One tends to sometimes forget that British Entrepreneur, Engineer, Team Owner John Cooper was also a driver and the birth of Cooper as a marque is a function of his need for a racer…
The great Brit is piloting his works Cooper T20 Bristol F2, the caption for the photo says in the ‘IV Daily Express International Trophy’ race at Goodwood on Whit Monday, 10 May 1952′. In fact JC was entered for that meeting/race at Silverstone on that day as #14 but did not arrive, so ‘praps this is a practice shot.
Before focusing on the construction and sales of his cars and managing the team he was a very capable driver taking many 500cc wins, a class for which the first Cooper, famously constructed of two Fiat 500’s welded together to provide an independently suspended car, was built.
The front-engined Cooper Bristols Types 20 and 23 ‘launched’ the successful careers of Mike Hawthorn and Jack Brabham amongst many others, i wrote an article about them, click here for the link; https://primotipo.com/2015/02/10/stirling-moss-cumberland-park-speedway-sydney-cooper-t20-wm-holden-1956/
I started to research an article to write on John Cooper’s career and influence and came upon the obituary published by Britain’s ‘The Telegraph’ on 27 December 2000, it seems to me it covers things rather well so here it is, truncated slightly and with my photographic additions…
‘John Cooper, who has died aged 77, was one of the great figures in the history of motor racing; his Cooper-Climax cars were the force behind Jack Brabham’s dominance of the drivers’ championship in the early 1960s, while his Mini Cooper was destined to become a symbol of the decade itself.
Cooper and his small design team at Cooper Cars first came up with a rear-engined sports car in 1955. Based around a Coventry Climax firepump engine, the “Bobtail” Cooper-Climax was without peer in its class. By narrowing the chassis and fitting slender bodywork which left suspension and wheels exposed, Cooper then created a rear-engined Formula Two car which could easily be upgraded to meet the demands of Formula One.
By 1957, the Australian Jack Brabham had joined Coopers, and a 2-litre version of the Formula Two car was entered for the Monaco Grand Prix. Brabham pushed it home in sixth, having been third. On twisting circuits, the nimble rear-engined Cooper could challenge the comparatively flat-footed Ferraris’, Maseratis’ and Vanwalls’ which traditionally competed for places on the podium.
The next year, in the Argentine Grand Prix, Stirling Moss drove a Cooper to a first world championship victory by the rear-engined car, and at Monaco another Cooper won, this time driven by Maurice Trintignant.
The persuasive Cooper then managed to talk Coventry Climax into building full-sized 2.5 litre engines for his works’ drivers – Brabham and Bruce McLaren – and under his direction Coopers promptly won both the 1959 and 1960 Formula One constructors’ titles, while Brabham took two consecutive world champion drivers’ titles. By 1962 every Formula One marque had put their engines where Cooper had his – behind the driver.
In the mid-1940s, Cooper had competed against Alec Issigonis, the designer of the Mini, in hill-climbs. Soon after its launch in the mid-1960s, Cooper suggested to George Harriman, head of the British Motor Corporation (the Mini’s manufacturer), that he should market a tuned-up version. Harriman doubted that he could sell more than 1,000; the final total of owners attracted by Cooper’s modifications exceeded 125,000.
Cooper was consulted regularly about improvements to the design and an entire family of Mini Cooper variants evolved, among them the Mini Cooper S. The Mini Cooper lorded it over rally racing for the rest of the 1960s, winning multiple championships and four consecutive Monte Carlo rallies between 1964 and 1967.
It was the first economy car to become a status symbol, the height of chic. Its owners included King Hussein of Jordan and members of The Beatles. “Drive a Mini Cooper – the most fun you can have with your clothes on!” ran the advertisements. “If your tyres survive more than 2,000 miles, you’ve driven like a wimp.”
At the end of the decade the car featured prominently in the film The Italian Job (1969), in which Michael Caine and his team of bullion raiders made the most of the Mini’s virtues of small size and great speed to escape pursuit via the roofs, sewers and marble staircases of Turin. The Minis were painted red, white and blue, and the film not only helped boost sales of the Mini Cooper all over the world but, by identifying the car with a time of great British style and ingenuity, helped it also to attain immortality.
Cooper was born on July 17 1923 at Kingston, Surrey. His father Charles ran a modest garage in nearby Surbiton; among the cars he maintained for customers was the Wolseley “Viper” raced at Brooklands by Kaye Don. When John was eight, his father made him a half-scale car with a motorcycle engine. At 12, he was given a lightweight Austin 7-based special capable of 90mph; he tried it out at Brooklands but was chased off the track by enraged officials.
On leaving Surbiton County School at 15, John became an apprentice toolmaker, and after RAF service in 1944-45, he and his friend Eric Brandon (later a successful racing driver) built themselves a single-seater racing car for the new 500cc class. Two scrap Fiat 500 front-ends were welded together to provide an independently suspended chassis, on to which was mounted a 500cc motorcycle engine behind the driver’s seat to chain-drive the back axle.
Wearing sheet aluminium bodywork, this first Cooper racing car was very successful, and a second was built for Brandon in 1947. Cooper and his father then founded the Cooper Car Company to build a batch of 12 replica 500s for sale. One of their first buyers was the 18-year old Stirling Moss.
The Cooper Car Company quickly became the first, and largest, post-war specialist racing car manufacturer; Lotus, Lola and March – among others – would follow them. While John Cooper provided the firm’s enthusiasm and drive, Charles Cooper kept control of the firm’s finances.
John Cooper was also a very capable racing driver in his own right. In 1952 at Grenzlandring he scored the first 500cc race to be won at an average of more than 100mph, and the next year drove his streamlined works car to victory in the Avus Speedbowl, Berlin. He also enjoyed first places at Monza and at Rouen.
Click here for an interesting article on the Cooper Land Speed Record cars;
In the early 1950s, Coopers diversified into front-engined sports and single-seater racing cars. The first British world champion driver, Mike Hawthorn, first made his mark in a 1952 Cooper-Bristol Grand Prix.
A warm, even extrovert man, John Cooper relished every moment of his fame, although he was perhaps never the same after being badly injured in 1963 when his prototype four-wheel drive Mini Cooper crashed. It was many months before he was fully fit, and in 1965 – the year after his father died – he sold the Cooper Car Company to the Chipstead Motor Group.
Although he continued to co-direct the Formula One racing team until 1969, when it was disbanded, from the mid-Sixties onwards its homegrown construction was overtaken by more sophisticated and better-funded technology at Lola, Lotus, BRM and Ferrari. Characteristically, Cooper never felt any envy as his company was upstaged.
He retired to the Sussex coast, where he founded the garage business at Ferring, near Worthing, which still bears his name. Recently, he had been much cheered by the decision of Rover to develop a new generation of Mini Coopers, primarily for enthusiasts in Japan. Rover’s new owner, BMW, has embraced the project, and just before his death Cooper was delighted to see his son drive the prototype BMW Mini Cooper.
John Cooper was appointed CBE last year. He leaves a wife, a son and daughter. Another daughter predeceased him.’
‘The Telegraph’ John Cooper obituary 27 December 2000, GP Library, GP Encyclopaedia
Getty Images, Keystone France, Alvis Upitis, Central Press, Popperfoto, Heritage Press, Fox Photos, Autosport, John Ross Motor Racing Archive
Tailpiece: ‘I don’t care Bruce just go faster!’ With Bruce McLaren and Phil Hill in 1964…