Classic British Mini Receives Sparkling Facelift

John Cooper Garages of Worthing in England, has recently opened a new chapter in a very long and distinguished British heritage with the launch of two new Mini models -- the 1997 Cooper "S" Touring and the Cooper "S" Sport 5. Just when you thought the Mini, which is more than 35 years old, could not possibly go on any longer, the world-renowned John Cooper has improved and re-marketed it!

This year John Cooper celebrates 50 years as a specialist car producer. He was at one time Britain's most prolific maker of racing cars, and he developed the original 1963 Mini Cooper "S" from the standard road-going Mini as a competition car. In fact, the original "hot supermini" was never intended to be sold as a road-going car, yet it caused a commercial sensation. Originally, only 1,000 Mini Cooper cars were to be made, as this quantity was the minimum allowable for race and rally homologation, but the "flying brick" -- as some dubbed it -- caught the public's imagination and continued in production for 10 years. It then took almost another 20 years before the Cooper name reappeared on a production Mini.

There's no denying the fact that the Japanese have been a major force in determining continued production of the venerable British Mini -- they simply can't get enough of it. And the newest Cooper "S" has been developed as a result of continued demand by the Japanese for specialist Minis. It's an interesting fact that more than half of the Mini Coopers built today are destined for the Far East market.

The new Cooper "S" is derived from the highly acclaimed 1997-specification Mini Cooper and is available only from John Cooper Garages. It's a conversion which builds on the standard car's strengths to provide substantially improved engine performance together with an enhanced specification.

Two derivatives are available: the "S" Touring and the "S" Sport 5. Both feature a specially developed 62Kw (85bhp) version of the Rover's 1.3-liter twin-point injection A-series engine to produce very lively acceleration in such a light body, along with a top speed in the region of 160 kilometers per hour.

The heart and soul of the Cooper "S" is the engine. To build such a substantial power increase, while maintaining a beefy mid-range and a clean tailpipe, was a task that was to take Cooper's chief engineer Tony Franks and assistant engineer Robert Jones some eight months to achieve. The key lies in substantial work to the cylinder head and fueling systems. It involves fitting larger valves to a head that is ported and polished, with the combustion chamber volumes equalized and the compression raised to 10.5 to 1. The throttle body, inlet manifold and exhaust system also receive attention.

Exclusivity is guaranteed, as only 150 "S" conversions are scheduled for completion by John Cooper Garages during this year, each individually numbered and identified with a metal engraved plaque.

Star of the new Cooper "S" range is the "S" Sport 5, because it is the first ever production Mini to be equipped with a five-speed gearbox. Coupled to the "S" engine and also improved with Koni sports suspension and larger 13-inch road wheels, the "S" Sport 5 has pretty startling performance by Mini standards, and manages to boost that unique Mini driving appeal, despite the fact that its much improved refinement and leisurely cruising takes it some distance from the revered Mini driving tradition.

Both the Touring and Sport 5 are distinguished from lesser Minis by the unique "S" badging on the body sides, together with red winged Cooper badges on the nose and tail. Inside there's a sporting theme generated by the use of alloy interior door handles and window winders, plus a leather gear knob, leather steering wheel and wood door cappings and pulls.

Visual giveaways for the "S" Touring include wider tires on the standard alloy wheels with body-colored wheel spats and a chromed tailpipe. The Sport 5 is distinguished by the beefier wheels and tires, larger wheel arches and a pair of fog lamps which supplement the spot lamps.

In its current guise, the Mini Cooper "S" benefits from some of the latest passive safety features, including a driver's airbag and seat-belt pre-tensioners, while a variety of measures aimed at reducing noise levels make it considerably quieter than before.

More than three decades since it first made the headlines with an impressive race and rally debut, the Mini Cooper "S" builds on its classic heritage to retain that unique Cooper "S" character with its timeless appeal and cheeky exuberance. Yet it attains a degree of refinement undreamed of by those who enjoyed yesterday's Cooper "S" -- and that makes it as easy to live with as many more modern designs of car. And that in itself is a Mini first!

Features in brief

? Five-speed gearbox for the first time in a Mini Cooper

? New 85bhp engine boosts power by 30 percent

? Two models: "S" Touring at ?10,995 ($17,600); "S" Sport 5 at ?12,995

? Sport 5 has larger wheels and uprated suspension.

? All models have driver airbag and seatbelt pre-tensioners. Optional extras aplenty are available from both Rover and Cooper Garages.

Ivor Carroll is a writer with Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.