MINI and me
Entrepreneur Gavin Rooke is a longtime MINI lover – and it’s his supercharged collectible that holds a special place in his heart
When the new MINI came out in 2000, I was the owner of one of the first cars to arrive in South Africa. I drive a 2016 MINI John Cooper Works Hatch today, but I really love the Mark I.
At the end of 2006, the last and best of the entire model range was released: the MINI John Cooper Works GP. Only about 2 000 were produced globally.
The GP is the crown jewel – the design at its purest. It was hand-finished by specialist car stylists and coachbuilders Bertone in Italy. They whipped out the rear seats and kept the weight low. They upped the performance of the motor to make it race-ready, and put some good work into the handling and suspension. They also added carbon wings to improve the aerodynamics. It’s got very specific racing wheels and livery on it, and some cabin upgrades, too. It’s a gem.
But the thing I love most about it is that it has a supercharger. It has a supercharger! How amazing is that? There are only a handful of contemporary cars on the market that have superchargers. They are amazing things. They’re mechanical, sucking in air and pushing out more power in a raw, immediate way. Turbochargers are a lot easier to manage and, in certain cases, more efficient – plus they don’t need a big hulking hole in the bonnet – but they have a bit of a lag.
It has a supercharger! How amazing is that? There isn’t a contemporary car on the market that has a supercharger
Of course, the MINI John Cooper Works GP is highly collectible. South Africa got only 30 of them, and I eventually found one. Now, a lot of people have made the mistake, in my opinion, of buying a GP, which is very special, and then changing the suspension and putting in additional racing components. While this might make the car a little bit quicker, it destroys its soul. The GP is so beautifully designed and put together in the first place.
I restored mine to concourse condition – identical to the way it left the factory, right down to the carpets… Unchanged. When I get into my GP and it reaches about 2 500 revs, it starts to whine as the supercharger gains pace. You can hear it. It’s a hum. And it gets this totally different torque curve. There’s no turbo lag, and it sucks in your gut when you accelerate. It feels amazing.
With the car perfectly restored, I thought: “I’m going to have to race this MINI.” In 2006, the GP was positioned as being a high-performance track-ready car, and I decided we were going to enter the 2016 Simola Hillclimb in Knysna.
I’ve done the Hillclimb a few times. My design company, Dutchmann, specialises in collaborating with craftsmen to modify and upgrade classic air-cooled 911 Porsches – we call them Weekend Racers. They have modern engines and other performance and safety features, as well as beautifully handcrafted interior finishes. I’ve taken Weekend Racers to the Hillclimb, and we’ve even had podium finishes.
This time, I thought we’d step out of the classics. There’s one class in the main race specifically for unmodified four-cylinder cars, and I decided that was the category to enter. Only later did I find out what I was up against: all fully contemporary cars. We would be competing with a range of Jaguars, Mercedes-AMGs, Golf Rs, Alfa Romeo 4Cs, BMWs… They were all turbocharged, some mid-engined. Pretty much all of them had launch control.
The GP can definitely punch above its weight, but it’s only a 1600 and it’s 10 years old. We were up against 80 cars. I acknowledged the fact that we could not win. We were going to get hammered!
But that wasn’t the point. I was doing it for fun, to see how fast we could get up the hill. The objective would be to not come last. I put a decal on the windscreen that said: “Knife at a gunfight”, and we raced.
We did the climb in 54 seconds flat, which is remarkable – only a third of a second slower than our 2.7-litre, high-performance Porsche! Ultimately, we came 61st, beating a lot of cars. The white-knuckled thrill was unbelievable.
I now own three GPs, and have decided to pay tribute to them. I’ve hunted down a number of the last and best of the supercharged MINIs from around 2005/2006 – every MINI Cooper S at the time had that amazing supercharger. I’m working with specialist mechanics to deconstruct them, respray them, then modify and rebuild them, upgrading various components, improving speed, handling and safety, and putting them all back together again. They’ll have handcrafted, bespoke interiors. I’m calling it Studio Mechanika. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll take one of the restored cars to Knysna…
We’ll have more on Gavin’s Studio Mechanika GP tributes after he completes the first one in October.