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Great balls of fire - supermini style


WE’VE all been called special by our parents. They tell us we are unique and extraordinary, but as we get older we realise that we’re just like everyone else - part of the human race.

Every once in a while there is that standout individual that goes on to achieve great things, though. They change the world and affect our lives. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s special.

The same happens in the world of wheels. Manufacturers launch new cars weekly, but it’s only very occasionally that you get something extraordinary special that offers an escape from the mundane. I recently managed to get my hands on two of these very distinct and very limited bad boys.

These two superminis are at the top of their class.


The Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari is an insanely juiced-up version of the popular Fiat 500, while the other - the Mini JCW GP - makes many a hot hatch look, well, lukewarm.

The Abarth 695 Tributo is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine that delivers 132kW of power. Besides being injected with that surge of power, the little Italian also gained some handy stopping power, thanks to the Brembo brakes to accommodate the extra kilowatts.

In the looks department, no real aesthetic modifications were added other than 17-inch alloy wheels and some rather uncomfortable racing seats that don’t fare well for everyday use. The sporty suspension setup and great handling, though, mean this Abarth is a go-kart for grown-ups and loves being hurled around tight corners.

Unfortunately, the clumsy gearbox isn’t as proactive as it should be and is reluctant to change at times. This means that it’s best you use the paddle shift whenever possible for the utmost satisfaction.  

It’s an Italian with a chip on its shoulder and rightfully so, because it can whip most cars, certainly on pull-off. But housing the Ferrari badge means it isn’t cheap and with only 30 cars in South Africa, it’s a hot commodity too. Add to this a massive price tag of R550 000 and your eyes might start to wander.

Certainly, if you’re looking to spend that kind of money on a small, potent toy, I would rather try to get my hands on the Mini JCW GP.

However, with just 2 000 units built worldwide and only 30 making it to South Africa, they were quickly snatched up by Mini aficionados and it’s easy to see why. This is the fastest Mini ever built and boasts some 160kW of power and 280Nm of torque from its 1.6-litre fireball cauldron.

All the typical Mini handling traits are still present and because this GP has a weight saving of 200kg - thanks to the fact that the backseats have been stripped out – it makes for a helluva light and playful go-kart that isn’t scared to squeak some tekkie on pull-off. Doing 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds and boasting a top speed of 242km/h, the GP brings an authentic race-car feel to everyday driving.

But, of course, with the race-car feeling comes a race-car suspension that is hard and if you hit a bump at speed, you might rearrange a few vertebrae.

The two little superminis are definitely at the top of their game, but at R404 000 for the Mini JCW GP, it would’ve been my pick. Unfortunately they’ve all been snatched up and one can only hope to find a second-hand one now.

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