The Cooper Car Company story begins in 1946, simply as project to build two cars for John Cooper and Eric Brandon and ends with two Formula 1 World Championships and the iconic Mini Cooper. Along the way, Cooper Cars became the largest and most successful builder of 500cc Formula 3 Cars and helped create the industry of racing car production.
In 1946, John and Eric decided they they would build two cars for themselves to hillclimb and race. They had already decided that a light weight, small engined car would be the only practical way forward and the new 500 rules were ideal. They enlisted the help of John's father, Charles who owned Cooper's Garage in Surbiton and had been a mechanic for Kay Don prior to the war.
The resulting Prototype Cooper was a simple, light design using the remains of two Fiat 500s for front and rear suspension, a JAP speedway engine (obtained through Charlie's motorbike connections), a simple ladder style frame and aluminium body. Crucially, and for largely practical reasons, the engine was placed in the middle of the car, driving a chain to the gearbox and a second chain to the rear axle.
The mid-engine layout had been used before, of course, but coupled with light weight and good handling, Cooper Cars used it to great effect through Formula 3, 2 and ultimately to two Formula 1 World Championships for Jack Brabham.
Cooper 500/Formula 3 Types
The Cooper 500 evolved as series of models from 1946 through to 1960. Usually a new model appeared for each year although this could be very arbitrary for the early cars (Mk II-IV) and dependent on parts availability and Charlie's mood. Later cars (Mk IX onwards) are almost identical. 500s are usually referred to by their Mk numbers however Coopers also recorded type (T) numbers. In many cases, cars were also fitted with 1 litre and 1,100cc engines (usually JAP V twin), for hillclimbs and, for a while, Formula 2, where they were also successful. These chassis were longer and given a separate type number. Some related types are included for completeness such as the Triumph engined sports car, trailer and two streamlined record cars. T1 was retrospectively given to the Austin 7 special built by Charles Cooper for John in 1936.
Cooper 500 Drivers
Prominent Cooper 500 drivers included Stirling Moss, Les Leston, Stuart Lewis-Evans, Ivor Bueb, Jim Russell, Trevor Taylor, Bill Whitehouse, Cliff Allison, "Curly" Dryden, Ken Carter, Alan Brown, Peter Collins, Don Parker, Raymond Sommer, Harry Schell as well as Eric Brandon and John Cooper, himself. Graham Hill, Bernie Ecclestone and Ken Tyrrell also began their careers in Cooper 500s.
The start of something big. John, aged nine, with the first Cooper Special, built by Charlie using a motorbike engine and gearbox in a home made chassis with chain drive to the rear, not a bad recipe! Kay Don's sister supervises.
In parallel to, and financed by Cooper's success in Formula 3, the company was able to develop a range of competitive cars for the larger classes. The brief period of 1 litre Formula 2 allowed the company to fit V twin engines to long chassis versions of Formula 3 cars to establish the marque and then develop sports cars and single seaters including the Cooper Bristol, Bobtail, Monaco and a series of Formula Junior, Formula 2 and Formula 1 cars, culminating in back to back World Championships for Jack Brabham in 1959 and 1960. A brief look at any of these cars will reveal a clear lineage to the 500cc cars, many using transverse leaf spring and upright suspension arrangements derived from the original prototype car and the famous curved chassis tubes introduced for the Mk VIII 500.
Some years later John Cooper developed a sporting version of BMC Mini, the Cooper and Cooper "S" models which attained cult status following wins in the Monte Carlo Rally and staring role in the film "The Italian Job".
The Cooper Car Club is managed by Richard Neale, click on the logo to visit
Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren pose with their 1959 Type 45s