JCW Badge

In the MINI world three words stand between mediocrity and the top level performance trim: John Cooper Works (or JCW for short), but what makes a JCW? Way back in the 1960s John Cooper’s eponymous workshop became famous for building bonkers race cars and the most bonkers of these were the Austin MINI Cooper S that went on to win the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, 1967 and would have swept 1966 but were disqualified on a technicality (headlights). Needless to say, motorsport history was made and a giant slaying legend was born.

Paddy Hopkirk and 33 EJB

The car world has changed a lot since then and ownership of the Mini brand, the Cooper name, and the John Cooper Works brands have all changed hands several times; all winding up in the hands of BMW and brought together under the MINI brand.

The last of these brands to make a comeback was actually John Cooper Works which came to market as an independent race tuning partner of the recently resurrected MINI brand in March 2003. JCW tuning kits were sold and installed by the MINI dealer network and unlike other kits it retained the full factory warranty (BMW partner Dinan being the only other exception) until late 2004 when the MINI John Cooper Works became a factory trim for the 2005 model year.

The First Generation Cooper (R50)

The JCW Tuning Kit for the R50 MINI Cooper (yep, the base model) actually existed.

The Cooper kit included the following items:

  • Machined cylinder head
  • Cat-back sport exhaust system
  • Cold air intake
  • Cover injection tube
  • ECU programming
  • Badges for the engine cover, front grille, rear bumper, and side scuttles
  • Certificate of authenticity

This kit is so rare that I have literally only ever seen it once. The price was steep in the US at $2600 and it only added 10 horsepower and 4 lb-ft of torque. Predictably it didn’t do well and was canned after 2004 (though the exhaust was still available). You will probably go your entire life without ever seeing or hearing one.

The First Generation Cooper S (R52 & R53)

The JCW tuning kit for the Supercharged Cooper S was much more popular thanks to it adding a lot more power at a somewhat reasonable price.

There were actually two dealer kits and the first contained:

  • Machined cylinder head
  • Revised supercharger with 11.3% reduction pulley
  • Smaller diameter belt
  • NGK BKR7EQUP Spark Plugs
  • Cat-back sport exhaust system
  • ECU programming
  • Intercooler cover
  • Badges for the front grille and rear bumper
  • Certificate of authencity

Power figures were brought up to 197 hp @ 6950 RPM and peak torque was 177 lb-ft @ 4000 RPM.

The second kit included all of the above, plus the following additions:

  • Cold air intake
  • Bosch 380cc fuel injectors

These two additions brought power up to 207 hp @ 6950 RPM and torque to 180 lb-ft @ 4500 RPM.

Needless to say, these cars were obnoxiously fun, but spotting one requires a bit of detective work. All of these parts except the ECU tune were publically available through the BMW parts network so the only guaranteed way to know is to take the VIN to a dealer and have them verify that this car is noted as having JCW engine software in their system. Unfortunately, this still won’t tell you if you have the first version of the kit, or the second. For that you would need to open the hood and see if you have the JCW air box and pull the fuel rail and check if your injectors are blue.

Regarding the JCW brakes and suspension:

The factory JCW included two additional changes not present in the tuning kits above. Namely larger brakes and stiffer suspension springs that dropped the car 1.25 inches front and rear. These were commonly retrofitted onto other cars so neither is a dead giveaway that you are looking at a JCW.

A note about the factory aero kit:

The first generation also had a factory aero kit, but that actually had nothing to do with John Cooper Works and everything to do with the MINI Challenge racing series. Even if you ordered a JCW from the factory this kit was a separate option with only a few rare exceptions (the Canadian market only Competition Edition for example).  As a result, this body kit can be commonly found on any first generation car (there is even a version for the base Cooper). Heck, I even had it retrofitted on my Dinan tuned R53 almost as soon as I got it because it was too good looking not to.

Second Generation (R55, R56, R57, R58, R59)

Amazingly, for the second generation MINIs with the PSA Prince engines things actually managed to keep things just as confusing as with the first generation (if not moreso because they switched engines at the Life Cycle Impulse or LCI refresh).

The JCW tuning kits for the N14 and N18 engines included the following:

  • Cold air intake with cone filter
  • Updated exhaust manifold
  • Cat-back exhaust
  • ECU programming
  • Front and rear badges
  • Serialized sticker for the valve cover
  • Certificate of authenticity

Despite containing many similar parts, the ECU programming was not cross compatible between the two engines and the CAI box top required a matching bottom (though this will mount to either engine).

Power figures were slightly different mostly because of the different specific outputs of the N14 (172hp) and N18 (181 hp) engines owing to the laters more advanced double VANOS system, revised head, timing, cam and positive crankcase ventilation system. Horsepower figures went up to 189 hp and 197 hp respectively while torque figures jumped to the same 184 lb-ft for both engines (and 199 lb-ft during overboost). Interestingly, the exhaust tips on this tuning kit are actually much nicer than the ones that came on the factory JCW…

Factory JCW mechanicals vs Cooper S:

The differences on the second generation JCW from its Cooper S counterpart are actually far more pronounced than previous generations for both the N14 and N18 engines (2013-onward). Starting at the fuel preparation system and moving backwards.

  • Same air box and filter as the JCW tuning kit above
  • Larger air mass sensor
  • Larger turbocharger capable of a maximum boost level of 25.5 PSI  (vs 21.9 PSI)
  • Common rail direct injection system from the MINI Challenge race car
  • Revised valves and valve seat rings on both intake and exhaust side
  • Same exhaust manifold as the JCW tuning kit above
  • Revised turbo-back exhaust with larger catalytic converter
  • Revised clutch plate with more aggressive friction material

Regarding the JCW aero kit:

Prior to the 2011 LCI the JCW aero kit was only available as a dealer retrofit. The entire design was lifted directly from the JCW Challenge race car with a smaller version of the integrated 2-piece front splitter.

In 2010 MINI introduced a different aerokit exclusively for the factory JCW, but the take rate was very low. MINI quickly noticed that most JCW customers were still ordering the dealer retrofit above and the kit found itself promptly cancelled and replaced by a revised version of the original retrofit kit for the LCI. As a result, the 2010 JCW body kit is extremely rare.

Starting in 2011 with the MINI John Cooper Works World Championship 50 Edition (yep, that whole thing is it’s name) all factory JCWs would come with the JCW Challenge aero kit and wheels as standard equipment.

JCW Challenge race car for reference…

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