Posts Tagged ‘Cooper T40 Bristol’

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Stan Jones struggles to keep Maybach 3 in front of Reg Hunt’s Maser A6GCM during the first lap of the 1955 Australian Grand Prix at Port Wakefield, South Australia…

The two cars were arguably Australia’s greatest special and production racing car at the time. Mind you the ‘special’ descriptor belies the ‘tool room’ quality of the Maybach series of cars in terms of both design and execution by Charlie Dean and his team at Repco Research in Melbourne. The Maserati A6GCM and 250F family are members of one the greatest series of production racing cars ever built. Not that either of them won this particular contest mind you!

Jack Brabham returned to Oz from his first season in Europe replete with a self-built Cooper T40 Bristol, winning the Port Wakefield race in the 2 litre, 150bhp, 1100lb, mid-engined car. Was it the first time a ‘modern era’ post-war mid-engined car won a national Grand Epreuve?

Brabham had luck that weekend in South Australia in a car which later became notorious for its unreliability- he won the race after the retirement of, or problems encountered by some of the races ‘heavy metal’ including Jones ‘works Repco’ 3.8 litre Maybach, Hunt’s Maser 250F engined Maserati A6GCM and another Melbourne motor-trader, Doug Whiteford’s 4.5 litre Talbot-Lago T26C.

Hunt and the Maser were the form combination at the time, Reg took the lead from Jones on lap 1 and lead the race convincingly until the failure of a finger type cam follower forced the Maser onto 5 cylinders, Brabham was soon past into a lead he held for the races duration. Jones had clutch dramas, with Whiteford 3rd, behind Hunt, in a car which raced too late after it’s initial arrival in Australia- devoid of some of the trick bits Doug paid for, shifty furriners!

The 80 lap, 104 mile event was the 20th AGP and noteworthy as the first on a bespoke purpose built circuit, Port Wakefield is 100Km north of Adelaide in flattish, coastal, saltbush country. Previous Grands Prix in Australia were on closed roads or airfields. Port Wakefield, 1.3 miles in length, was used from 1953 to 1961, when Mallala, built on a disused Royal Australian Air Force airfield became the main South Australian circuit.

Credits…

State Library of Victoria, Reg Fulford Collection, G Howard and Ors ‘The 50 Year History of The Australian Grand Prix’

Tailpiece: ’55 AGP, 20 lap, third qualifying heat underway, Hunt and Jones on the front row…

As a cursory glance of the mix of competitors shows, the race is a Formula Libre event. On the second row is Brabham’s streamlined, central-single seater Cooper T40 Bristol and multiple AGP winner Doug Whiteford’s Talbot-Lago T26C. Rather a neat contrast of post, and pre-War technology? On the next row is the Austin Healey 100 of local South Australians Greg McEwin and Bill Wilcox’ Ford V8 Spl. Desolate flat, saltbush country clear.

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Max Stephens powers his 2 litre Cooper T40 Bristol up the Domain Hillclimb, Hobart, Tasmania probably late 1959…

Its not just a T40, it’s THE T40, Jack Brabham’s 1955 Australian Grand Prix winning car, Jack took a somewhat lucky win when the more powerful cars of Stan Jones and Reg Hunt fell by the wayside or were mortally wounded.

Colour isn’t so common in Australia in the period given its cost and the fact that professionals mainly shot in monochrome given printing constraints of the day ensured good ole black and white in magazines prevailed. This is a fantastic colour photograph from Lindsay Ross’, oldracephotos.com archive, I’m not sure who the ‘snapper is in this particular case but his/her composition took my eye.

The ’59 Australian Hillclimb Championship was held at the Queens Domain on Saturday 14 November 1959, in fact the weekend was a ‘double-banger’ with competitors over from the mainland able to compete at Baskerville on the Sunday. Perhaps this photo is of Max during the championship meeting, i’m intrigued to know.

The journalist Rob Saward, writing on The Nostalgia Forum had this to say about T40 ‘CB/1/55’ and Stephens: ‘The gearbox was always this cars weakness. …It was the usual Citroen based (ERSA modified) box Cooper were using in the early Bobtails and F2 cars, which worked ok with the FWA or FWB Climax, but 2 litres of Bristol power meant it had to be treated very gingerly. Longford was always hard on transmissions, even more so before the railway crossing was rebuilt prior to the 1960 meeting’.

‘Max Stephens never really had the chance to demonstrate his true potential in the car- he was a gifted motorcycle racer, Tasmania’s best in the 1950’s and there is no reason why he could not be good in a car also. I don’t know whether it was his (Max Stephens Motors in Moonah, a car sales, later accessories and motorcycles) business that stopped him getting more involved in car racing or whether money was the issue…he died a few years ago’. ‘The car was sold in about 1962/3 to Alan Robertson of Hobart who converted it from central seat to sportscar format and raced a few times before Bristol engine problems intervened…the car was purchased by Frank Cengia, who restored it in the original Brabham 1955 colours, but in the 1990’s it was unfortunately sold overseas…’when Pat Burke who owned the car fell upon hard times.

Cooper T40 ‘CB/1/55’ whilst in Stephen’s ownership at Longford in 1959 or 1960. It is the car that Jack built, literally, days before his championship F1 debut at Aintree in the 1955 British GP. The car was constructed on the T39 Bobtail sports jig, with modifications. Note the curved Cooper spaceframe chassis, Bristol 2 litre engine sitting tall in the chassis, alloy wheels…such a clever car (oldracephotos.com)

Talented engineer Geoff Smedley added that ‘the car was prepared (in Tasmania) by the late Eric O’Heaney, one of the old school motorcycle mechanics who gave Max a lot of success in his bike days…Eric himself was an avid bike racer until a serious accident…In my mind Eric was an earlier version of the great Phil Irving, both with the same demeanour in their thinking and dedication to the development of the sport…’

Scott Stephens describes his father Max‘…as a respected car and motorcycle racer. He was the only Australian, whilst riding a Manx Norton 500, who successfully passed Geoff Duke for the race lead whilst Geoff held the mantle of current World Champion, this was achieved during the Australian Grand Prix held at Longford…Observed motorcycle trials was his last competitive stance. He was the Kawasaki and Maserati distributor in Tasmania…In his Hobart store he was the approved reseller of Norton, BSA, Velocette, Triumph, Laverda, Maico, Cotton, AJS, CZ, Montesa, Bultaco, Ossa, Hodaka, Italjet and Suzuki’ makes down the decades. Scott himself was a successful professional racer who rode for Kawasaki Australia, Matich Pirelli Racing and Suzuki quips that Max ‘Loved and was amazed by anything driven by fuel!

Bibliography…

The Nostalgia Forum- contributions by Rob Saward and Geoff Smedley, scottstephens.com.au

Photo Credits…

oldracephotos.com

jack from kling

Baptism at Aintree – Karl Kling’s Mercedes W196 & Roberto Mieres’ Maserati 250F push Jack at his 1st World Championship F1 event. Cooper T40 Bristol. 1955 British GP. (Jack Brabham Story)

Sixty years ago today, Jack Brabham made his Formula 1 GP debut at Aintree, but first he had to build the car…

The first half of 1955 was full of many goings on for Jack Brabham. With encouragement from the UK RAC motor sporting administrator, Dean Delamont, Jack was convinced to head over to the UK for some motor racing. Little did anyone know the success this would bring – although it was hardly immediate.

It the pages of the February 1955 ‘Australian Motor Sports’ there’s a brief piece on Jack and his trip to the Continent and it rumours that he had ordered a Cooper-Alta and might have a trial drive with Mercedes Benz. To finance such a trip he had to sell his highly developed & successful ‘RedeX Special’ – aka Cooper-Bristol. Stan Jones, having wrecked his Maybach II at the 1954 Australian GP purchased it. Just prior to selling though, Jack had his last race in the ‘RedeX’ at the January 31, 1955 Gnoo Blas meeting. This was a big meeting for the country NSW circuit with international drivers’ Peter Whitehead and Prince Bira running Ferrari & Maserati respectively. For Jack another part of financing the UK journey also meant selling his lathe and some other equipment – all to his later lament.

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The unloved ex-Whitehead Cooper-Alta at Ibsley. (Jack Brabham Story)

Flying to the UK, meant initially leaving his wife, Betty and young son, Geoffrey in Australia. Soon after arriving Jack took delivery of the ex Peter Whitehead Cooper-Alta. In fact he originally set up camp at Whitehead’s Chalfont St Peter’s race garage before a slightly later move to Bob Chase’s RJC Motors operation at Saltdean. His racing activities in the UK, began with the Cooper-Alta at the April 11, 1955 Goodwood Easter Monday meeting. The same meeting Cooper Cars debuted their petite 1100cc Coventry-Climax T39 ‘bobtail’ sports car. Their first foray into what would become a successful ‘Climax’ engine relationship.

brabham GP-1955-debut

Brabham’s brand new, self built Cooper T40 Bristol, Aintree, British GP 1955. Car and driver victorious in the 1955 Australian GP, Port Wakefield later in the year. (unattributed)

History tells us that Jack Brabham never said much, he let his ability do the talking, whether by his driving or engineering skills. But he knew how to get what he wanted. Neither Charles, nor John Cooper ever officially interviewed Jack for a job at Cooper’s Surbiton works. He just hung around often enough until he was one of them.

Despite its Cooper heritage, Jack’s lack of enthusiasm remained for the Cooper-Alta. Even after an engine blow-up at the April 30 Ibsley meeting on the old RAF base, saw him convert it to Bristol power. Meaning he was never going to be satisfied continuing to race that car.

So having gained his new friendship with the likeable John Cooper, Jack was allowed use of Cooper’s Surbiton facilities to knock together what would be his own interpretation of Cooper’s new T39 ‘bobtail’ – shoehorning a big engine into a small sports car. One could even say this was an early incarnation of what would evolve into the Can Am style cars of the mid 60s and onwards.

t40 construction

The bare bones of the Cooper T40 Bristol under construction. Tubular ‘curvy in the usual Cooper way’ chassis frame. Front and rear suspension upper transverse leaf spring and lower wishbones with Arnstrong shocks, drum brakes, 2 litre Bristol 6 cylinder engine.(Jack Brabham Story)

Part of Jack building his ‘streamliner’ F1 car, involved adding 50mm to the chassis’ wheelbase to accommodate the familiar to him, 2 litre Bristol 6 cylinder lump – in place of the 1100 Climax 4. Both built with the engine behind the driver. Worth noting is that in some official entry lists the car is claimed to have a 2.2 litre Bristol. Apparently that was the intent, but not reality. It was also built devoid of lights and anything that would add unwarranted weight.

t40 engine

The Bristol 2 litre 6 cylinder in the rear of the T40. (Jack Brabham Story)

This project later tagged as T40 in the Cooper genealogy stakes – with 2 constructed. One Jack would use himself, this car was allocated chassis number CB/1/55 and another that Bob Chase’s RJC Motors would briefly run for Mike Keen. I say briefly, because unfortunately a crash at the August 20, 1955 Goodwood 9 hour took Mike’s life and the ever present problem of fire destroyed the car.

Jack Brabham’s UK presence hadn’t gone unnoticed by the UK specialist motoring press, gaining a few comments in race reports. Autosport magazine even showed off the incomplete T40 in their pages the day before its first race. Admittedly the photo would have been taken sometime before that, but it was a brand new car when it hit the circuit – with no test time.

jack and autosport

Autosport 15 July 1955 Cooper/Brabham announcement.

Liverpool’s Aintree circuit was the venue for the running of the July 16, 1955 British GP meeting. This meeting became Jack’s F1 debut race. The programme even mentions ‘The Cooper Grand Prix entry is a prototype of a full team to be built to race in 1956.’ A slightly premature comment as it turned out and the only F1 Grand Prix the T40 would take part. The car’s haste to complete meant new car sorting was lacking and a rear of grid start. Having liberated the Harley Davidson clutch setup from his Australian ‘RedeX’ C-B before sale, with some irony it was this part that let Jack down at Aintree making for an early retirement at 30 of the intended 90 laps the outcome. The dominant Mercedes Benz W196 team that included Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and Stirling Moss, saw Stirling taking race honours.

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Jack Brabham’s Cooper T40 Bristol from Ken Wharton Vanwall VW55 equal 9th, with victor Stirling Moss about to round them up in his Mercedes W196. (Bill Henderson)

Despite the niggling start Jack had more faith in the T40 than the Cooper-Alta. What followed over the ensuing month were national events at July 30 Crystal Palace & August 1 Brands Hatch with further retirements at both. Then crossing over the Scottish border his luck with the T40 began to change at the August 6 Charterhall meeting. Finally two 4th placed finishes in his Heat and Final. Continuing into the following week’s damp August 13 Snetterton. At that meeting Jack was able to mix it amongst some of the motor racing luminaries. Such as Harry Schell & Ken Wharton in Vanwall’s, Stirling Moss in his privately entered Maserati 250F and Roy Salvadori 250F. That being the finishing order for Snetterton’s RedeX Trophy race with Jack slotting in between Stirling and Roy for another 4th place. Had he not spun during his tussle with Moss it may well have been a 3rd place greeting him. This race alone was enough to convince Jack he would return to the UK in 1956 as he was about to send the Cooper T40 home to Australia. Jack and Betty then set to return to Sydney in late September to catch up with their son and more motor racing.

brabham and hawthorn

Jacks thoroughly modern mid engined, ‘central seat sports derived F1 car’ ahead of the over the hill Ferrari 625 of Mike Hawthorn, monstering the little Cooper. MH finished equal 6th in the race with Fazz teammate Eugenio Castellotti. Things got better for Ferrari, the Lancia D50 ‘gifts’ were not too far away! (unattributed)

autocar

The year of 1955 was also a period whereby other Aussies had made the trip to England for a racing holiday. Orders had been placed with Aston Martin for 3 of their DB3S racing sports cars. The ‘Kangaroo Stable’ as it was so named with members being Tony Gaze, David McKay, Les Cosh, Dick Cobden, Tom Sulman & Jack Brabham. Circumstances played against them though. Late delivery of the cars didn’t help, but it was the June 11-12, 1955 running of Le Mans that put the skids on racing soon afterwards with a number of events cancelled as a result to the Pierre Levegh Mercedes going into the crowd at Le Mans.

1955 Hyeres Kangaroo

‘Kangaroo Stable’ Aston Martin DB3S at the Hyeres 12 Hour, France 29 May 1955. L>R Gaze, McKay, Brabham, Cosh and Cobden standing near the post. Only Tom Sulman is missing from the shot. Race won by Canonica/Munaron Ferrari 750 Monza, then came the Kangaroo Stable trio; Gaze/McKay 2nd, Cosh/Cobden 3rd and Sulman/Brabham 4th. (David McKay ‘Behind The Wheel’)

Jack Brabham was present at the famous French road course that year, but as a reserve driver for the Bristol team. He got to qualify, but never received the call up to put his helmet on for the race. That may well have been one of several omens Jack was granted in 1955 and over his outstanding career.

Cooper Cars Ltd also had a presence at Le Mans with the John Brown/Edgar Wadsworth Cooper T39 1100 and the Whitehead Brothers Cooper-Jaguar that year, but it was the infancy of Jack and John’s friendship, hence no involvement with the Surbiton marque’s effort

Another instance of Brabham luck was just before he headed for home. September 17 was the Dundrod RAC Tourist Trophy meeting in Ireland, with Jack there to share the Michael O’Shea owned Cooper T39 with London driver, Jim Mayers. An inexperienced French driver, Vicomte Henri de Barry created annoyance for several drivers as he baulked their progress, with those drivers’ having to take risks to get past to further their race on the testing Irish road course. Unfortunately the situation ended as badly as it could with a fiery crash at Deer’s Leap involving several cars. Jim was one of 2 drivers to die at that crash scene – the Cooper scattered to oblivion. This event would also claim another driver, elsewhere around the course. Although not knowing otherwise, Dean Delamont had sought out Betty Brabham, thinking it was Jack involved in the main crash – only to find him in the pit. Jim and Jack had flipped a coin to decide who did the first stint. We know who won…

jack and betty

Together in the UK, Betty Brabham followed Jack mid-year. While their son, Geoffrey stayed with his grandparents in Sydney. Cooper T40 Bristol. (Jack Brabham Story)

So as can be seen there were a few familiar names that helped establish Jack Brabham in those early days in the UK – Whitehead, Chase, Cooper & Delamont. The Bristol marque also played its part with their engine and the Le Mans reserve driver gig. Through them, Jack Brabham, Jim Mayers & Mike Keen are also entwined with their 1955 Le Mans Bristol team involvement. Taking out 7th (Mayers), 8th (Keen) & 9th places behind Jaguar’s Mike Hawthorn, Ivor Bueb winning entry. It was all a taste of the next 15 years Jack would encounter in the highest levels of motor racing, including building more racing cars.

Etcetera…

jack

Jack shipped the Cooper Bristol home to Australia at the end of 1955, and in the saltbush country of the new Port Wakefield circuit, 100Km from Adelaide, won the 1955 Australian Grand Prix on 10 October. A lucky win from Reg Hunt’s ailing Maserati A6GCM and Doug Whiteford’s Talbot-Lago T26C. The first mid-engined AGP win. (unattributed)

Bibliography and Photo Credits…

‘The Jack Brabham Story’ Jack Brabham and Doug Nye, ‘Behind The Wheel’ David McKay, Bill Henderson

Finito…