1967: South African Grand Prix
In F1, Cooper's stock had dropped for five seasons, but there was a brief respite thanks to an unlikely alliance with Maserati. David Malsher recalls the last win
Two races into the 1966 F1 season, Roy Salvadori, Cooper's new team manager, had got lucky when John Surtees fell out with Ferrari. 'Big John' was able to team up with Jochen Rindt to drive the fine T81 chassis, albeit powered by the unconvincing V12 Maserati engine.
"It was heavy and didn't have much power," says Salvadori. "The most we ever saw was a flash reading of 330bhp on the dyno."
Nonetheless, with a win in the season finale in Mexico, Surtees took Cooper to third in the constructors' championship, before departing for Honda, leaving Rindt to partner Mexican ace Pedro Rodriguez.
"A good combination," says Salvadori. "You could rely on Jochen to be right up front And you could also almost rely on him falling off the road or blowing an engine. Pedro on the other hand, was dependable, easy on the car, but quick — a future champion, I think."
Still, there was not much to suggest that Cooper would start the 1967 season as they had ended '66. In practice at Kyalami, overheating woes forced the team to cut back the noses of the T81s in order that more air was rammed through. The next problem was a misfire in Rindt's car. Salvadori: "It was such a slight hesitation I felt it made no difference to his laptime, so when Jochen asked for Pedro's car, I refused. We knew from practice that Jochen would have to stop for tyres in the race, while Pedro wouldn't, and yet their lap times in practice were by and large the same."
In fact, Rodriguez and Rindt were fourth and seventh on the grid respectively. Predictably, though, Rindt's driving was fast and furious from the start, and while lying third on lap three, he outbraked himself, went off and roared back into the fray. Equally predictably, his Maserati engine quit before half-distance.
Driving with rather less vim, Rodriguez had been nursing a duff gearbox since the opening laps. With just third and fifth at his disposal, he had no answer to Denny Huhne's Brabham nor to local hero John Love in his Cooper.
"In that position, Jochen would have given up chugging around," Salvadori says, "but Pedro kept it going. Then luck played its part"
First Hulme's brakes forced him into two long pitstops and then, to the mortification of the crowd, Love discovered his 2.7-litre Climax-engined T79 did not have the fuel capacity to last a full GP distance, and he had to make a splash-and-dash stop with nine laps to go, leaving Rodriguez to cross the line with 26sec in hand. Those seven laps were the last led by the Cooper marque in F1.
Salvadori: "For 1968, I wanted Cosworths and to continue with Jochen. But the various directors wanted to continue with Maserati and not pay out properly for drivers. So at the end of '67, Cooper lost Jochen, Pedro and the opportunity to switch to Cosworths. I think I was right to get out when I did."