The 2019 Goodwood Revival will be awash with Coopers, 60 years since they ruled the world
John Cooper: 35.81 secs. Alec Issigonis: 37.50 secs. It’s 1946, motor racing is back and Cooper’s home-built (with his dad, Charles, in Surbiton) special has taken the 850cc class honours on the Brighton seafront ahead of a man who will make him more famous than would his own world-beating cars.
That special attracted attention and Coopers soon dominated the 500cc racing class, which became Formula Three.
Stirling Moss was among the first – with paycheck and to the flag – his engine cheap because his dentist dad ‘did the teeth’ of JAP’s Stan Greening.
At Goodwood’s inaugural meeting in 1948, Moss dominated so much he was told to slow by his father.
Formula One met its first Cooper in 1950, courtesy of Harry Schell, entering the history books as the first rear-engined car to start a Grand Prix.
Mike Hawthorn scored a Bristol-powered third place in the British Grand Prix two years later and claimed strong placings at Goodwood. This Cooper was more traditional, the 2-litre horse pulling the Formula Two cart.
Moss and Peter Whitehead entered four 1954 Grands Prix – three for the former, one for the latter – in a Cooper-Alta Special that was lower, courtesy of the side-breathing Alta that could be removed from the spaceframe chassis with ’box attached. But these were lean years – F3 aside.
Jack Brabham landed in Surbiton and a rear-engined Cooper returned to F1 for the 1955 British Grand Prix.
A T39 chassis, usually found under the ‘Bobtail’ sports car, its Bristol engine was bored-out to 2.2 litres and bolted to a Citroën gearbox beneath streamliner bodywork.
Things improved for 1957 when the new T43 – albeit an F2 – returned Cooper to the Grand Prix grid.
Two entered at Monaco, one a 1500cc Coventry Climax, the other enlarged to 2 litres, and ‘the only driver who was really motor racing was Brabham’, reckoned Motor Sport.
Fourth became third when Von Trips crashed, but there would be no fairytale: the Cooper coasted to a stop, only for a determined Brabham to push the car home from the seafront a classified sixth.
The breakthrough win came with Rob Walker Racing in the 1958 F1 opener, when Moss nursed one set of tyres for the entire Argentine Grand Prix.
Maurice Trintignant proved it to be no fluke, claiming the following race at Monaco.
Brabham’s wait for victory ended in the Principality in ’59 when he took the new 2.5-litre Climax-engined T51 to his and the works team’s first win, going on to become champion. Rear-engined, curve-tubed chassis, fuel tanks flanking the driver, still with a Citroën ’box, it was a revelation and a revolution drawn on the garage floor.
Bruce McLaren won for the first time at Sebring to cap the season, as Brabham pushed his Cooper over the line (again) to secure the title.
Brabham dominated 1960 with five wins in eight starts in a T53, coil sprung, with innovative new transaxle gearbox and still a curved chassis (against Brabham’s protestations). It was stiffer and lower, and fashioned in just seven weeks in the face of Lotus’ perhaps faster 18.
The goalposts moved for ’61, as F1 shrank to 1.5 litres, and just one podium was forthcoming. Brabham’s US GP pole was scant parting gift.
McLaren remained for ’62, winning at Monaco aboard a V8 T60, while podiums at Aintree, Monza, Watkins Glen and South Africa suggested Cooper had arrested the wobble.
Yet it would be four years until a Cooper won again and the company was sold following the death of Old Man Charles.
Two double podiums for John Surtees and Jochen Rindt signalled a brief 1966 revival before Big John – who’d made the leap from two wheels to four with Cooper at Goodwood in ’60 – ended the team’s drought at Mexico in a T81.
It won again in Joburg to open ’67, fuel pump hanging out of the back to fight vaporisation. Local John Love’s T79 developed a misfire and required a splash-and-dash, allowing Pedro Rodríguez to win.
Coopers bothered the podium only twice more: Brian Redman at Jarama in ’68 and Lucien Bianchi at Monaco a fortnight later.
But by then John’s old speed-trial rival Issigonis’ Mini had already made Cooper a household name, despite fading F1 fame.
Images: Motorsport Images