THE MINI MAG. Volume 2 No.2
  February 2000

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Classic Coopers.
With Stephen Dalton.

Times they are a changing.

Circumstances were changing Cooper's luck during the years this third part cover. None the less the salute continues...

Throughout the 1961 season Cooper and some of the other British teams had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Coventry-Climax 1.5 litre FWMV V8 with its quad camshaft design to replace the stopgap 1.5 litre version of the old 4 cylinder FPF. Finally, after the lengthy wait Cooper's had become the first team to receive the new engine. So one of the team's T55 cars was hastily adapted to accept it and thus christened T58 in the process. The car would then take part in just 3 Grand Prix - 1961’s German, Italian & United States in the hands of Jack Brabham. Resulting in unsuccessful outcomes on each occasion. In Germany - a first lap, first corner accident.

Italy - overheating due to coolant loss and a similar fate suffered in America. Retirement certainly not how Jack would have liked to finish his last drives for Cooper. 1961 Championship-wise became a Scuderia Ferrari benefit with their 1.5 litre Dino V6 ‘sharknose’ 156 the Manufacturers’ Championship car and their drivers American, Phil Hill and German, Wolfgang Von Trips taking 1st and posthumously 2nd respectively in the Drivers’ Championship. Von Trips having been killed at the Italian GP when his Ferrari and Jim Clark’s Lotus tangled with fatal consequence. Indeed had Wolfgang survived the season he would have become Germany’s first F1 World Champion. Michael Schumacher finally becoming their first F1 World Champion some 33 years later in 1994.

It was still 1961 and the lads at Motor Racing Developments - Ron Tauranac, Phil Kerr, Tim Wall and Keith Lavery were secretly building MRD -1 the first and only racing car that would carry the MRD name and the forebear to the Brabham marque. Secretly because as Jack was still racing with Cooper he didn’t want them to know that he was involved with the building of his own car. Mind you that didn’t stop Keith making regular visits to procure parts suitable for the new car direct from Mrs Green, Cooper’s spare parts storelady. The departure of Jack Brabham from the Cooper team at the end of 1961 obviously left a vacancy for a new driver to become part of their 1962 campaign. Bruce McLaren was promoted to Cooper’s number 1 driver and it was a South African driver named Tony Maggs who was offered the spare seat. Tony had been brought to prominence through his season with Ken Tyrrell’s Cooper Formula Junior team.

For the 1962 Grand Prix season Cooper had come up with the T60 that succeeded the T58 to become the production Coventry-Climax V8 engine car. Once again, design-wise it was a case of evolution in the Cooper camp. Nothing significantly radical, although the chassis longerons did ferry water and oil fore and aft on this car - adapted from Chapman’s Lotus design philosophy. Rather than separate pipes to do the same task. Thus helping to reduce weight. There was also a new gearbox with the arrival of the 6 speed Cooper-Knight ‘C6S’.

At the season opener at Zandvoort, Holland on May 20th there was only one T60 available and that was assigned to Bruce McLaren. Tony Maggs had to be happy with the team’s old T55, until he too would be T60 mounted by the third round in Belguim. The T60’s Grand Prix debut at Zandvoort showed promise against the opposition but it would quickly fade with the onset of gearbox problems and thus imminent retirement. Tony’s first effort was rewarded with a fine 5th place.

A visit to Monaco on June 3rd was next for the team. Bruce taking the victory and breaking the season old drought for Cooper, head of the Scuderia Ferrari cars of Phil Hill and Lorenzo Bandini. For Tony his race at Monaco would end with retirement due to gearbox problems.

Although Bruce had taken the victory at Monaco it would be the last the Cooper team would have for several more seasons. For the rest of the 1962, grand prix results-wise became a mix of major and minor placings, plus a couple of retirements. It was becoming ever more difficult to get good results on the board. Motor sport being a fickle activity that requires the best of circumstance to be successful. And it doesn’t matter which form of the sport or era. The team with the best package wins! Certainly Jack Brabham leaving didn’t help Cooper’s cause and neither did the departure of team mechanic, Mike Grohmann who had lived and breathed Cooper for a number of years. Perhaps unsurprisingly he packed his tool kit and moved to Brabham ’s new outfit. But other Marques such as the Owen Racing Organisation’s BRM and Chapman’s Lotus (that also utilised the Climax V8) were coming up with the best packages in 1962. With Graham Hill and his BRM P56 V8 (they built their own V8) only just beating Jim Clark and Lotus for the year’s Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles at the very last round in South Africa on December 29th. After 13 years of trying with much bad luck, probably bad judgement and rule changes with the sophisticated BRM V16 and the awkward P25 they had finally come up with the best package. Cooper’s efforts didn’t go totally unrewarded as had been the case in 1961, they picked up their first of 3 third placing’s in the Manufacturers’ Championship.

For Bruce McLaren the Tasman races held in his native New Zealand and Australia during each year’s European ‘off’ season held special significance. So much so that he started having special one-off Coopers prepared for the down under races. Mind you there was reasonable incentive, because the international drivers were given starting monies to turn up. Something that annoyed the top local drivers it should be said!

In late 1962 it was the T62 that came together to do battle. Starting with a private T60 type chassis frame that was originally intended to be fitted with one of BRM’s new customer 1.5 litre V8 engines for racing in Europe. But it did not arrive in suitable time and with Bruce’s invite from the Western Australian Sporting Car Club to compete in the Australian Grand Prix at their Caversham circuit on November 18th something had to be done quickly. So with the addition of a 2.7 litre FPF Coventry-Climax engine and Colotti type 32 gearbox it was sent to Australia, to become a successful combination in his hands.

The original hope was that this event would coincide with the Commonwealth Games that Perth was staging during October 1962. Hence the invite to Bruce and also Jack Brabham with his new Brabham-Climax BT4. It in its self also derived from a F1 chassis - Brabham’s BT3. The rest of the field was made up of Australia’s best open wheeler drivers of the era and a small number of Western Australian drivers. In fact of the 16 entrants, six were Cooper mounted. After the 60 lap battle for the race had ended. Bruce McLaren had won the first of his 2 Australian Grand Prix. Ahead of fellow Cooper drivers - John Youl, Bib Stillwell and Bill Patterson. For Jack Brabham his race had ended on lap 50 when he and Arnold Glass’ BRM tangled and left the Brabham’s radiator damaged.

For the 8 race 1963 Tasman series - the first 4 races were held in New Zealand. So McLaren’s T62 was sent over to begin the campaign. The events were held at Pukekohe - which happened to be the 1963 New Zealand Grand Prix, followed by races at Levin, Christchurch and Teretonga. Results being retirement for the first 2 events, quickly amended for by following up with 2 wins. Everybody then packed up and headed for the start of the 4 Australian races. Warwick Farm which was the 1963 Australian Grand Prix, then Lakeside, Longford and Sandown. The AGP saw Bruce taking 3rd behind winner Jack Brabham’s new BT4 and 2nd placed John Surtees Lola-Climax. But Lakeside was a retirement for him and the T62, while Longford and Sandown both gave wins to the McLaren Cooper combination. After such a successful campaign with 5 wins from 9 starts the T62 was then sold to Lex Davison. Allowing Bruce to return to Europe for the new 1963 grand prix season and later in the year build 2 new T70 Tasman Coopers for the 1964 campaign for himself and Tim Mayer to drive.

While Bruce had been playing down under during early 1963, Cooper’s and Coventry-Climax had been busying themselves with plans for their new racing car with a revised 1.5 litre FWMV V8 Climax. The T66 or as it is sometimes referred to as the T63 would be the next evolution of the F1 Grand Prix Cooper. Revisions for this model centred around slimming the body and trimming weight, plus changes to suspension set up. The Climax engineers had been busy modifying their engine to give increased horsepower from the same 1495cc displacement - up to 195 bhp from the original FWMVs 181 bhp. Increasing the compression ratio, recalibrating the bore and stroke measurements, plus the addition of Lucas fuel injection, instead of the faithful Webers - all helped achieve the new figure.

On May 4th, just 1 week after Bruce McLaren’s debut and shakedown in the T66 at Oulton Park and 3 weeks before the new Grand Prix season was due to begin in Monaco, a major set back befell the team. John Cooper had been driving the twin-engined Mini that Cooper’s had built and was involved in what to this day still remains an accident that has never been fully explained. Mainly because of the severity of the injuries sustained by John - amnesia, concussion and cracked ribs. As a consequence of John’s incapacitation the running of team fell to his father Charles and Ken Tyrrell. For John he would be out of action for some months.

The 2 works drivers of Bruce McLaren and Tony Maggs started off their 1963 F1 season at Monaco on May 26th with a 3rd and 5th respectively. Meanwhile Rob Walker was now back running a Cooper again (having been using Lotus mainly for the previous couple of season), initially the ex-Tony Maggs works T60 for his new driver - Sweden’s Jo Bonnier, while Cooper’s built the new T66 that Walker had ordered.

From the Belguim Grand Prix held at Spa-Francorchamps on June 9th there was further promising results, with a 2nd place for Bruce and 5th for Tony. But from that point on things began to sour with 5 of the further 8 championship rounds having one or both of the works cars suffering retirement due to mechanical failure. It was only the French, Italian and the end-of-year South African Grand Prix that netted 2 car finishes. And at the German, Bruce’s car was destroyed in a huge accident that sent him to hospital. The season finished with no wins to the team, just 2 seconds being the best of the year’s results - one to each driver, Bruce’s at Spa, Tony’s in the French event. If a dismal time was not already being had for 1963 at Cooper’ s, it being Lotus and Jim Clark’s year.

During 1963 another member whose efforts had done so much for the success of the Cooper Car Co decided he needed more of a challenge. Designer Owen Maddock leaving in August to pursue designing hovercraft and some freelance design for Bruce McLaren who was in the process of setting up his own outfit.

Meanwhile back in Australia Lex Davison had his new car the T62 prepared in his Ecurie Australie team colour of red. Rather than the original BRG with white stripes. He raced the car with some success throughout 1963 winning the likes of the Bathurst 100 and The Victorian Trophy at Calder. Lex also used the T62 for his 1964 Tasman campaign, having now been fitted with a 2.5 litre FPF Climax due to the new 2.5 litre limit being placed on the Tasman series in 1964. Before he too found it necessary to become another member of the ever increasing number of Brabham drivers. Purchasing the works BT7A that Denny Hulme used during the 1964 Tasman series.

In so far as Bruce McLaren’s intent for his down under travels in early 1964 - plans included building 2 further Tasman Cooper-Climax specials under the works banner for himself and young American driver Tim Mayer based on the F1 T66. Tim had also been given the second Cooper works grand prix drive for 1964 after Tony Maggs had given up his motor racing career and returned to South Africa after his 2 years in Formula 1. But Bruce’s plans had hit a stumbling block when Charles Cooper refused to involve his team with the expense of building the specials. So Bruce with the support of Tim’s brother Teddy set up Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd and built the 2 T70s themselves. Incorporating some new ideas that had not been used on a Cooper before - such as stressed skin construction. This would ultimately lead to Bruce’s parting with Cooper’s and the beginning of the McLaren racing car marque in its own right.

Again the Tasman battle began in New Zealand and from the very outset showed that this series would become a battle between 2 marques - Brabham and Cooper. Brabham got the early lead with Denny Hulme’s win ahead of Bruce and Tim’s Cooper at the first race, Levin on January 4th. But Bruce quickly made amends by winning the next 3 races in New Zealand - Pukehohe, which was hosting the 1964 New Zealand Grand Prix, then Christchurch and Teretonga.

The campaign then moved to Australia - starting at Sandown. Which was apart from being a round of the Tasman series - also host of the Australian Grand Prix. This event began with a fierce battle between Bruce and his old teammate Jack Brabham driving his own Brabham-Climax BT7A for the first 38 of the 63 lap race. Each sharing the lead over those laps. But retirement was to be Bruce’s race outcome having blown his Climax engine. Jack went on to win his third and final AGP. The series then headed north to Warwick Farm and Lakeside with the battle still boiling until the long trek south to Longford would finalise the 1964 Tasman Cup series. It would not be a happy ending because during practice for the Longford race Tim Mayer’s Cooper was launched from a bump in the circuit as he approached a braking area. There was obviously no way of slowing the car in midair and contact with a tree was the outcome - Tim died instantly. The following day the race took place under this sad circumstance, with Bruce taking second to Graham Hill’s Scuderia Veloce Brabham-Climax. With enough points on the board Bruce McLaren had won the 1964 Tasman Cup series. Becoming the first driver to have his name engraved on the new trophy that the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport and New Zealand Association of Car Clubs had perpetuated for the winner of the 8 race series.

With the forthcoming 1964 grand prix season the loss of Tim Mayer meant a replacement driver was necessary at Cooper and Phil Hill, 1961 F1 World Champion took his place. Ironically the new F1 car for 1964 was now being built using ideas from the Tasman T70 for its specification. But it was pretty much all to no avail as the season for the team even with what had been designated T73 suffered a similar fate to that it had with the T66 the previous season. No wins, a second for Bruce in Belguim and Italy being the best that could be mustered. There was also numerous retirements, due to mechanical failure and accidents. Phil Hill was temporarily sacked after crashing his T73 in practice for the Austrian Grand Prix and then crashing the team’s spare T66 during the actual race. It burst into to flames and was totally destroyed. How shall we say - John Cooper was less than amused! Going as far as to hire Mini Cooper driver, south African John Love to take over at the forthcoming Italian Grand Prix. But he failed to qualify for the race and Phil was re-instated for the last 2 events in the 1964 Grand Prix calendar - United States and Mexico.

The competition was getting better and better - with Brabham making inroads. But it was Scuderia Ferrari’s year with them winning the Manufacturers’ title and their driver John Surtees, already a multiple motorcycle world champion taking the Drivers’ crown.

As if the season had not been difficult enough for the Cooper team to sustain. While they were over in America for the US event, news was received that Charles Cooper - the man who had started the Cooper Garage from which the Cooper Car Company had been borne, had suffered a heart attack that claimed him on October 2nd 1964 - just days off his 71st birthday. It was the end of a fulfilled life of a motor sporting character who had achieved so much from such humble beginnings.

Even after Lex Davison had purchased Denny Hulme’s 1964 Tasman Brabham the T62 Cooper stayed in the Davison stable for his young protégé Rocky Tresise to drive. But tragedy would strike the Ecurie Australie outfit when 4 time Australian Grand Prix winner and the 1957 and hence, inaugural Australian Drivers’ Champion Lex Davison crashed while practicing in his Brabham for the Sandown round of the 1965 Tasman Cup. He left the track and hit the running rails of the horse track at the kink along the back straight having suffered heart failure. This gentleman racer, who had put so much into his motor sport suffered fatal injuries that stunned all motoring enthusiasts.

The following weekend - February 20th was the 1965 Australian Grand Prix at Tasmania’s extremely fast Longford road circuit - 114.72mph was the average lap speed for the 4.5 mile circuit in 1965. Once again as part of the Tasman Cup series several leading international drivers were taking part. Bruce McLaren and Phil Hill were each running the third of the Tasman Cooper-Climax specials. This time the T79 based on the 1964 T73 F1 Cooper chassis frame. Jack Brabham and Graham Hill were Brabham-Climax BT11A mounted and Jim Clark was in a Lotus-Climax 35. Then there was the leading locals who tended to be Brabham or Cooper mounted - Bib Stillwell, Frank Matich, Frank Gardner and Bill Patterson, amongst others. Certainly a quality field with many either works or works supported drives. Four of the drivers in the field having been F1 World Champion - Jack Brabham 1959 & 1960, Phil Hill 1961, Graham Hill 1962 and Jim Clark 1963. Definitely showing the stature that the Tasman Cup was held in during this period!

Even though it had only been one week since Lex Davison had died in his Sandown accident, Ecurie Australie decided to still take part at Longford with Rocky Tresise. In hindsight it could be said that it was the wrong decision, because tragedy was to deal a double blow to the Ecurie. In a first lap incident in the Australian Grand Prix, Rocky lost control of his Cooper, while attempting to pass another car as they passed the pits. The Cooper left the track, rolled several times and went through a fence. There was little hope for Rocky who was killed instantly, as was a photographer who was hit in the process. It was now 2 years in a row that the Tasmanian circuit had suffered a fatality. Another sad day for Australian motor sport.

The race continued and after the completion of 26 laps the winner was Bruce McLaren ahead of Jack Brabham and Phil Hill. It was to be the last grand prix win in Australia for both Bruce McLaren and Cooper.

The Davison estate disposed of both damaged Ecurie Australie cars to racing enthusiast Wally Mitchell, who used some parts from the cars for his WM special. Before the T62 wreckage passed to my uncle and sat for many years before the major rebuild was commenced. During 1984 the T62 passed to local enthusiasts Tony Moody and Roger James. With the rebuilt rolling chassis going on display at the 1987 Classic Car Show held at Melbourne’s Exhibition Building. And as far as I can ascertain, after a local restoration company had made a new body - the car was sold to America during 1989, a victim of the recession we had to have! Which is hardly fitting for a car that was specifically built for racing down under.

A personal anecdote;
Although I may not have known it at the time the Cooper marque was eternally etched into this motoring enthusiast at a very early age. Winding back the clock to around 1969/70 as an impressionable 4 or 5 year old would see regular visits to my grandparents house in Main Rd Monbulk, in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges, alas usually finding my way to the shed. A visit to the inner sanctum (usually under parental supervision I suspect) recalls memories of an old sports car and this funny frame suspended on trestles. Well the old sports car was, as I would later learn a pre-war MG F-Type and the funny frame - one of Alec Mildren's Cooper-Climax T43. It being one of 3 Coopers that belonged to my uncle - John Dalton who initially ran his MG business, Safety Fast Spare Parts & Engineering from the address. The other 2 cars or what remained of them was a T41 and the unique Tasman Cooper-Climax T62 - see main story.

Still more of the salute to follow…
Stephen Dalton.