Cooper 70th Anniversary at Prescott

In 1946 the motorsport people who survived World War 2 must have been desperately impatient to make the most of the peace.

Excepting some motorcycle speedway, competition had come to a halt everywhere. The racing venues of Crystal Palace and Donington Park weren’t likely to be available for the foreseeable future, and Brooklands was to be lost for ever. Rationing was in full order. People were spread all over the world and waiting months, even years to be repatriated.

Wartime had seen unprecedented and widespread discussion and development of ideas about the future of motorsport. Bill Boddy led the debate in Motor Sport with editorials such as ‘The Sport After the War’. The ‘Rembrandts’ – brains-trusts which Rivers and Penny Fletcher organised regularly in London  – were popular forums. There was even a meeting of 100 club representatives in Birmingham in February 1944 to complain about the RAC, which Raymond Mays chaired.

In Bristol, a group called CAPA (Caesar, Aldridge, Price and Adrian Butler), which had organised unsanctioned racing before the war, was raring to go with the idea of a 500cc racing category. First floated by Joseph Lowry in Motor Sport of July 1941, the new class was adopted enthusiastically by the Vintage Sports Car Club, and in January 1946 it appealed for builders of cars to get in touch. The Bugatti Owners and the Midland Automobile Clubs also announced their support. Motor claimed that some 80 ‘500s’ were under construction.

The first post-war Prescott meeting on 19 May 1946 saw just two 500cc entrants in the up-to-750cc class. There was Clive Lones, one time Brooklands Morgan ace with an Austin Seven chassied special called ‘Tiger Kitten’, which had a front- mounted speedway JAP.  Most prescient was Colin Strang’s new car with a Vincent-HRD at the rear. Strang impressed everyone with his 59.05s best time which compared well with Raymond Mays’ 51.70s in ERA R4D. The margin was naturally greater at Shelsley Walsh on 1 June when the two 500s again impressed the massive crowd.

The pioneering 500s were joined at Prescott by John Cooper and Eric Brandon on 28 July in another new car. Motor Sport, which had rather sat on the fence regarding the 500cc idea, was most impressed by the ‘new Cooper Special’:

This car is a really fine effort, consisting of a dirt-track JAP engine, driving by chain to a Triumph gearbox, final drive being by another chain to a Fiat 500 front-end adapted to take a drive [at the rear] via neat little universal joints and splined shafts.

The front end, brakes and wheels are also 500, and the car carries a proper, well-faired body, a slot in the front conducting cooling air to the cylinder via a long tube …

This time Strang went up in 53.70s – in 22nd place out of a total of 75.  The Cooper/Brandon entry was beset by mechanical failures, and neither boys could get under 60 seconds, but history had been made. The first Cooper racing car had made its debut and motorsport was never to be quite the same again.

Thus Saturday 30 July 2016 saw the 70th anniversary of the Cooper racing car celebrated with a fabulous turnout at Prescott of competing and static Coopers. Organised by the Cooper Car Club and the Bugatti Owners Club with various classes for Coopers tacked on to a BOC members meeting, it was probably the nicest hillclimb this antipodes-based correspondent has ever been to.

The weather was perfect. Maybe as many as 2000 people turned up – a big crowd for a club meeting. There was one problem though and the Clerk of Course had to call a drivers’ meeting midway through practice to admonish the considerable number who were driving beyond their capabilities or not even using the right course. He put it nicely, of course, but a few ears may have been burning.There had been various ‘offs’, and more were to come, so by the lunch break there wasn’t enough time for the planned cavalcade of Coopers, which was great pity.

A nice appearance was a rebuild of one of the 1946/7 500cc prototypes, probably the second one built for Eric Brandon over the dreadful winter of 1946/7. One of the most historic of all Coopers, Harry Schell’s JAP twin-engined car, which he campaigned all over Europe in 1950 and 1951, was there from France where it has spent all its life. Simply listed as ‘Cooper Mk10’ was David Boshier-Jones’ 1958-60 British Hill Climb Championship winning 1098cc JAP-engined car. The writer’s serious knowledge of Coopers runs out about 1960 so he will say no more here except to mention the popular attendance of  Mike Cooper (son of John), Paddy Hopkirk (rally king) and John Rhodes (Mini racing legend).

For competition on the long course there were no less than 23 Coopers and such-like with 500cc engines, and first in 53.67s was the always hard-to-beat Steve Lawrence in his 1954 Mk8. Just behind was Peter de la Roche (53.81s) and then Mark Riley (53.93s) in the ex Murray Rainey Mk9.

The big-twin Coopers, generally 1098cc JAP, were lumped in with all racing Coopers up to 2000cc, and there were no less than 7 of them. Charles Reynolds, in an ex Wally Cuff car he has rescued from the clutches of the Donington Museum, beat everyone with his 51.33s which was close to BCD (Best Cooper of the Day). Next was Simon Frost who had restored the Harry Schell car for owner Gilbert Lenoir, at 53.24s. Only then came the Cooper Bristol of Julian Wilton on 54.39s.

Gillian Goldsmith (Cooper-Daimler) in the over 2000cc class was BCD at 49.46s. And yes, there were Minis too, but out of all of them only Julian Harber (1330cc Leyland Mini Clubman) at 49.81s managed to beat Charles Reynolds’ classic big-twin. Just two cars were entered as Cooper Sports, cars with George Cooper (no relation) in his lovely Cooper MG making 63.56s well ahead of David Morgan (85.17s) in the pre-war ‘Special Number One’.

Can’t wait for the 80th and meanwhile here are some paddock shots.

Terry Wright

From top to bottom: The cream car is the ex-Ian Garmey ‘pulse jet’ car (that’s the pulse jet engine on the right) which is currently for sale with a 500 JAP. Next, in red, is Brian Joliffe’s ex Wally Cuff Mk6 1098cc JAP. The green car is  Charles Reynolds with the Mk7 JAP twin he rescued from the clutches of the Donington Museum. In blue with pink trousers is Gilbert Lenoir, owner of the Harry Schell Mk4 twin who is inspecting the Tom Willoughby supercharged Mk7 which his father, “doc” had for many years.

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