The swinging '60s posturing that helped launch (and continues to sustain, with increasingly stretched credibility) the modern Mini may still grate. But I think with the first cars we finally have something that lives the original Mini dream. As such will there be a whole new generation of young drivers getting up to first car mischief in souped-up Minis? I hope so. And prices of early Cooper S models would seem to make that a viable dream.
I like the first, ‘R53’ generation of modern Mini most of all. I think the styling is cleaner and more successful than the later versions but it benefits from sophistication most hot hatches can only dream of. This gives them a much broader range of ability, with enough comfort and refinement for racking up boring motorway miles without any dilution of tearaway thrills on a B-road blast. The 170hp Cooper S has enough power to be going on with and the whine of the supercharger harks back to the sound of the classic Mini’s A-Series too. It’s also easily tuned, the optional factory-fit John Cooper Works package taking it to 200hp and beyond.
You can get an early Cooper S for as little as £2,500 these days, these cars typically well-specced with more luxuries than your average hot hatch. They’ll have lived a life at this price point and cleaner, more desirable examples can cost double that. Pays your money and all that.
Finding a stand-out example of a relatively commonplace and mainstream car like this took some (virtual) legwork, I’ll admit. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is helped by having a checklist of ‘must-haves’ before hitting the classifieds, especially given the number of cars in the market and a huge range of options. I decided I wanted one with the JCW package for the extra power because, well, why wouldn’t I. Plenty have the body kit with the small skirt vents and rear wing, which isn’t as offensive as those fitted to the later generations and something I’d consider tolerable. I think I’d have to draw the line at a Union Jack roof though, this £5K car nicely specced and with the power upgrade but a little too heart on sleeve, thanks all the same.