A DIFFERENT COOPER NORTON
Recently, New Zealand motor race historian Milan Fistonic sent me this shot of a Mk9 Cooper Norton, being worked on in the grassy pit area of the long since closed racetrack at Levin, New Zealand.
Captioned as being of Jim Berkett, with Cooper Norton Mk 9-28-55, it is of particular interest to me as it was from Jim that I purchased my JBS Norton in 1971. At the time Jim told me that he also had raced a Cooper as well as the JBS , and had on occasion swapped the Norton engines around. Here’s another period picture of Dick Butters at Levin:
The JBS was in the rafters of his plumbing business, the engine was sitting in the back of a VW Kombi van and the remaining parts were spread near and far. The mounting plates on the engine certainly didn’t fit the JBS, however others included in the collection did the job.
This particular single-cam pre-war engine was one of a very small number of race engines which were a fore runner to the venerable double knocker Manx engines which won hundreds of races in both bikes and F3 cars. Indeed most books on Nortons don’t even have information on these small-run engines, however they appear to have been used in 1935 and 1936 works bikes.
In time I had the JBS up and running, and at an event held by the Hawkes Bay Car Club in NZ in 1972 it was spotted by Ron Frost who immediately identified it as ‘’Curley Drydens factory experimental engine’’. Ron (RWA Frost) should have known, as he was not only a motorcycle racer and successful F3 car racer in his native England before settling in NZ, but he introduced many 500 cc F3 cars into the country, including my JBS. He was the driving force behind the construction of the Levin motor race track inside the horse racing facility there, much like his fellow countryman Geoff Sykes did with the Warwick Farm racecourse in Sydney.
It would appear that top Norton tuner of the day, Francis Beart may have worked on this engine given the quote from Iota magazine of March 1951 that he maintained Drydens ‘remarkably fast single cam engine‘, and that FB 444 is punched onto the drive-sidecrankcase.
Fast forward to 2017 and an approach to Derry Greeeklee saw me drive to Adelaide and snap up a Mk9 Cooper that he had obtained from New Zealand some years earlier, mainly for the 1100 cc JAP engine that was then in it. I was keen to put it back to its original 500 cc F3 form and obtained a Manx engine from Charlie Banyard-Smith in the UK to do this. This Cooper is the exact one that Jim Berkett had owned back in the late 1950s, so now I have not only his old JBS but his Cooper Mk9 as well.
And that’s where the picture gets even more interesting, as sitting in the back of the Cooper in the photo is the single cam ‘’Curley‘’Dryden engine, which is still in the back of the JBS.
I have a copy of the Motor Vehicle registration papers that were used at the time in NZ, even for racing cars. Whilst there’s probably no doubt that Frost imported the Cooper, the first name on this form is Raymond Drew of Wellington. Although not on the entry list, he appears to have competed at the opening meeting at Levin.
Subsequent owners appear to have been Alistair McBeath, then Jim Berkett, Peter Slocombe, Dick Butters, Basil Brimelow, Garth Forsyth, then maybe it went to Bill Clarke, John Holdsworth – who fitted the twin JAP – Derry Greeneklee and then Garry Simkin.
Fully restored, above, with a new engine , the car has had one short run on the disused airfield at Schofields in western Sydney and had a few ‘bugs‘ sorted out subsequently. When the big bug that is keeping us locked down at the moment is sorted, hopefully it will be out and about on east Australia racetracks.
PS Continuing our favourite theme of ‘things still turning up’ it might be mentioned that as opposed to a Mk8 Cooper, which has the engine sitting vertical, a Mk9 has the Norton engine leaning backwards at 15 degrees. To achieve this Cooper cast up special magnesium engine mounts, none of which came with the car. An observant fellow Cooper Mk 9 owner, Brian Simpson, noticed a pair for sale on Ebay and contacted Garry to suggest he bid for the pair. Seems not too many other people out there had these on their shopping list and they duly arrived in his letter box for the grand total of $35.