Episode 11 sees this series once again visit 1950s Britain, with the foundation of the Cooper Car Company in 1946 by Charles Cooper, his son John and friend Eric Brandon. After several years of building cars in junior Formulas with JAP motorcycle engines, the team broke into Formula 1 full-time in 1957.
Officially, Cooper made its one-off Formula 1 debut at Monaco in 1950, where Harry Schell qualified the T12 successfully but crashed on Lap 1. The T12 was a modified Cooper 500 chassis, which was raced with enormous success between 1951 and 1954 in Formula Three. The team took victory in 64 out of 78 races during their three-year tenure.
Stumbled upon by accident, the Cooper team pioneered the introduction of mid-engined Formula 1 cars. Due to the nature of the JAP engines they were using, the power unit had to be as close as possible to the driven rear axle, thus resulting in the placement of the engine behind the cockpit.
Cooper made another one-off appearance in Formula 1 at the 1955 British Grand Prix, where Jack Brabham drove an experimental Cooper design, equipped with a 2-litre Bristol engine. Several privateers entered Coopers during this time – their innovative design drew plenty of interest, but the works team concentrated on junior projects during the mid-1950s.
After a sixth-place finish by Brabham at the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix raised eyebrows of competitors who were yet to revert to the mid-engined concept, the Cooper name became a common sighting on the Formula 1 track. Stirling Moss secured the first Championship win for a mid-engined car and also the first for a privately entered car when he won the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix in Rob Walker’s privately entered Cooper T43.
Frenchman Maurice Trintignant matched this feat at the very next race in Monaco, in a Cooper T45 also privately entered by Walker, who was the heir to the Johnny Walker whisky empire. The mid-engined concept had merit and although Vanwall took the Constructors’ title due to sheer lack of power from the T45, the mid-engined revolution had begun.
By 1959, Vanwall had dropped out of Formula 1 and Brabham had been working closely with John Cooper to develop the T51. Powered by a Coventry-Climax 2.5-litre engine, it seemed like the Cooper team were no longer going to have a large engine deficit to their competitors.
Brabham won in Monaco and Britain which meant by the final round at Sebring, he had a shot at the championship. Stirling Moss, who had won more races but also had more retirements, gave himself a second successive chance at the title in a Rob Walker privateer Cooper. Ferrari’s Tony Brooks could also clinch it, but only if he won and Brabham failed to score.
Brabham dominated the race; leading for the majority until he ran out of fuel on the last lap. Bruce McLaren won in a works Cooper T51, followed by Trintignant in a Rob Walker Cooper. McLaren became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner aged just 22 and helped Cooper win the Constructors’ Cup. With Brooks third, Brabham pushed his works Cooper across the line in fourth to become the World Champion.
The Cooper T53-Climax debuted in 1960. McLaren won the season-opener in Argentina before Moss clinched one of only two wins that season in Monaco – his second was at the US Grand Prix. Brabham took all remaining Grand Prix victories to ensure he and Cooper retained their titles. Phil Hill won at Monza for Ferrari as the British outfit boycotted the race over concerns of using the banked circuit.
After two years of dominance, Cooper were overtaken by the sophisticated designs from Ferrari, BRM and Lotus and were caught out by the introduction of 1.5-litre regulations in 1961. In 1963, John Cooper was seriously injured in a rally accident and his father Charles died the following year. This led to John selling the team to the Chipstead Motor Group in 1965.
Cooper did provide the monocoque T77-Climax chassis for 1965 and the T81-Maserati for 1966. Brabham had left to form his own team as he became disgruntled at Cooper so Jochen Rindt, Ritchie Ginther and John Surtees took to the track for the team. The Brabham-Repco’s dominated the mid-1960s – the Cooper team could manage no better than third in the Constructors’ Cup in 1966 and 1967.
By 1968, they had slipped back to seventh in the table and despite the transformation of Formula 1 with the introduction of Ford DFV-Cosworth engines, it was too little too late for Cooper and they dropped out of Formula 1 at the end of the 1968 season.
John Cooper died in 2000 aged 77 but his name and legacy lives on through the iconic Mini Cooper which he raced, several privateers that continued to use Coopers in Formula 1, 2 and 3 and the Bicycle Division of the Cooper Car Company, founded in 2009 by Mike Cooper, son of John and grandson of Charles.