THE MINI MAG. Volume 2 No.1
  January 2000

Vol.2 Home Page | Index Page
 

Classic Coopers.
With Stephen Dalton.
World Champions, FJ's, Lowlines, Indy and Mini Coopers…


Following on from the Cooper tales of November’s ‘The Mini Mag’ we continue with the fascinating motor racing journey and when Mini met Cooper.

It’s quite fair to say that the decision of Cooper’s to become involved with the newly recognised international Formula Junior racing category late in 1959 was a commercial one. As although the likes of petroleum giant Esso helped behind the scenes with sponsorship for the Cooper F1 team (in the days before the mobile billboard became the norm) where fortunately operating a Formula 1 team during this era was not as expensive as the tens of millions required today, it was none the less the manufacture of racing cars that helped towards paying the racing activities to a degree. Formula Junior began in Italy originally to help develop new open-wheeler driving talent and aimed with regulations to help maintain a cost effective formulae.

Hence basic production car engines had to be used - Cooper’s choice was initially based on BMC’s 948cc A-series engine by this stage in use in the likes of Austin-Healey Sprite, Austin A40 Farina and Morris Minor - amongst other BMC products that would soon include the A-series was Alec Issigonis’ new 848cc Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. The specially built XSP (experimental Special Products) A-series running a capacity of 994cc though. The first effort at building a Formula Junior Cooper, designated T52 for the 1960 season did not bring the full success as hoped, Cosworth-Ford powered Lotus Formula Juniors got the break on the Cooper car all throughout that season of events. This helping the building process that saw Lotus dominate as the 1960’s racing car constructer as orders began to flow. But with lessons learnt during the 1960 FJ season a totally revamped T56 Cooper MkII FJ was designed and built to appear for 1961 - the MkII being made available with a choice of engine that could either be BMC’s A-series or Ford’s 105E Anglia, that was often Cosworth Engineering and sometimes Holbay modified.

For the 1962 & 63 FJ seasons revised Cooper FJ’s were built in MkIII and 3A forms (3A sometimes referred to as Mk IV though), the end of 1963 being the last officially sanctioned for the Formula Junior formulae as it would be replaced by 1 litre forms of Formula 2 & 3 in 1964. But that’s another story so before we get too far ahead it’s worth noting that the Mk1 Formula Junior Cooper was responsible for getting the 4 wheeled motor sport career of English multiple motor cycle World Champion, John Surtees moving along, he joined forces with Ken Tyrrell’s Cooper FJ team for 1960. This soon helped towards him competing in F1 by the end of that year - and by the end of 1964 John Surtees would be crowned F1 World Drivers' Champion while driving for Italy’s famous Scuderia Ferrari. Becoming the only man in motor racing history to become World Champion on motor cycle and racing car. And the year’s that would eventually be spent running Cooper’s Formula Junior team would hold Ken Tyrrell in good stead when he later established his own team in Formula 1 that under his ownership continued in F1 until the 1997 season. At which point the well hyped owners of the B.A.R F1 project took over the Tyrrell team assets as an entry into F1’s inner sanctum, continuing the Tyrrell name throughout the 1998 season to it’s unfortunate demise with the unimaginative BAR name taking over in 1999.

Getting back to F1 the Cooper success of 1959 had set the scene for other racing teams to explore their own rear engine cars to be built for the 1960 season, BRM (British Racing Motors) and Lotus were quickly to do so. While even Enzo Ferrari who had demeaned the use of a rear engine racing car had to have a rethink for his Scuderia Ferrari - although it would be late 1960 before the first rear engine Ferrari 156 would appear. For 1960 it had been decided that Cooper would concentrate on fielding just 2 cars, although there was a couple of races where a third car was indeed entered. Unfortunately that meant for Masten Gregory his services were no longer required - Jack & Bruce being entrusted to fly the Cooper flag. Although Masten’s Grand Prix commitments continued into 1960 with selected events for the private Centro-Sud Cooper-Maserati outfit.

A short break was had by the drivers after the 1959 championship success. But just days into the new year they were at it again racing in the (non world championship) 1960 New Zealand Grand Prix held at Ardmore on January 9th. A couple of the 1959 Cooper Car Company war horses had been sent down under for the Tasman races in New Zealand and Australia. Jack managed a successful campaign taking a second to Stirling Moss at Ardmore and in Australia he won the March 5th Longford Trophy race in Tasmania. Then the following weekend he raced to victory in the Phillip Island Trophy in Victoria. But after these races, due to Jack’s Grand Prix commitments the Cooper-Climax sat unused until the October 2nd Bathurst 100 race, where victory was again taken ahead of fellow Cooper-Climax drivers Bill Patterson and Bib Stillwell. After this race the Brabham car was actually purchased by Bib Stillwell for his stable of Cooper racing cars.

The Cooper marque had a huge impact on Australian motor sport during this era. The likes of Alec Mildren, Len Lukey, Lex Davison, Bill Patterson and Bib Stillwell were some of the many drivers that were aware that if they intended remaining competitive in the local motor sport scene they needed to have the latest machinery. Old frontengine Ferrari and Maserati racing cars were no longer competitive. To put things into perspective of the 11 Australian Grand Prix contested between 1955 & 1965 five were won by Cooper.

1955 Port Wakefield, South Australia - Jack Brabham Cooper-Bristol T40
1960 Lowood, Queensland - Alec Mildren Cooper-Maserati T51
1961 Mallala, South Australia - Lex Davison Cooper-Climax T51
1962 Caversham, Western Australia - Bruce McLaren Cooper-Climax T62
1965 Longford, Tasmania - Bruce McLaren Cooper-Climax T79

Cooper also left its mark on the Australian Drivers’ Championship - the Gold Star. Taking four wins, from four different drivers in successive years.

1959 Len Lukey Cooper-Climax T45
1960 Alec Mildren Cooper-Maserati T51
1961 Bill Patterson Cooper-Climax T51
1962 Bib Stillwell Cooper-Climax T55

1960 Australian GP at Lowood …. Lex Davison chases winner, Alec Mildren.

The first round for the 1960 F1 Grand Prix season was to take place in Argentina on February 7th. Amidst turmoil for the Cooper team, whose cars would only just arrive in time - due to dock strikes and broken down cargo ships. Between finally receiving their cars back from the United States event that had been held in December the previous year to having to put them back on a ship to go to Argentina the team had just 6 days to thoroughly rebuild the cars. It was a close call. Much to the team’s frustration the cars only just arrived in time to compete at the extremely hot Buenos Aires circuit. Just making the last practice session, although Stirling Moss had generously lent his Walker Cooper to Jack to have a practice in. While Bruce went for a 2 hour walk around what he thought was the Grand Prix circuit. As it turned out he had walked the motor cycle circuit. As night began to draw close, the event organisers allowed the Cooper duo out for a brief practice session in their own cars. But as it would be noted, the brand new rear engine Lotus 18 of Innes Ireland - set pole position and the also new rear engine BRM P48’s of Jo Bonnier & Graham Hill (Damon’s father) would show that Cooper could not afford to rest on their laurels. Fortunately for Cooper during the race various troubles would prevent both Lotus and BRM finishing high up the leaders board, but the message was duly received at Cooper's Surbiton base. In Argentina, Bruce was to take his second Grand Prix victory in succession, ahead of Cliff Allison’s Ferrari 246 and the third placed Trintignant/Moss Walker Cooper (team owner Rob Walker having commandeered his second driver’s car during the race for Moss, after his car had been sidelined due to suspension wishbone failure). Jack had also been sidelined earlier in the race due to a recurrence of the problem that had caused several Did Not Finishes (DNF) during 1959 - drop gear failure had occurred yet again.

The second round of the championship took place in Monaco on May 29th. So during mid-March with around 10 weeks to go the lads at Cooper’s decided they needed a new car if they were to maintain their superior performance against the opposition. Their designer Owen Maddock with support from both Bruce and Jack were entrusted to come up with a design, then with the mechanics help take it from the tube rack and turn it into a competitive race car. Essentially it came down to honing and trimming the fat off the old T51 to maintain their competitiveness. But the end product was a new car that become known as the T53 lowline Cooper-Climax. Keeping that family resemblance in appearance, but much lower in stance, hence the lowline tag. Probably the most major revamp though was on the new car’s rear suspension, with the arrival of coil spring rear suspension - against the old car’s transverse leaf spring set up. Charles Cooper was decidedly against this major change fearing it would not suit his car. He demanded that only the prototype T53 be built and tried before a second car was authorised. So with a certain degree of secrecy a second car was built with a coil spring rear suspension anyway. Mainly because if the new car was to be as competitive as everyone - minus Charles had theorised, having waited would have meant it would be too far into the season by the time it was built if the full advantage of the second car was to be realised. Another factor that would benefit the new car was Cooper’s new C5S transaxle that Owen Maddock had been busy designing so famed gearbox expert Jack Knight could build. This new unit was expensive to produce, but would prove its worth with reliability. In fact the true cost of each unit was kept secret from Charles Cooper. The new car was finished on May 6th and immediately taken to Silverstone for testing. After both Jack and Bruce had each tested the car it was proventhat it would be more competitive than its predecessor. Just as the true believers had thought - Charles soon joined them as one.

The following weekend would see the lowlines race debut at the May 14th Silverstone International Trophy. Jack placed second to Innes Ireland’s Lotus in this race, while Bruce having suffered car problems only managed 14th. Obviously there was still some sorting to be done with the brand new car.

The call of Monaco’s street circuit beckoned for the second World Championship round of the season. Practice once again brought to head trouble for the team - with Bruce having difficulty having a good run to qualify. If the car wasn’t misfiring, he was spinning. Then when he got it all together the organisers miss timed him and oil started spewing from what turned out to be a missing bung from the new Cooper-Knight transaxle. It was looking like Bruce would have to sit out the race, but that evening the organisers checked their timing and decided to give him 11th grid position. With Bruce’s dramas it was probably refreshing for the team that Jack was able to have a trouble free practice - finishing with second place on the grid.

First went to Stirling Moss who had effectively jumped ship when his boss Rob Walker had gone and bought one of Flash Harry’s new Lotus 18, although his Cooper was still available if he wanted to race it. Flash Harry was the name Charles Cooper had given Lotus’ Colin Chapman whom he did not have a lot of time for. As you can probably sense there was a fair degree of rivalry between the two British marques. And this rivalry would eventually spawn to a road car too. As the race unfolded - problems lay ahead for both Jack and Bruce. Rain had created a greasy cocktail on parts of the circuit and both drivers would suffer moments because of it - one more than the other. Initially it worked to Jack’s advantage having reeled in the leading Moss Lotus and second placed Bonnier BRM to take the lead for himself. But soon the track conditions would bring him undone, when the pendulum of a swinging, gear jumping Brabham Cooper would collect a wall to bring his race to a halt for a while. Meanwhile Bruce had entered battle with American Scuderia Ferrari driver, Phil Hill and BRM’s driver Graham Hill. Meanwhile Bruce is noted in this race for thumping gutters and spinning, on his second attempt he managed to join team-mate Brabham by spinning at the wall. Bruce would soon get motoring again in pursuit of his 2 rivals, catch them, then spin again. Jack meanwhile managed to rejoin the race in his damaged Cooper, but by race’s end would not be classified as a finisher due to insufficient laps completed. After all his excursions Bruce somehow managed to finish second behind the winning Moss Lotus. While Tony Brooks driving the privately entered Yeoman Credit Cooper T51 picked up 4th place. With a win in Argentina and second at Monaco, Bruce McLaren became leader in the 1960 World Drivers’ Championship. But for Jack he was still to open his new year championship account after his awkward season thus far.

It must have been difficult to organise a race team when there was weeks on end without a Grand Prix, then the teams would have just 1 week until the next round - like the next round held at Zandvoort in Holland on June 6th, particularly if there was a damaged car that needed attention. Which was the case with Jack’s car after the wall incident at Monaco. The damaged car only arrived back at the Surbiton workshop on mid-day Wednesday. Immediately being stripped, the chassis straightened and rebuilt by Cooper mechanic, Mike Grohmann in a non-stop feat that was finely ready for dispatch to Zandvoort on Friday morning. After much panic the car arrived just 30 minutes before the first practice on Saturday. All Mike’s hard work paid off though because Jack found himself with a second on the grid. But Bruce’s car was found to have a damaged crown wheel and pinion that obviously need replacing before he could take any further part in the event. It was, and he received a 4th row grid position. The race became a Brabham Cooper v Moss Lotus battle for the first 17 laps, before the Moss car received damage after concrete kerbing had been flicked up into its path by the Cooper. Meanwhile it was Bruce’s turn to retire from a race when on lap 8 he became a spectator having had a universal joint let go. Fortunately Jack and Mike’s effort was rewarded with first outright ahead of Innes Ireland’s Lotus 18 and Graham Hill’s BRM P48. It was just after the Dutch Grand Prix success that Charles Cooper gave the green light for a third works T53 lowline to be built.
Fortunately it was now 2 weeks before the next race on the World Championship agenda. The long and fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belguim was where the team had to be on June 19th. And although this event gave Cooper a very good result, the weekend’s motor sport would bring home a very sobering message to those involved. Firstly Stirling Moss was seriously injured during practice when his Walker Lotus left the circuit having rolled several times throwing him out in the process. Bruce McLaren was first to his aid, with most other drivers stopping at the scene. In an effort to get an ambulance to help Stirling to the scene quicker, private Lotus driver, Mike Taylor was sent off to give it the hurry up and in the process had his own serious accident when his steering failed. And that would not be the worst of it. During the race Jack led from pole position against fellow front row drivers Tony Brooks in the Yeoman Credit Cooper and Phil Hill in his Scuderia Ferrari. Bruce meanwhile played a tactical game from his 5th row start position. Jack covered the 36 laps from start to finish in the lead, with Brooks Yeoman car out by lap 3 and the Phil Hill Ferrari also out on lap 29. Bruce had managed to stay in touch with his battle against Graham Hill’s BRM and one of the other Yeoman Credit Coopers driven by Olivier Gendebien. On the last lap Bruce took over second when Hill’s BRM destroyed an engine and Gendebien’s Cooper coasted to the finish with a damaged gearbox, while still placing third. It was a 1, 2, 3 victory to the Cooper marque, but the celebratory mood would be far overshadowed by the fatal accidents during the race of third Yeoman Credit Cooper driver, Chris Bristow and Team Lotus driver, Alan Stacey.

Another 2 weeks would elapse before the 5th round French Grand Prix took place on July 3rd at Reims. Although in reality the team only had a week to further progress the building of the new car and prepare both race cars. This due to practice starting on Wednesday, continuing Thursday and Friday, before having a day’s break on Saturday, then the race Sunday. It was a busy schedule. This event appears to have given the team the least drama thus far for the season, other than Bruce trying to establish why his car lacked 200 revs down the circuit’s straights. Jack was busy winning bottles of champagne by continually bettering his lap times on the first 2 days (100 bottles per day) of practice. Finally he took pole position having shaved 2.6 seconds off Tony Brooks 1959 lap record of 2: 19.4 - bringing it down to 2:16.8. No doubt all the champagne would eventually come in very handy! The Ferrari’s of Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips became Jack’s biggest threat for this particular meeting. That was until the 29 lap battle ended with the retirement of the Hill Ferrari. Bruce had spent most of his race competing with fellow Cooper driver, Olivier Gendebien each trying to stay one place in front of the other. Bruce’s lack of those 200 revs meant he was down on power, but his T53 had better aerodynamics against Gendebien’s old T51. Towards the end of the race Bruce’s car began to occasionally suffer engine seizure. So if he intended getting to the finish line he had to nurse the car. It was found later to be caused by overheating when the ducting within the nose cone had blocked airflow into the radiator. Sufficient nursing of the car though allowed him to still take third. Splitting both the Yeoman Credit Coopers - Henry Taylor taking 4th, while Olivier Gendebien’s picked up second. Finally after 5 races Jack had given himself a hat-trick of wins for the season by winning in France. And he wasn’t about to stop...

The next Grand Prix was a simple trip from Surbiton to Silverstone for the British GP on July 16th. No messing about with plane flights or ships! Unless you were World Champion of course - as Jack now had his own Cessna to play with. Cooper’s turned up to Silverstone and for once they were able to unload the cars and let the drivers head for the circuit. Practice was too easy for them - quickly setting laps they were happy with - Jack was on pole, Bruce third. Although BRM started to come on song, splitting the lap times of the 2 works Cooper drivers with Graham Hill second, while Jo Bonnier picked up fourth in his BRM. In total 12 Coopers would start this race.

The race became a battle between the 3 British marques - BRM, Cooper and Lotus. But the most spirited battle belonged to Graham Hill in the BRM and Jack in his faithful Cooper. Graham had through sheer perseverance finally caught the leading Brabham car and on lap 55 of 77 successfully passed his opposition. He would stay in that position until just a handful or so laps from the end when he spun. Hill was out. Brabham reclaimed the lead and went on to win. The 2 Lotus’ of John Surtees and Innes Ireland picked up 2nd and 3rd respectively. Bruce bringing his Cooper in 4th. Apart from Jack’s 4th win on the trot, this event would also be notable when a talented young Scotsman named Jim Clark made his Grand Prix debut. He would quickly establish a fine reputation with Team Lotus that would give him 2 World Drivers' Championships and Lotus their first 2 Manufacturers' Championships - 1963 & 1965 - before his premature death in an accident involving his Formula 2 Lotus 48 at Hockenheim, Germany in 1968.

After Silverstone the team had 4 weeks before their next Grand Prix, this allowed the team the required time to complete work on the third works T53 lowline - that had been under construction since just after the Dutch Grand Prix some 2 months earlier.

The new car would make its brief, if embarrassing debut during practice in Portugal. For the Portuguese event - held on August 14th - it was off to Oporto. A street circuit that featured areas with cobblestone roads and tram lines - not universally accepted as idyllic racing conditions. Oporto was used rather than Lisbon where Jack had his big accident during the 1959 race.

The switch of circuit obviously agreed with the 2 works Cooper drivers though - as the results will show. Both drivers went out and practiced in their own cars, before Jack climbed aboard the new car for a shakedown. It turned out to be more like a shakeup - because he promptly had an off circuit excursion that did some minor damage to the new car. So back to the transporter it went. Only later to be cannibalised for spares for Jack’s car. Stirling Moss was back racing in Grand Prix at Portugal. Having recovered from his major accident in Belgium. And due to his return Jack and he spent far too much time worrying about each other's lap time while vying for pole. So much so that Dan Gurney in a BRM and John Surtees in a Lotus sneaked through to take the first 2 positions on the grid. The race began with a group of nervous drivers trying to jump the start. Early on settling into a battle of four marques covering the first 6 places - BRM, Cooper, Ferrari and Lotus. The race lead changed a couple of times, from Gurney’s BRM it then passed to Surtees Lotus before a hard charging Jack Brabham finally took over. Hard charging because very early on he had become another victim brought unstuck on the aforementioned cobblestones and tram lines while in second. This caused him to fall several positions and thus began his race back through the field, made no doubt easier by the retirement of rivals Stirling Moss and John Surtees. As Jack swathe his path to the lead - Bruce followed and for his efforts was treated to a fine second. Creating Cooper’s second 1-2 finish for the season and Jack’s 5th victory in a row. The Drivers’ Championship could only be taken out by either of the works Cooper drivers. The Manufacturers’ had already been finalised, making it a back to back win for Cooper. Italy was to be the next event on the Grand Prix calendar for September 4th but trouble had brewed between the organisers and the British teams. Which accounted for most competitors. The predicament involved the organisers wanting to use the Monza circuit’s optional banked section. The British considered it too dangerous - so they stayed home for the weekend. The event still took place and due to the lack of the British Racing Green made it quite obvious that the race would be won by a Scuderia Ferrari car - Phil Hill’s to be precise. The red cars also taking 2nd and 3rd. But a privately entered Cooper of Italian driver, Guilio Cabianca did place 4th. This race heralded the very last time a front engined car would win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The final event for the 1960 Formula 1 season was in America at the Riverside circuit on November 20th. Three works Cooper-Climax had been sent from Surbiton to do battle in the States. The third was for former Le Mans winning D-Type Jaguar driver Ron Flockhart to drive. Ron was a keen pilot and regular visitor to Australian race circuits, he being one of the very first drivers to race a Mini Cooper in Australia. Tragically he was to die in a plane crash near Monbulk in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges.

Scuderia Ferrari saved their lire by not turning up at Riverside for the race. Their driver Phil Hill taking up an offer to drive for the private Yeoman Credit team in one of their 4 Cooper-Climax competing in the event. Practice had seen the front row made up with Lotus, Cooper and BRM - of Moss, Brabham and Gurney respectively. This race being the swansong for the 2.5 litre F1 Grand Prix formula, as the 1.5 litre formula would take over in 1961.

Setting off with Jack’s Cooper leading the field, he soon found himself in a spot of bother - he must have well remembered how he finished the US Grand Prix at Sebring the previous year and did not wish to do any pushing again. His fuel tanks had been well and truly filled, so much so that as the temperature increased, the fuel expanded and was forced out the breather pipe. This caused dire consequences - allowing fuel to splash over the hot exhaust system that on 2 occasions caught alight. This caused flame to reach the cockpit and singe Jack’s back. Not a way to inspire confidence in most racing drivers. Fortunately on both occasions the flame was able to be extinguished with a minimum of damage, but it certainly lost a lot of time. Jack was able to continue but because of this he would have to settle for 4th place. Bruce picked up 3rd, but it was to be Lotus’ turn at victory with the Walker car of Stirling Moss winning ahead of Innes Ireland’s similar car. The championship was finally complete and Jack Brabham had left his mark on the world of motor racing for another year. It was to be Jack’s second of his three World Drivers’ Championships - but his last for Cooper...

Well it could be said that Cooper had made a huge impact on Grand Prix motor racing in their short time at this level - but it hadn’t been done easily. Through sheer perseverance the marque had achieved a great deal - 2 World Championship for both driver and manufacturer in succession makes for a fantastic record. But as with many things in life - circumstance changes things and this is what was about to happen with Cooper in 1961...

The dawning of the new 1.5 litre formula meant the start of several serious changes for the Cooper team throughout the season. Not least was that Andrew Ferguson the man who had diligently dealt with all the paperwork associated with the running of the team had parted company. Initially going to do a similar task for a private Cooper team before he accepted an offer from Colin Chapman at Lotus. His recording of Cooper and later Lotus information as it happened would become a valuable asset for not only his own writings but also other historians. Who he commendably allowed to use his resources. Not least would be Doug Nye whose Cooper Cars book relies heavily on Andrew’s anecdotes. His passing in 1994 would be a great blow to both the Cooper and Lotus marques.

Scuderia Ferrari had arrived on the 1961 Grand Prix scene with a vengeance. They had their new 156 sharknose rear engine car on the boil and were about to make the most of it. Lotus weren’t doing too badly either but they would still play second fiddle to Ferrari during the season. With various distractions taking place at Cooper’s throughout their 1961 effort. Even with the new T55 F1 car this would not be sufficient. Firstly they had to rely on a stopgap Coventry-Climax engine. The FPF 2.5 litre having been reduced to a 1.5 litre capacity to comply with the new F1 regulations, while Walter Hassan & Co worked on the development of what had initially started life as a 653cc single overhead cam 4 cylinder FWM (Feather Weight Marine) that eventually evolved into the new 1.5 litre FWMV Climax V8 (Feather Weight Marine V8) for Cooper, Lola and Lotus to use. The Cooper telly after 8 F1 Grand Prix for 1961 stood at best with a 3rd place by Bruce McLaren in Italy. Having mentioned distractions really pin points a new area that the Cooper Car Company saw as a challenge. The brickyard, the famous Indianapolis banked oval in America was about to be given a shakeup. That would eventually change their thoughts on how to construct an Indy racing car. Just the way Formula 1 had been upstaged just 2 years earlier. During October 1960 John Cooper, Mike Grohmann and Jack Brabham had arrived at Indy to trial one of their F1 cars. It was a successful outing even if it created its own problems. Jack may have been a successful racing car driver - he was even about to be crowned F1 World Champion for the second time. But that did not make any difference to the Indy officialdom.

As far as they were concerned he was a rookie, so he should treat the circuit as such. Which meant he shouldn’t have gone out and gone flat out straight away. And they told him! So he went through the trial of circulating at a set speed, slowly being allowed to increase the speed when the officials were happy. He would eventually set a speed, even in his under powered car (comparatively speaking to a typical Indy roadster) just a couple of miles per hour less than the record then stood. Tongues had been sent wagging amongst the more experienced Indy drivers. Back to Surbiton they went with a sponsorship arrangement from the boss of Kleenex tissues, Jim Kimberly to build a special Indianapolis Cooper-Climax. This was duly done with features incorporated to suit the banked oval.

The T54 Kimberly-Cooper with its specially built (under sufferance) 2.7 litre Climax FPF engine made its debut at the May 1961 500 mile race in Jack’s hands. The combination completing their debut event in a creditable ninth outright. The Indy establishment had noted this and would start bringing their own rear engine cars to future Indianapolis 500 races instead of their familiar roadsters. It also made Colin Chapman start heading for the Indy 500 a couple of years later with his specially built Lotus’ for Jim Clark culminating with a win in 1965. Where it was essentially money for jam.

By the end of 1961 the man whose input had achieved so much for Cooper finished his lengthy stay with the team. Jack had been busy setting up Motor Racing Developments with fellow Australian, Ron Tauranac to construct their own cars under the MRD-Brabham banner. Once again this project was to become another Brabham success story with the 1966 World Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championship double being won in the Repco powered Brabham BT19. It remains the first and only time a driver has won in his own car. Kiwi driver and team mate Denny Hulme then went on to take out the following year’s championship for the Repco-Brabham team.

Throughout the motor sport side of the Cooper story the apparent competition between Cooper and Lotus is quite obvious. This competition between the two marques soon spread to a road car too. The late Colin Chapman has to be given credit for coming up with some classic cars, both race & road during his lifetime. The names - (Super) Seven, Elite and Elan immediately spring to mind for the road cars and I mean the first models to use these names. And it was the Lotus Elite of 1957 that set the wheels in motion at Cooper. In hindsight it might seem like a funny choice but Cooper, inspired by Chapman set about to build their own road car using the Renault Dauphine as their basis - this model slightly more renown for being tinkered with by French tuner Gordini than Cooper. But none the less this is how the road car project gained momentum. The back usually fitted with a humble Renault engine had been crammed full of Coventry-Climax power. But it was not to be... Enter Alec Issigonis’ new marvel - the Mini. With an engine that shared its parentage with the Cooper Formula Junior racing engine there had to be some potential. Writing in his article featured in Autosport’s High Performance Cars 1960 - 61 Annual, John Cooper was inspired to mention the following. "Lately the advantages of front-drive have become apparent, largely owing to Alec Issigonis’s incredibly efficient BMC "Babies".

With their transverse-engine layout, and all independent rubber suspension, these wonderful little cars could quite well inspire GP machines. The roadholding and general handling of the "Minis" has astonished most of the world’s racing drivers, and has given us seriously to think down Surbiton way". And it didn’t take long. Although one has to say that Renault Dauphine shares a little more resemblance to Cooper racing cars of the era. Well it was rear engine at least. The Mini on the other hand was front engine and front wheel drive. But John Cooper and the team could, by admission of the previous statement, see great potential in this new box on wheels. And dare I say it created a car that is probably more famous than any of its racing namesakes. Which I can fairly safely say the great man John Cooper would graciously accept. The relationship that BMC received by becoming involved with Cooper on this project - from a marketing point of view was immense. Current World Champions... and all for 2 per car. Bargain if ever there was! In today’s terms that sort of relationship would cost millions.

So the prototype instigated by John Cooper, who had borrowed an early Mini from the factory and was given to his mechanic Michael "Ginger" Devlin to modify. Fitting it with a 994cc Formula Junior engine and tiny disc brakes. After a visit to (Sir) George Harriman, BMC’s Chairman and a minimum of fuss John Cooper shook hands with the BMC boss. There forth led to, on July 11th 1961 the beginning of the first 1000 to be built. Well so they envisaged.

The Morris Cooper and its Austin namesake had been borne. With its now 997cc production engine fitted with twin SU’s and funny little rock catching air filters, its still tiny Lockheed disc brakes and flanked either end with tiny Morris or Austin Cooper scripture. Most were also painted with a contrasting roof colour to that of the body. They were quickly snapped up by motoring enthusiasts. So they built more. With almost instantaneous heritage, due to the Cooper connection - the then current motor sporting leaders - Mini Cooper began its own competition legacy. It didn’t matter whether it was the factory supported Cooper Car Company team entrusted to run the car’s circuit racing activities, BMC’s Competiton Department at Abingdon that ran the rally operations or private motoring enthusiasts who drove their car to work during the week, then come the week’s end went competing in it, Mini Coopers made motor sport more accessible to all. The first Mini Cooper had its limitations - and many drivers found them. So the BMC Engineers developed improvements. With Eddie Maher’s input at Morris Engines, the A-series that powered the Mini Cooper (and all other Minis for that matter) had been reworked to give an extra 74cc. Which doesn’t sound like a lot but when those 1071cc are associated with a nitrided crankshaft and many other performance orientated features, it gave a much sweeter and more powerful engine. In addition the brakes were treated to a little more capacity to give a more confident pedal feel for the driver.

Particularly pleasing for those who tended to use their brakes. The road wheels were also modified - they now featured 9 ventilation holes and their modest 3.5" width that had a new inset to allow for the extra disc rotor width. There was also an optional 4.5" road wheel made available. Mini Cooper S - the homologation special was borne. By this stage it was January 1963 when production got underway and very soon the 1071 started doing great things in motor sport.

BMC quickly realised the potential and set about covering the under 1000cc and under 1300cc classes in racing of the time. This was achieved by producing shorter and longer stroke versions of the famed A-series, while still keeping the 1071’s bore size. The 970cc and 1275cc engines going into production Cooper S from June and March 1964 respectively. The 1275 due to its increased power becoming the most popular choice of all three S engines. The 970 on the other hand became the rarest of all - with official records showing that the homologation target of 1000 cars was never actually realised. Mind you that did not stop the game of blind man’s bluff being played with the motor racing authorities.

In so far as Australia was concerned, we had to be patient. BMC Australia was having enough trouble supplying demand for their first Mini - the Morris 850. Let alone building the Cooper version. Mind you it was certainly on their minds - the first batch of 12 Completely Knocked Down (CKD) Mini Cooper kits left England bound for Australia in March 1962. Obviously the shipping took at least 6 weeks but it would be October before they found their way into BMC Australia showrooms. It featured numerous variations from its English built cousin - most notably the interior. Before the local car had been made available fully imported versions of the 997 Morris Coopers could be purchased. Mind you a potential owner had to be prepared to pay a premium. This also applied to the Cooper S before the local model was available in 1965.

In the next instalment we continue the salute…
Stephen Dalton.