Two-seat hatchbacks have existed for decades. Just look at the old Group B homologation specials like the Lancia Delta S4 or Renault 5 Turbo 2, or nutty creations dreamt up engineers wondering if you can shove a V6 is the middle of a Clio. Yet whenever a carmaker launches a lightweight track-version of a model initially intended for commuting and shopping trips, there’s typically a collective sigh while many ask: “what’s the point?”
Granted, on paper at least, the whole two-seater concept doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. They’re not nearly as sleek as a purpose-built sports car and many of them retain their base car’s front-wheel drive layout. But the reality is vastly different, with hot hatch heroes like the Renault Megane R26.R and Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S proving that some of the best driving experiences come in familiar packages.
One of the first to bring together the layout with appropriately sharp handling was the original Mini John Cooper Works GP. Naturally, it had a people scratching their heads when it arrived on the scene in 2006, with the rear seats swapped out for a strut brace and a bit of netting to keep the contents of your shopping from being unleashed all over the cabin.
But the numbers speak for themselves. The original GP weighs in at just 1,090kg, marking a 50kg saving on the already admirably light R53 Cooper S. The upgrades don’t stop there, either. The suspension was stiffened up, the ride height lowered and a limited-slip differential was fitted to the front axle. Power from the 1.6-litre supercharged four-pot was slightly increased over the John Cooper Works R53, rising from 210hp to 218hp on the GP. Although when you consider that the current GP3 - with more power than any Mini that’s come before - has hardly been as well received as the previous two generations, it goes to show how BMW hit the nail on the head with the R53 hatchback.
Given its lightweight nature, you’d think the GP would be a nightmare to live with. But, ultimately, this is a BMW-produced Mini at the end of day, so it gets the same interior quality that we’ve come to expect from the R53 – along with some neat touches. The gear lever is carbon fibre with the JCW logo displayed on top, along with Recaro sports seats and GP branding on the door sills.
What makes the GP that little bit more special is that it was assembled by Bertone. This example has gone on quite the journey, with the body being sent from the Mini plant in Oxford to Bertone’s assembly plant in Grugliasco, Italy, before a final trip back to Blighty. And it would join only a few hundred other UK-bound Mini GPs out of the total 2,000-strong production run. The cherry on top is a sticker above the doors with the car’s production number – this one being #1190.
So, it’s rather special – and that’s very much reflected in Mini GP resale values. The car we have here was registered back in 2006 and has covered 75,000 miles since. It’s priced at £17,995; admittedly quite a bit more than what a JCW of the era will set you back, but the Mini GP offers a vastly more focused driving experience than many contemporaneous hot hatches. Plus, with other hardcore rivals commanding vast sums of money and being particularly difficult to find, this Mini GP is a great way into owning something exclusive – without the guilt of spending Porsche Cayman money…
SPECIFICATION | MINI GP1
Engine: 1,598cc, four cylinders, supercharged
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 218@7,100rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@4,600rpm
Year registered: 2006
Recorded miles: 75,000
Price new: £22,000
Yours for: £17,995
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