penske zerex

Roger Penske aboard his devilishly clever Zerex Special sportscar in 1963…

By 1962 Penske was a well established competitor. While later his friend and driver Mark Donohue coined The Unfair Advantage phrase in racing, Roger himself contrived a clever plan to develop a very quick sportscar for the lucrative US series.

After careful study of the SCCA Rulebook Penske concluded that while the sports car regulations required said cars to have two seats, the rules didn’t define their dimensions.

Roger’s cunning stunt involved resurrection and fitment of a very small passenger seat and sportscar bodywork to a Cooper T53 Climax F1 car (chassis #T53 F1-16-1) crashed by Walt Hansgen during the 1961 US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

Walt was launched over Olivier Gendebien’s Lotus, Olivier having spun and re-entered the circuit right in Walt’s path. Briggs Cunningham, the Cooper’s owner, sold the damaged car to Penske in the ‘Glen paddock less engine.

hansgen cooper

Walt Hansgen Cooper T53 Climax T53 F1-16-1, the Zerex donor car, behind is Penske in his Cooper T53 Climax. US GP Watkins Glen 1961. Both cars 1.5-litre Coventry Climax FPF powered (Ron Nelson)

zerex puerto rico grid

Zerex Climax looking absolutely superb on pole as Penske settles himself into the cockpit for the 200 mile Puerto Rico GP in 1962. He won from Tim Mayer’s Cooper T57 Monaco and Dan Gurney, Porsche 718 WRS (Getty Images)

The car was then repaired, rebuilt and transformed by Roy Gane and Penske himself  by fitting a wider alloy body with round and square tubing and added brackets to support the new body and mini-seat. Its first race, still 2.7-litre Climax FPF powered, was the LA Times Grand Prix at Riverside in October ’62.

It was an International event that attracted the world’s best including Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Innes Ireland and Masten Gregory as well as world class Americans Penske, Jim Hall, Hansgen, Ken Miles, Lloyd Ruby and others.

The Zerex, to all intents and purposes a current GP car with an all-enveloping body, promised to be competitive!

At a distance, even up close, the car appeared to be a single seater in contravention of the rules, as soon as it was unloaded in the paddock the SCCA was deluged with protests.

Watched by a large crowd of media, mechanics, spectators and drivers Penske calmly undid the Dzus fasteners attaching the left side panel to reveal a small, cramped, passenger seat, whereupon the lanky Philadelphian attempted to insert himself into said seat…The car was kosher, legal to the letter of the rules, Penske was canny enough to have the SCCA Chief Technical Inspector see the car when it was being concepted and approve it as being compliant.

penske in car

Nearly in…Penske sees the funny side even if the competition doesn’t before the car takes to the track, LA Times GP 1962 (Dave Friedman)

The car won three events in late 1962; at Riverside during its first race meeting from Jim Halls Chaparral 1 Chev, at Laguna Seca and the Puerto Rico GP.

The Riverside and Laguna races were USAC sanctioned. The car was protested but USAC allowed it to run, but storm clouds were brewing from some very pissed off, wealthy, influential car owners.

la times 62

LA Times Riverside 1962. Penske leads # 63, the Hansgen Cooper Buick, #5 McLaren Cooper Monaco Climax, #8 Jerry Grant Lotus 19 Buick, #66 Jim Hall Chaparral 1 Chev, #3 Masten Gregory and #26 Lloyd Ruby both Lotus 19 into turn 1 lap 1. Penske won (Dave Friedman)

zerex pqurto

Penske on the grid at Puerto Rico. The car looks simply fantastic, workmanship a treat (Dave Friedman)

pr circuit

In the winter of 1962, the entire chassis centre section was cut, shut and widened by Penske’s team to provide a seat either side of the Zerex centre-line to meet the quickly-tightened 1963 rules…

The car (lets call it Evolution 3 in this form) was sold to John Mecom, the body modified to conform, a new windshield and roll bar was added and the machine repainted in Mecom’s blue and white colours.

zerex in paddock

Zerex in the paddock, circuit unknown in 1963 with full roll bar and space for second seat, offset driving position-Zerex Evolution 3. Climax FPF and CS5 ‘box on display, as are simple brackets to retain the body and truly ‘orrible but seemingly effective curvy frame (unattributed)

The Zerex raced throughout 1963 in this form winning two SCCA national events at Marlboro Motor Raceway and Cumberland. Across the Atlantic it was first in the Guards Trophy at Brands Hatch in August, Roy Salvadori placed second in a Cooper Monaco Climax that day.

mecom owned la times 63

LA Times GP, Riverside 1963. Owned by Mecom, still driven by Penske it was  second to Dave McDonald’s Cooper Ford ‘King Cobra’ (Dave Friedman)

la times 63 penske and macca

LA Times GP ’63. A fantastic 200 mile race initially led by Halls Chaparral, DNF. Here is the later dice between Penske and McDonalds’ Shelby Cooper Ford for the lead, McD prevailed in the 289cid small block Windsor engined Cooper (Dave Friedman)

See this YouTube footage of both the 1963 LA Times GP and 1964 Sebring 12 Hour…

The Zerex is historically significant in that it was sold to Bruce McLaren after Nassau in 1963. It was effectively the first in the long line of very successful McLaren sportscars which became the dominant force in Can-Am/Group 7 racing from 1967…

In 1962 Bruce, a factory Cooper driver, and Penske shared a Cooper Monaco Maserati at Sebring. Bruce later wrote, “After that race I came back to England and asked Charlie Cooper if I could run the sports car side of the Cooper Car Company because I felt sure there was a tremendous market for this type of car to use an American engine for American racing. I was convinced at that stage that sportscar racing was going to really boom providing there were cars available, and that it would be a great market for an English manufacturer. Charlie turned me down flat.”

Penske moved on from the Zerex as it became less competitive. He drove a Chev engined Cooper for Mecom and later a Chaparral before retiring from driving in late 1964, having signed to race for Jim Hall again in 1965.

The Zerex Climax was still sitting in John Mecom’s workshop together with an aluminium Traco modified Oldsmobile F85 engine which had never been fitted to the car. Bruce bought it and shipped it back to the UK, fitted with a 2.7 FPF. The Olds F85 (the block was used in much modified form, as the basis of the 1966 F1 Championship winning Repco Brabham RB620 3-litre V8) was on a pallet.

Bruce raced it with the 2.7 Climax and slightly modified bodywork (Evolution 4 if you like) in the Aintree 200 where he defeated Jim Clark’s Lotus 30 Ford, and in the Silverstone International where he won again, this time from Salvadori’s Cooper Monaco Maserati 5-litre.

aintree 200 sports 64

Start of the 1964 Aintree 200. L-R: #87 John Coundley Lotus 19 Climax, #95 Tony Lanfranchi Elva Mk7 BMW, Jack Sears AC Cobra, Bruce is on the right in the Zerex Climax. McLaren won from Jim Clark, Lotus 30 Ford and Sears’ Cobra (unattributed)

The day after Silverstone Zerex was stripped at Bruce’s new, modest, dirt-floor workshop in New Malden, South London where the chassis rebuilt from just behind the front suspension to just ahead of the rear suspension with a new McLaren designed centre-section welded in. The work was done by Wally Willmott and Tyler Alexander.

In its Penske modified form the car lacked the torsional rigidity to cope with the additional power and torque of the Olds V8. The (Evolution 5) chassis was far stiffer that the Zerex modified frame. The main chassis longerons performed dual purposes as structural members and as conduits for oil and water from the respective radiators to the engine. A Colotti gearbox from one of Bruce’s Tasman Cooper T70s was mated to the Olds engine.

With no time to fabricate a new exhaust system, the car was flown to Mosport with eight stub exhausts poking up through the tail, there he won first time out.

zerex mosport mac laren 64

McLaren victorious upon debut of the (then named) Cooper Oldsmobile with its new chassis centre section and Olds engine. Players 200, Mosport, Canada 1964 (unattributed)

Given the sensitivities about Jack Brabham’s departure from Cooper and construction of his own cars with Ron Tauranac, calling the car a McLaren was not going to wash with Charlie and John Cooper so the hybrid was entered as a Cooper Oldsmobile at Mosport.

Back in the UK he won the Guards Trophy at Brands Hatch in August, then starred at Goodwood’s Tourist when he started from pole, led and set fastest lap before retiring.

With all of his research complete – with the aim of building a McLaren sportscar – Bruce sold the car, via John Mecom and Teddy Mayer to Dave Morgan. The Texan raced it throughout 1965 and 1966 in the US and Nassau. From Morgan the car was sold to Leo Barboza in Venezuela and then on to two other South American owners.

The prototype McLaren M1A Oldsmobile appeared later in 1964, dominance was not too far away!

Continually modified, the hybrid Cooper T53/ Zerex/McLaren Olds maintained its Unfair Advantage for three years…

zerex in venezuela

Cooper T53 aka Zerex aka Cooper Olds in Venezuela shortly after its arrival in 1967 (unattributed)

In late June 2022 the Zerex/Cooper Olds was shipped to the UK and is to be offered for sale by Bonhams during the September 2022 Goodwood Revival Meeting.

Check out this Nostalgia Forum Thread for more information and photographs of this wonderful car; Taproot of the McLaren marque – The Nostalgia Forum – The Autosport Forums

Etcetera…

zerex paddock 2

Paddock shot in 1963, circuit unknown. Cooper T53 standard front suspension comprises upper and lower wishbones and coil spring/damper units. Evolution 3 widened chassis and offset driving position, and second full size seat to comply with end of ’62 tightened rules is clear (unattributed)

zerex butt shot

Zerex butt shot in 1963. Beautifully fabricated aluminium body, circuit unknown, Pensacola perhaps (unattributed)

cooper mosport

Mosport ’64 colour shot of Bruce’s ‘new’ Cooper Olds – ain’t she sweet? (Bruce McLaren Trust)

Bibliography and Credits…

The Nostalgia Forum generally and Doug Nye’s posts on topic specifically, Bruce McLaren Trust, MiniWerks Forum. Photos credits David Friedman, Ron Nelson and the Bruce McLaren Trust

Tailpiece…

zerex ad

The ad which inspired this article I spotted in a pile of Road and Track magazines I bought. I was well aware of the Zerex Special, if not the infinite detail. The thing I didn’t know or care about was the derivation of the Cooper’s name. Penske secured sponsorship from Dupont to promote their Zerex antifreeze, not a product ever available in Australia, so now I know!

Finito…

Comments
  1. […] So, in the McLaren pantheon, its an important car. I wrote about it early in 2015, click here to read the article; https://primotipo.com/2015/03/19/roger-penske-zerex-special/ […]

  2. Thomas Bucher says:

    Ken Dallison illustration?

    • markbisset says:

      Hi Thomas,
      Good to hear from you, are you asking or telling me? Not sure who the illustrator is, I don’t know- if it is Ken Dallison I will attribute as such. Forgotten about that article, it was a while ago!
      Thanks for reaching out.
      Mark

  3. […] Never was a man better placed than Bruce right then to know exactly what a winning sports-racer’s attributes needed to be. After all, in June he’d just won the Players 200 at Mosport in front of some of the best in the world (Dan Gurney, Jim Hall, FJ Foy, Roger Penske and Ken Miles) aboard his just finished Cooper Olds aka Zerex Special. This very finely honed grandfather’s axe had just copped a new McLaren built centre cockpit section and 3.9-litre Traco modified Oldsmobile V8 to replace the lissom Coventry Climax FPF four. More on the Zerex Special here; Roger Penske’s Zerex Special… | primotipo… […]

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