It’s funny how stuff happens sometimes, I finally bought a Mini Cooper S last month, mind you, the one I lusted after in my teens was a Morris Cooper S…

Most normal fourteen year old ‘knob-jockeys’ were looking at Playboy and Penthouse and giving the sav a serious slap. Being the sick little unit that I was I spent most of my waking hours looking at Sports Car World, Racing Car News- and Autosport which required a trip to town- Technical Books in Swanston Street, Melbourne will be well known to Victorian enthusiasts over 40.

The cars I lusted after as my first road car- then four years down the track weren’t the local muscle cars but the Cooper S, Escort Twin-Cam, Lotus Europa with my dream car the Ferrari Dino 246GT. The Dino fantasy lasted for a several decades until Gordon Murray’s McLaren F1 finally blew it off its pedestal.

I always thumbed through magazines whilst sitting in a beanbag watching the teev, whilst other cars came and went, my diet of articles always came back to this group of cars with the Cooper S always to be my first car, restricted to a student income as I was.

I had a Castrol promotional brochure (remember the set of seven or eight stapled into Racing Car News, one at a time each month?) about John Leffler’s Cooper S Lwt Sports-Sedan, which I looked at endlessly together with road tests of the S and Clubman GT.

I can still remember the standard Cooper S 1275cc oversizes of the ‘A Series’ block at 1293cc and 1310cc, the factory race AEA 648/649 and rally AEA571 cam part numbers are still in my woolly head long after the intricacies of the accounting and economics I was studying at the time have well and truly disappeared.

Castrol brochure featuring the BMC Racing Team, John Leffler Cooper S, leading Barry Sharp, Ford Falcon at Oran Park circa 1970. Leffo a few years later, 1973, won the Australian FF Championship in a Bowin P6F and in 1976 the Gold Star in an F5000 Lola T400 Chev

I came close to buying Coopers twice and still kick myself for missing out on the first one, a BRG 1969 car in Richmond. Dad insisted I get an RACV (Royal Automobile Club of Victoria) mechanical test on it, which was the right parental advice (not that I usually listened to it) and of course the car sold on the Sunday with my deposit dutifully refunded a couple of days later. I cracked the shits with him for well over a month.

Spending all of my Monash Uni student income on Elfin 620B Formula Ford laps at the Calder based Bob Jane-Frank Gardner Race Driving School whilst 18 changed everything- I found god and he raced single-seaters!

So the focus then became a road tow car and a Formula Vee by the time I started full-time work, that was achieved. I bought a Venom Vee in February 1979 and started work the following month. So, the Cooper S never happened, why bother rattling around in road cars on-circuit when you can drive the real thing? Here are the exploits of one of Australia’s most prominent FV drivers. Not. https://primotipo.com/2016/10/06/formula-vee-and-the-summer-of-79/

I have owned a few Cooper S TYPE cars though; three Alfasuds- Sedan, TI twin-carb and Sprint and an Alfa 147GTA amongst other things.

The Lotus Europa, when I finally drove one was a heap of shit- what a disappointment, ‘shake-rattle-and roll’ it wasn’t a flash example i guess, but the Lotus fetish never left me- my Elise was a wonderful 5 year experience if somewhat challenging in the winter.

I looked at a beaut ‘Vermillion Fire’ red Escort Twin-Cam an old codger (he was far younger than I am now) had for sale in Glen Iris but by then a mate had an Alfa Giulia Sprint GT (nee 1600 GTV) in which I drove a lot of miles and it was a far more cohesive bit of kit than the Escort- and I had couple of 105 Series coupes as a consequence.

The Italian Sheila

Roll on a cuppla decades, had kids, raced historic Formula Ford, got divorced and got a girlfriend. An Italian one actually- if I’d known what Northern Italian sheilas were like at 18 I’d have specialised in that breed from then- but you live and learn right?

Five years ago she bought an R53 Cooper S auto (sub-optimal as a manual driver but too easy round town), in fact I wrote about it a while back;

https://primotipo.com/2014/09/03/perdriau-master-cord-tyres-mini-cooper-s-nuriootpa-and-lobethal-australian-grands-prix-tour/

In recent times the thing, which always used a lot of oil, has been using a forty-four of expensive lubricant a fortnight. Our mechanic put this down to the car probably not being run in properly in its infancy- Patrizia being ‘WUBs’ second owner. The funny thing is you can’t see the oil being burned like you could in the old days- the plume of pungent but sweet smelling blue smoke has not been there.

She-who-must-be-obeyed looked at new Abarth 595’s last summer and only baulked when I pointed out the lack of cruise-control- so we, she, kept driving The WUBster and I kept shoving expensive oil down its gullet on a weekly basis whilst alternative, automobile deliberations continued.

WUB @ Tarra Warra Estate near Healesville

And then, as they say in the classics, it happened!

Ok, I did insist we use her car for the trip to Kyneton, comfier than mine as it is.

A few kays past Calder, going up the long hill towards Diggers Rest the little beastie lapsed onto 3 cylinders- not a big deal I thought as the same thing happened in almost the same place twelve months before and was just a duff plug. An easy, cheap fix.

Not so this time.

The long gradual build up of carbon on #3 piston from all that not fully burned oil over all those years, ignited, blowing a neato hole in said aluminium component and did some block damage to add insult to injury. Worse, it was ALL MY FAULT as I insisted we use her car not mine- I was driving the thing at the moment of destruction.

Never mind the fact that the ‘liddl fokker could have let go on a similar trip she did to McRae the week before…’twas all my fault, deploying all of the chick logic they have.

No amount of cunning-linguistics on my part, and my powers of persuasion are not too shabby given forty years in business, were going to shift the crossed arms of The Italian Sheila.

So my friends, having first got interested in Coopers circa 1971, I am now the proud owner of an R53 in 2019, it’s easily the most expensive in Australia too. My heart feels good but my wallet is not so flash.

The Italian Sheila did buy the Abarth in the end- it’s great, in some ways the ultimate inner city tool, I’ll bore you with that another time.

As I said at the outset, it’s funny how stuff happens sometimes, and more often than not a chick is involved…

PS; Hopefully The Italian Sheila does not read this, she never looks at primotipo, all good, I trust, hope and pray.

Tailpiece: The new Abarth 595 in Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy…

Castrol Cooper S Brochure- the rest of it…

 

Finito…

 

Comments
  1. George says:

    Even though I’m a few years younger and live in the USA, our desired cars were pretty dang similar! Only difference is swapping a BMW for the Escort.

    • markbisset says:

      Your taste is superb George- what can I say?!
      Did you ever buy any of those boyhood cars that you dream’t about?
      Mark

      • George says:

        Only a couple of Minis after an Austin America (Austin 1100 body with 1275cc). They were followed by a Triumph GT-6 and a Lancia Scorpion (aka Lancia Monte Carlo).

  2. Rob says:

    Mark,

    Just a point about John Leffler. The Formula Ford series that he won was the ”1973 TAA Formula Ford Driver To Europe Series” rather than the ”1973 Australian Formula Ford Championship”. It was not until twenty years later that the “Australian Formula Ford Championship” title was officially introduced. The Formula Ford regulations in the 1974 CAMS Manual actually state that “No championship will be permitted for this formula”. The pre-1993 series winners are often referred to as Australian Formula Ford Champions but that is not really correct.

    Cheers,

    Rob

    • markbisset says:

      Rob,
      Correct, I reckon would be a Formula Ford Australia ‘subject matter expert’.
      So…’Australian Formula Ford Championship’ is a catch all phrase to cover the Formula Ford National Series, TAA Formula Ford Driver to Europe Series, Formula Ford Driver to Europe Series, Motorcraft Formula Ford Driver to Europe Series and Australian Formula Ford Series…the latter also not a championship in the era when CAMS attempted to shaft Formula Ford via its Formula Four disaster.
      Etcetera…
      Mark

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