This year marks the 60th anniversary of not only the Formula 1 World Championship – introduced in 1950 – but also of 500cc “poor man’s motor racing” receiving full recognition from the FIA as ‘International Formula 3’. But there’s still more. In the Monaco Grand Prix that year a long-chassis ‘two-way’ Cooper-JAP Mark IV was entered by the Franco-American owner-driver Harry O’Reilly Schell, not only for the supporting 500cc race, but also in the F1 Grand Prix itself.
The irrepressible Schell – whose parents had run the Ecurie Bleue team of Delahaye cars pre-war – intended to race in Monaco’s F3 supporting event using a 500cc single-cylinder JAP engine in his American-liveried Cooper – entered by the ‘Horschell Racing Corporation’ (i.e. himself) – and then to install an aluminium twin-cylinder 1100cc JAP power unit in the same chassis for the Grand Prix proper. Because the F3 practice and race clashed with Grand Prix practice – leaving no time between the sessions for the Cooper’s alternative engines to be swopped over – Schell set no ‘F1’ practice time, yet still flannelled acceptance from his receptive friends within the Monaco AC to permit his participation in the senior race.
Tall, stylish and voluble, ’Arree Schell was a vivid character. The girls in the office at the Cooper Car Company’s works in Hollyfield Road, Surbiton, were dazzled by him, and they were not alone. He would sweep in on one of his visits, talk the hind leg off a donkey with rugged old Charlie Cooper and his always engagingly genial son John, and then insist upon a visit to the stores. He’d sweep around them, selecting this and that, spare wheels, sprockets, brake linings, assorted instruments and bracketry – then supervise their loading into the big American road car he habitually preferred. He’d then whisk ‘Mr Charles’ off to the neighbouring pub, and after a convivial hour or two luncheon return to bid everyone – especially the office girls – a fond farewell, climbing into his laden road car, and burbling away towards the Dover ferry with much waving and horn-tooting. Silence would settle over Hollyfield Road…
Ten minutes or so would pass, and then John Cooper’s office door would burst open. There would stand his ashen father, bawling: “Did that ’Arry Schell pay you for them spares, Boy? ’E never paid me, so if ’e didn’t pay you, the bugger’s done us AGAIN!” Which of course he had.
At Monaco, Schell started from the back row of the Grand Prix grid, and yammered his way round only three-quarters of the opening lap, before being confronted by a chaos of colliding cars in the seafront Tabac corner, where the track surface had been part-flooded by heavy seas breaking over the adjacent harbour wall.
What’s so significant about that little Cooper-JAP starting the 1950 Monaco GP from the back of the grid, and then going out on the first lap? Well, it was not only the first Cooper to contest a
Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix, but also the first rear-engined ‘F1’ car to do so. Eight years later a Cooper-Climax would win the Monaco GP for the first time, and by 1961 every entry there would be rear-engined. You know the rest of the rear-engined racing car saga. ’Arree Schell’s little double-bubble start money bid in 1950 was the thin end of a hugely influential wedge. His Cooper-JAP Mark IV survives today as a landmark car.