Mini Cooper S Sport 5
Car genius John Cooper is one of that rare breed of people who knows cars, whose name is ineradicably assocaited with cars and who gave his racing expertise - and his name - to one of the most important and well known cars of the last 40 years for the Mini Cooper and Cooper S is John Cooper, indeed the latest models even have his autograph on the bonnet.
From humble beginnings as a sort of people’s car in 1959 Alec Issigonis’s extraordinary Mini fast became a world beater when John Cooper had the idea of stuffing a highly tuned Formula Junior engine into the tiny under bonnet hole, as revolutionary a move as was his creation of the first rear engined F1 cars in 1958, that development ruled the F1 world for several years giving Cooper two World Championships in 1959 and 1960.
By this act of extraodianry technologial presecience a star was born, first in 998 cc then 997 S forms then finally and most competitievly of all the legendary 1275 cc S which won dozens of rallies and dozens of saloon car races always beating cars much bigger, much more powerful, by it’s incredible nimbleness, it’s inner wheel waving efforts at on-the-edge cornering can be seen in racing photos throughout the 60s and 70s and the incredible power to weight ratio gave the little car stunning acceleration enabling it to beat Lotus Cortinas, Mk2 Jaguars, Ford Galaxies, all of the racing saloons of the 60’s and 70’s exactly as it did again at the Goodwood revival meeting in September when it beat all again.
But the S had another life off track for it became the defining car of the 1960s, that whole generation taking to the Mini, it was outlandishly decorated in the symbols of the time, stuffed with as much luxury as a Rolls Royce in the famed Wood and Pickett coachbuilt versions owned by the pop and movie stars of the era, used as props for dishevelled students to cram into for the Guiness record books, shortened, lengthened, heightened and lowered, the Mini soon became all things to all men... and women.
I hadn’t driven a Mini Cooper S for a good number or years and I had forgotten just how much fun the hot Mini is, I only drove it for a few hours but it took me back many years, I had so much fun, not going that fast but always feeling close to the edge, the grip is still extraordianary, every roundabout a challenge, and the acceleration is still lightening and your proximity to the road - like a go kart your nether regions are very close to the tarmac - all heightens the speed, it’s like one of those huge roller coasters, you always know you’re actually quite safe but it sure sharpens the senses when you’re out their on the edge. It takes years off you.
I drove what is now the top of the range Cooper S built by John Cooper, the S Sport 5 - so called because unlike most Minis it now has a 5 speed gearbox - Cooper taking the Rover Mini 1.3 Mini from Rover - it’s all fully approved and warranted by Rover - and bringing it to S spec of 85 bhp with a new head, high power exhaust, mods to the dual point injection system and breathing and many other detail improvements to get the performance up to 9.7 seconds for the 0-60 dash and a 97 mph top speed but, believe me, both feel twice as fast when your butt’s on the floor.
But it’s not just about performance, the S Sport 5 is keeping alive that dress-up Mini tradition in best Wood and Pickett fashion with a walnut dash, extra guages, 4 auxiliary front lights, alloy door and window fittings and leather wheel and gear shift items.
If you ever wanted to taste the elixir of life, wanted to go back in time, recapture your youth, the Mini Cooper S Sport 5 can do that for you it did the job for me, I loved it.
First Published 1997 - Article © Graham Benge 2007