Marcus Pye's Diary

Coopers are once again in MAWP’s thoughts as he inspects V12 and half-litre single-cylinder grand prix veterans

Grandfather of Britain’s production racing car industry the Cooper Car Company’s products were diverse and, despite Charles and son John being widely regarded as artisan blacksmiths, in many ways innovative. No wonder they still enjoy such a following.

Wearing my Motor Sports Association hat, I have crawled over the full spectrum of Coopers in recent weeks. Inspecting cars prior to issuing their Historic Technical Passports (the FIA document which enables owners to compete in international events) is among my duties. It’s a task which, I hope, enables me to better appreciate the engineering of different eras for my writing and commentary work.

A Cooper enthusiast’s dream, they spanned Marks 7 to 86, thus the contrast could barely be greater. Spaceframe to barge-like monocoques; half-litre single-cylinder JAP engine to enormous 3-litre twin-plug Maserati V12; spindly rims to vast cast magnesium wheels; renovation project to ‘on the button’. It’s hard to believe that only 14 years — barely a generation in human terms — split them.

Both also have grand prix history. The 500 (chassis MK7/11/53, then Norton-powered) competed in the inaugural New Zealand GP at Ardmore in 1954, driven by Ron Frost — a sainted name among the country’s motorsport organisers — and Arnold Stafford.

Several engines later, including a Porsche unit, William I’Anson of the Bonhams automobile department bought it there, in JAP trim, but the former Americas Cup yachtsman has enjoyed his first season of Historic FF1600 too much to change tack. The Cooper now has a new home, and will re-emerge after much TLC to race anew.

The graft has already been done on the T86 (F1-2-67), bought by ex-Eagle and Fittipaldi driver Ben Liebert three years ago. Undeterred by the state into which it had festered during 30 years in the Grell Collection in Switzerland, direct from Toby St George Matthews’s ownership, Liebert commissioned a ground-up rebuild. Which necessitated re-casting the engine block!

MacDonald Race Engineering’s excellent work is a lasting tribute to the talents of ex-Formula One man Paul Vincent, who sadly passed away during the project, and the new crew under Dave Manning (exRAM) which is preparing it for May’s GP Historique de Monaco.

Entry permitting, that will be a poignant moment, for the unique car — raced by Jochen Rindt (its best place being fourth at Monza) and Jacky Ickx in 1967 — made its final Formula One appearance at Monaco two years later. Indeed, with the red livery of Colin Crabbe’s Antique Automobiles équipe supplanting the works bottle green, and with Vic Elford up, it was the last time that a Cooper started a grand prix World Championship round.

Seventh place was the swansong for the marque, a decade after the first ofJack Brabham’s back-to-back World titles. I think of those feats every time I pass the old Cooper factory in Hollyfield Road, Surbiton, close to the MotorSport office.

The bold efforts of privateers, often fielding outmoded machinery when Formula One visited their home patch, was long part of the sport’s pinnacle. In the late 1970s, when 40 contenders pitched up at Silverstone, pre-qualifying weeded out the slowcoaches, who were often rent-a-drivers with deep pockets and misguided ambition.

Back in the early 1960s more useful guys could reach the fringes. Dozens of hopefuls headed from nursery slopes around the world to Europe to seek fame and fortune. Including a fair number of motorcycle racers.

One such was South African speedway star Trevor Blokdyk, who did start his home Grand Prix in 1963, aboard Gigi Lupini’s old fourcylinder Cooper-Maserati T51. The Krugersdorp man, who kept pet baboons, persevered in Europe on shoestring budgets, and was on the verge of a breakthrough when a Formula Two shunt at Albi in 1968, in a works Lotus, ended his career.

Much earlier, Blokdyk and fellow oval rider Ray Cresp bought a pair of ’61 Cooper T66s from Midlands Racing Partnership. Trevor ran his on home soil for several ‘European winter’ seasons, with Alfa Romeo and later Lotus twin-cam power.

After his death, the red car was bought — just as it left the track in 1968 — by British MG racer Peter Green. Because of the enormous amount of work required to make it raceworthy, he has swapped it for Mike Waller’s Formula Junior T52. Thus another of Waller’s fastidious restorations has begun.