Blunt-bodied beauty wasn’t immediately popular, but surprised many on track
Sports-racing cars of the 1950s don’t come much more ‘quintessential’ than the jewel-like Cooper T39 Bobtail, one of the most important examples of which is currently up for grabs at William I’Anson’s Cotswolds-based dealership.
The T39 Bobtail was the avant garde product of the talented but eccentric engineer, designer and jazz musician Owen Maddock, who joined the Cooper Car Company in 1948 as a 23-year-old after graduating from Kingston Technical College and serving a brief stint in the Home Guard.
Although the Cooper firm was slowly gaining recognition, it was still a small concern when Maddock arrived, leading to him being employed as a sort of general factotum who carried out duties ranging from fitter and van driver to storesman and machinist – but he was soon recognised as an exceptional draughtsman and engineer noted for the attention to detail and the high quality of his drawings.
Maddock subsequently became instrumental in the development of Cooper’s Formula Two and Formula One programmes, notably through his work on the World Constructors’ Championship-winning Cooper-Climax T51 of 1959. He had paved the way with the creation of the T39 that was an adapted version of Cooper’s already successful, curved-tube MK IX F3 chassis fitted with a Coventry Climax 1098cc four-cylinder engine and Citroën gearbox positioned behind the mid-mounted driver’s seat.
Although far from being the most significant part of his contribution to the T39’s design – that was probably the chassis itself, which tipped the scales at a gossamer 65lbs – the part of the car that Maddock is best remembered for is the blunt back-end that he was inspired to create having studied the then-novel thinking of Professor Wunibald Kamm – of Kamm tail fame.
Maddock’s rather brutal interpretation of the Kamm theory did little to impress Cooper, however, who is said to have explained it away as being created out of a necessity to make the car sufficiently short to fit inside the works transporter.
Regardless of the efficacy or otherwise of what came to be known as the ‘bobtail’ design, the T39 proved its worth from the very start, with Ivor Bueb taking third in the first works car against larger-engined opposition at the Goodwood Easter Monday meeting of 1955.
The performance brought orders for further cars from the likes of Jim Russell and Tommy Sopwith, and led to an alternative 1500cc Coventry Climax FWB engine being made available in 1956 ahead of the dawn of the 1500cc F2 era the following year.
The T39 being offered on behalf of a client by I’Anson was built in early 1956 and sent to America under the auspices of the Cooper Car Co (USA) – meaning that, unlike the UK works cars, it carries a chassis number.
Given its first outing at the Sebring 12 Hours in the hands of Leech Cracraft and Red Byron, the car acquitted itself brilliantly to come 21st overall and first in the Sports 1.1 class.
It was subsequently sold to trucking company boss and prolific racer Fred Sclavi, who achieved a few notable successes before selling the car to Florida-based Charlie Kold, who took a trio of outright wins with it during the spring of 1959.
Having had a remarkably low seven owners from then until 2005, the T39 – now fitted with a 1500cc engine – has been in the current custodian’s hands for 13 years and, despite not having been raced since 2012, should need little more than light re-commissioning in order to be made ready for any number of blue-chip historic events.
What have we got here then?
A Lancashire squad car of a vintage variety
It looks innocent enough, but this 1938 MG TA probably had a colourful start to life since it was originally registered as a patrol car with Lancaster Police. As unlikely as it seems now, MG sports cars were a popular choice with the British constabulary throughout the land, as evinced by Andrea Green’s book on the subject, MGs on Patrol.
Virtually every model from the TA to the MGC and B-V8 was used by the force at some stage, and many photographs exist of coppers flashing beaming smiles from behind the wheel as they prepare to put in another vital shift of open-top sports car motoring (at the taxpayer’s expense, of course).
Possibly due to the famously long periods of sun and dry weather enjoyed in north west England, the Lancashire force seemed to be an enthusiastic supporter of MG, with this example at Sussex Sports Cars being but one of a fleet that once comprised many dozen.
Originally registered CTF 291 (according to the MG T/A/B/C Owners’ Club’s ex-police car database), the car is likely to have been subjected to a few engine tweaks (including a ‘hot’ cam) in order that it might easily chase down the region’s ne’er-do-wells.
The TA remained with the force until 1943 when it was sold to a Canadian serviceman who took it home with him after the war, but it was later repatriated to the UK where it has recently undergone some reconditioning.
Said to run ‘sweetly’, the car wears the same black paint that it would have done when supplied to the police and sports a nicely patinated red leather interior. It also comes with a decent history file, its original instruction manual and MGTA police registry detail. A steal at £26,950.