How to Spot and Buy a (R56) JCW

When MINI released the R56 JCW we all groaned at the lack of visual differentiation. And while MINI has eventually fixed that issue with the 2012 models, there are still three years of JCW out there that, for all intents and purposes, don’t look any different than a Cooper S. This is particularly an issue when trying to find one used. I recently had a senior editor of a very large automotive website ask me for help in the JCW quest and I was blown away at how hard the process had become. I told him not to give up because the JCW was definitely the one you’ll want. But it takes patience and just the right amount of arcane MINI knowledge to find a real JCW.

As enthusiasts know, it’s not always easy to look for used cars on the web due to misleading descriptions. Often I leave it up to the photos to tell me the real story about the car. When it comes to the JCW, even that can be tricky. So what’s the secret?

Here are a few MotoringFile approved tips for all those looking at used R56 JCW. Hopefully these help you find the real-deal.

  • Look for the wheels. JCWs came with a set of silver 17″ Challenge Spokes until 2010 when black also became optional. However note that I’ve seen more than one used JCW stripped of it’s Challenge Spokes by a previous (and greedy) owner sitting in a car lot.
  • The massive red calipers of the Brembo four pot JCW brakes should be peeking through the front wheels. You can differentiate these from the aftermarket as they are the shape of the MINI wing logo. Although its worth noting dealers sell these as kits that easily bolt onto any R5X MINI.
  • The JCW grille badge should be placed on the lower left side of the lower front grille. Around back there should be no mention of the word “Cooper”. Instead just a surf-board shaped JCW badge on the right side of the boot.
  • Inside there should be a cheap looking plastic checkered flag sticker stuck to the right side of the dashboard. Surprisingly it’s legit.
  • From 2008 to 2010 the red shift pattern was exclusive on the JCW.
  • From 2011 on JCW offered a chili red roof on all R55 and R56 JCWs. Take rates have been low but it’s an easy way to spot a thoughtfully appointed JCW.
  • From 2011 on JCW offered exclusive dark background gauges that make the interior much more distinctive (especially given MINI’s goal speedometer).

In the years ahead one of the most frustrating things used JCW shoppers will find is the proliferation of the JCW Pack. In 2011 MINI starting offering what they call the JCW Package which adds the JCW Aerokit, above mentioned Challenge wheels, JCW door sills and even the shift knob with the red shift pattern.

Why did they offer the look of the JCW without the go? It was a business case issue. Because JCWs hadn’t sold in the numbers they hoped for (perhaps because there was no visual differentiation) MINI couldn’t rely on JCW sales alone to make adding the aero-kit to the factory profitable.

And all of this meant another thing – depreciation. Yet the fact that JCWs don’t hold their value is a boon to anyone looking for one on the used car market. In fact the more I looked and the more I got into it, I realized that a used R56 JCW is probably one of the best used car buys for the enthusiast today. If you can find a real one.

  • JonPD

    Good article Gabe. I recently had to help a friend find  agood used JCW as well and found widely the same issues. We were looking locally and further afield. Too identify one locally was not bad as the little tweaks are apparent up close, at a distance I became more wary. I was able to find just about every visual option on a non JCW car that had been installed. Even found a masquerading Cooper S that had each fo the badges, and the interior trim items but was pretty much stock under the bonnet.

    Which the lack luster sale of the JCW guess my question is how that will impact future JCW product. I really doubt a red roof and JCW aero kit will really do anything to help stopping this. I am hoping that during the cycle refresh in 2013 that the F56 family is able to finally seperate the JCW from the stock cars. While I applaud MINI for including the aero kit now I honestly believe that the future for the JCW brand needs some ///M handling. The cars need to have a unique aero kit, a unique optional color, and finally the overall package needs to upgrade the sporting nature of the car to make it more relevant to its direct competition.

    Having said that I am not saying the current JCW is all wrong , it has a lot of potential. Enough so that I did not hesitate to order A R58 in the JCW trim. Still funny that a R58 S with a little work should be a visual mimic for my Coupe.  

    • Anonymous

      You know, I think that you are right that the JCW needs to be treated more like ///M going forward – bespoke body kit, always with the suspension – as distinct performance version you can’t put together anywhere else. The only thing they are doing from this formula now is the engine. And they should still have JCW add-ons for the standard Cooper S’s and the Cooper’s too, just not any that brings a car up to the JCW level of performance. Leave that to the after-market.

      I think what steered them towards the current strategy was the “modding” culture of the first gen of Mini’s. I’m sure that the planners at Mini were left scratching their heads when they provided a blank slate, with their bespoke engine, for the performance fans to work on, and their target market whined and complained that it was not an ///M car. Talk about a bait and switch, about the customer not knowing what the customer wants… Its amusing that many of the same that complain that Mini is becoming more like BMW and held up the Mini modding/performance culture as being distinct and oh so important to the “Brand”, are the same ones that feel the JCW should be more like the BMW-///M model! Starts with an “H” and sounds like “Tripocracy”.

      The answer I think is the JCW as a bespoke performance model in the way that ///M is, and then a renewed focus on the Coopers and Cooper Ss as platforms for modding. But I’ve always thought that Mini becoming more like BMW was a good thing.

      • JonPD

        Well Lav, think we agree on the big points. I wonder if BMW/MINI is going to pick up the ball and run with it one of these days. For the MINI performance enthusiast MINI has missed the last try. While the JCW is decent, its still lacking that special feeling you get from a ///M product. To me JCW is being handled like BMW’s M Sport currently.  M Sport is relying on a epic run of incredible ///M cars. JCW on the other hand is lacking a clear message. I still feel to this day that they missed a perfect place to launch the JCW brand into becoming something truly special. I believe that the GP was very similar feeling to the original M3 and would have been a great place to hammer out JCW as a sub brand instead of a supplier of speed rated stickers lol.

  • R53Tuning

    You forgot one important part Gabe.  The BBK Brembo’s JCW’s have only. In most cases, majority of people will purchase an upgraded aftermarket brake it instead of the factory ones.

    • Yup – thanks for the reminder!

    • Mark Smith

      I would somewhat disagree as the Dealer Installed JCW Brembo Brakes are a great buy for the money. Very competetive price wise from what I have researched.

  • Our dealer is happy to help people searching for a used MINI John Cooper Works.  I can look up a VIN and let you know if its legit.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone interested in an R55 (Clubman) JCW, please PM me!

  • Anonymous

    Should not be that hard to bolt on a slightly wider set of fender flares with exclusive to the JCW rocker panels and wider wheels. Look at the 1M compared to the 128/135.

    • Regarding the 1m – Those aren’t. It’s an entirely different unibody that cost an enormous amount of money to add to the production process. But on principle I agree 🙂

    • Anonymous

      I agree. The black plastic wheel well trim is an easy opportunity to give the JCW as wider stance. 

  • Definitely no auto trans on a Factory JCW and there should be no “S” logo anywhere on the car – side scuttles, boot.

  • JonPD

    Just sitting here wondering just how miserable of a sales success for a couple of decades the M3 would have been if it took this much effort to determine if a used ///M car is a real M3 or what lol. Funny that BMW is willing to spend the huge amount of money it did on the 1M that is a tiny production run (hence much higher per unit cost) and meanwhile left the factory JCW in the quandary.

  • BrewSwapGuy

    Can’t used car buyers jut run the VIN somewhere to find out if it is a factory JCW?

  • Love the JCW cars!

    “The massive red calipers of the Brembo four pot JCW brakes should be peaking through the front wheels.”  I think you meant “…peeking through the front wheels”

  • Hemisedan

    Gabe:  I agree with your post, hoping that you are a bit wrong on the resale, however.  It is too bad that Mini/BMW didn’t try a little harder to make a difference between the S with JCW options, and the factory JCW.  There’s more to distinguish between the S and the factory JCW in 2011 as my JCW is, but in the 2009 and 2010, granted it could be difficult.  Especially with the optional Brembo Brake dealer installs, and the engine package.  Plus the fact, that so many have upgraded intake, exhaust, as well as possibly the brakes.

    For the 2011, the big thing that Mini/BMW did was go to the dark gray gauges, which I think really dress up the dash.  That’s a biggie.  Also the Chili Red roof on some color combinations, and granted, anyone can do that with a paint booth and competent painter, and then the Black Challenge Wheels.

    But, like you talk about here, if someone did spend the dollars in the right places, it would be difficult.  Of course the final check for someone seriously interested in  used JCW is the VIN number.

  • Juliansorl

    The problem is there aren’t many JCWs on the street and also their was never any advertising for the JCW model. Most people have never heard of the JCW. Just try trading it in to a non-mini dealer and you’ll get ‘cooper S’ pricing even though these vehicles were priced much higher than an “S” model. 

  • Anonymous

    Your forgot about the tailpipes.  Massive pipes without stuck on tips.

    The JCW “kit” has tips.

    • M8oinc

      They look very different.

      • The kit’s pipes look better IMO

        • M8oinc

          good for you.  (I don’t)

        • JCW Kit: 


        • Seems like a no-brainer to me but to each their own. 

        • Versus

          Sign me up for the 2nd photo. 

        • I’m with you Gabe. The John Cooper Works Models’ Exhaust is rather Boo Hoo. Nothing exciting about it. The Tuning Kit Style is worlds better and convey’s aggressiveness.

        • Anonymous

          I’m with M8.  I love the factory JCW pipes.  Big screw on “tips” just seem so “ricer” to me. Even if they are etched cool. Looking at them from behind you can see the little pipe inside the tips. Try posting pics from that perspective.

        • JCWRocket

          Totally agree.  Granted, I like that the kit tips have the JCW logo etched into them.  But the factory JCW exhaust sounds so much better than the kit!

        • Very true

  • M8oinc

    As one thinking I may need to sell my JCW to bring me down from 4 vehicles to one… That final paragraph makes my heart sink. 🙁

  • In all of this feedback/input nobody has bothered to mention the MINI USA Certified Pre Owned Locator. That is the ultimate JCW search engine as tyou can search specifically for the real thing and avoid all of the JCW Accessorized Cooper S’s out there. I’m just sayin!

  • Rumental

    Great article, well written. I wish I’d read something like this before being told by my local dealership that the 2007 JCW I’d bought on eBay was actually just a Cooper S with a JCW tuning kit. I suppose performance and output are going to be about the same, but I don’t have the Brembo calipers nor the jazzy rims…

    • You can get them.

    • R Burns

      Not exactly the same performance……. and the JCW uses many reinforced motor parts !

      • Mark Smith

        I was referring to Rumetal’s comment “but I don’t have the Brembo calipers nor the jazzy rims…” These can be hadd afterward. I was not referring to the engine performance at all. That’s obvious. I only meant he can add the brakes or wheels anytime!

  • Hemisedan

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t the original JCW exhaust tips longer, and extended past the bumper, but someone complained about burning their legs or something?  And, then the US government regulations took over from there and made Mini shorten them?  And I agree, it would have been nice for the JCW logo on the exhaust tips, but how would you see that the way the later, like mine, exhaust tips are?  

    • M8oinc

      No, the ’09 R56 JCW comes with nice fat pipes that come-out to only be flush with the rear bumper.  They are cut on an angle so that the bottoms are shorter than the tops; but the tops don’t extend past the bumper.  It was the other R56s that were subjected to the nanny state action.

  • Hemisedan

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t the original JCW exhaust tips longer, and extended past the bumper, but someone complained about burning their legs or something?  And, then the US government regulations took over from there and made Mini shorten them?  And I agree, it would have been nice for the JCW logo on the exhaust tips, but how would you see that the way the later, like mine, exhaust tips are?  

  • kunishi

    The stock JCW brembos come with a regular, solid disc brakes. The JCW big brake kit comes with cross drilled discs…. If the milage of the car is low and has JCW BBK with cross drilled rotors best to check the VIN just to be sure….