The current Mini hatchback is getting on a bit. It’ll soon be seven years since the first F56s rolled off the production line in Oxford, and although there have been two refreshes since then, the image-conscious supermini is fundamentally the same under its botoxed skin.
If you baulk at the thought of spending nearly £30,000 on something like the optioned-up Cooper S Sport we wrote about at the weekend (or committing to big monthly payments), the F56’s advancing years can be used to your advantage. It’s possible to part with less cash while getting hold of a far more interesting third-generation Mini from a few years ago, like a John Cooper Works. Or better yet, a John Cooper Works Challenge.
Not to be confused with the earlier and not quite as interesting Challenge 210, this Challenge was a skunk works-style project. Out when the JCW’s standard dampers, replaced with comprehensively adjustable coilovers from Nitron, a niche firm based just down the road from Mini that also supplies shocks to Lotus.
These increased negative camber while dropping the ride height by 40mm at the front and 20mm at the rear. The standard JCW brake calipers were combined with new drilled/grooved discs and uprated pads, a setup partially hidden by some lightweight 17-inch wheels from Team Dynamics. These downsized rims were wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slick tyres for full track day glory.
The road test team from Car Throttle sister title evo had a part to play in the project, figuring out the recommended suspension settings for the road and for the circuit. In case you’re wondering, this was determined to be 10 clicks of adjustment at the front and 15 at the rear for road use, and 15 front/25 rear for the track.
The engine was left alone, although with the 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four producing 228bhp and 236lb ft of torque, it was already pokey enough. This was a car all about uncompromising handling ability, which it certainly delivered. Well, at a price - Mini charged £32,000 for the car, which at the time was £9,000 more than a boggo JCW. Just 53 were made, all for the UK market only.
Buying a Challenge now, assuming you can actually find one, still isn’t a cheap affair. Number 16 is currently on Buy a Car for £25,950, which is a hefty chunk of money, but hey - that’s still a lot less than the Cooper S we were in recently, and also considerably cheaper than the (not especially good) GP3.
The mileage of the 2017 car is low at 14,301 (this isn’t a car made for big journeys), and it’s finished in silver with black stripes, as are all Challenge edition cars.