The year was 1964, and car #37 wore the license plate ‘33 E JB.’ It had a small stature, was deemed to underpowered to put up any sort of fight, and was considered an underdog right from the start. However, there it was in the penultimate stage of the Monte Carlo Rally, ready to take on the fearsome Col de Turini stage, a 1,607-metre climb on snow-covered roads.

In the end, Paddy Hopkirk finished 17 seconds behind arch-rival Bo Ljungfeldt in a V8-powered Ford Falcon, but due to the balancing rules at the time – designed to even out the weight and power differences between the various cars – it was Hopkirk, with his four-cylinder car, that eventually won in the overall standings.

The car he did it in was the Morris Mini Cooper S, which later went on to win the Monte Carlo Rally in 1965 and 1967. It’s fascinating that a car built as solution to the 1956 Suez Crisis, somehow turned into a formidable competition car. It sounds like a fairy tale, but there’s no magic here, just the sheer determination and persistence of a man named John Cooper.

His fascination with the classic Mini’s front-wheel drive, low weight, wide track and comparatively long wheelbase drove him to create the first Mini Cooper. The car, with its more powerful engine, new brakes and sharper steering, certainly had its appeal as even Enzo Ferrari was a customer.

Not content with just making a quicker Mini, Cooper then focused on preparing the car for competition. Most looked at Cooper’s work as being futile and pointless, and that in no way can a Mini have any place in motorsport. However, the man, and the few that had faith in his project, had their instincts proven right as the history books clearly showed.

This success paved the way for what we all recognise today as John Cooper Works. This name has been used on a number of modern MINIs, all of which follow the same principle that John Cooper believed in – take a regular MINI and build them to thrill.

This legacy continues until today with the new MINI Clubman JCW and MINI Countryman JCW, both equipped with a powerful 2.0 litre four-cylinder Twin Power Turbo engine. With 231 hp on tap, both make easy work of a 0-100 km/h sprint, taking less than seven seconds to do so.

Like the classic, the new JCW models are pretty deft in the corners too, with sharper handling to challenge the laws physics where possible. A brief moment behind the wheel is all it takes to comprehend what everyone means when they say ‘MINI go-kart handling’.

While the JCW editions of the Clubman and Countryman are a thrill to drive, they are also pretty exhilarating just to look at. With exterior styling cues that are exclusive to JCW models, there’s a good blend of extravagance and sportiness to command the attention of those around you.

On the inside, the JCW models treat you to a racing-style cockpit, with sport seats to keep you in place during spirited drives. Along with dashes of red and a JCW sport steering wheel, you’ll be ensured of a MINI Thrill Maximised experience from the first glance to the first push of the bright red starter button.

Even though the Clubman JCW and Countryman JCW are impressive models, the company is always looking to take things one, if not, many steps further. Last year, the world was introduced to the MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept, which showcased what happens when MINI’s designers and engineers take things to the extreme.

Featuring racing-inspired bodywork and styling, the GP Concept is a machine without compromise, one that only has race tracks on its mind. Every inch of it, from the aggressive angles to the lines and surfaces, are all with purpose – to push the boundaries of performance.

This includes the interior, which has been stripped of all unnecessary items to only retain a full-on roll cage, a pair of race bucket seats with five-point harnesses and a pared-down dashboard. Despite this, it is still recognisable as a MINI, with a centre touchscreen to adjust suspension settings and a dedicated head-up display.

MINI hasn’t revealed what motivates the GP Concept, but if the road-going JCW models are any indication, there should be quite a lot of power under the bonnet. Not everyone will be able to tame the GP Concept, but then again, it is only built for the few that can.