going Bini. Or even better, the subtle JCW badging and under-the-skin upgrades to accompany.
The first JCW Tuning Kit to be made available for the Cooper S was an upgrade for the Cooper S, producing a total of 200bhp (150kW). Released in 2003, the kit consisted of an uprated cylinder head (gas-flowed and ported), 11% reduction of the supercharger pulley size (making the same blower spin faster), colder temperature-range spark plugs, uprated exhaust system (maintaining the same header and catalytic converter), remapped ECU, JCW badges, individually numbered engine plate and a certificate signed by Mike Cooper.
Later they developed a 210bhp kit, adding bigger fuel injectors, a cone air filter (inside the stock airbox) and a specific ECY tune to support the injector upgrade.
In 2007, German automaker BMW acquired the rights to the name, and it bought out the company in 2008. Since then, JCW offerings have evolved alongside the new Mini as it ran through three more generations.
Time flies. The 2003 remake of The Italian Job and the first John Cooper Works Bini will actually hit 20 years old next year and both are already enjoying cult and ‘classic’ status. In fact, all the first-generation new Minis have started climbing the ladder with enthusiasts and in the Hagerty 2022 Bull Market List, the JCW-kitted versions are leading the way.