Low and behold

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1960: First test of the ‘lowline’, Silverstone

The team was still winning, but its car was fast becoming outdated. Something had to be done. The police weren’t impressed, but Charlie Cooper was. By Paul Fearnley

While stuck in traffic on weekday mornings on the westbound lane of the A3 Kingston Bypass, my sombre mood has recently been lifted by the following scenario:

“The first test of the ‘Lowline’ Cooper was early one morning after an all-night effort. I took off up the bypass, went around the Hook roundabout and back down to the Tolworth roundabout. I was about to repeat that circuit when I saw a police car going the other way. It stopped and turned around.”

Jack Brabham and his brand-new T53 sprinted back to the Hollyfield Road workshop, where the door was slammed behind them and the team hid until the rozzers tired of ran-tanning on the door and windows. Coast clear, they set off for Silverstone. The date was Friday, May 9.

Cooper had begun the new season as it had the last: winning. Bruce McLaren had taken the spoils in Argentina, but this had been a fortuitous success. It was clear that the new rear-engined offerings from Lotus, the 18, and BRM, the P48, were quicker than the old T51. Something had to be done.

Tightfisted Charlie Cooper wasn’t convinced. But Brabham and John were. Fibbing about the cost, hiding a second new chassis up the road at the new Langley Road base, they built their Lotus-beater in the space of just six weeks.

Mike Barney was one of the mechanics involved: “We were confident the ‘Lowline’ would be a lot better than the T51. That car had been very successful, but there was plenty of room for improvement. ‘Noddy’ Grohmann made the new chassis more accurately, ensured the welding was better — he really slaved over it.”

Other improvements included a reduced frontal area and coil-sprung wishbone suspension front and rear. All they had to do now was convince Charlie of the car’s worth.

Within 10 laps of Silverstone, Jack was 2sec under the T51 ‘s best. After 50 laps, he was 6sec faster. “It was quick straightaway,” Jack remembers. “We made some small spring and damper adjustments and went even faster. It was a big improvement on top speed and handling. Even Charlie was impressed, which took some pressure off John’s bills.”

Mike ‘Ginger’ Devlin was there on that auspicious occasion, too. “It was a good feeling. An important day. Cooper’s grew up in spite of Charlie in many ways. He was a rough-and-ready engineer whose motto was, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. If he had known how much money we’d spent on that new gearbox [approx £1000 per unit] he would have flipped. But he was no fool, he knew we had to progress.”

Doug Nye’s excellent Cooper Cars reveals how Charlie carefully annotated the test, remarking on the track’s partial resurfacing and Dunlop’s latest D9, allocating 2sec each to these improvements. But that, of course, still left 2sec down to the new car. His boys had done well, and he was as pleased as Punch. It was just a pity they had spent a whopping £400 on that gearbox!

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