RE-ENGINED AIR-COOLED COOPERS
The Cooper Minx
Here we have a new theme – with hopefully more to come on the
subject of numerous air-cooled Coopers that had different engines
shoe-horned into the back of them
It wasn’t long after the early air-cooled Coopers started competing in Australia that many owners tired of their often cantankerous engines, JAP engines in particular. Notorious for bad vibrations and reliability issues, many of these were re-purposed with alternative power units, such as small Coventry Climax, Ford, MG, BMC and others. This car shown here with ABC presenter Peter Wherret driving, started with a 1096cc JAP, then had Manx Norton power and has spent the last sixty years with a pushrod Hillman Minx engine.
Imported by John Crouch and originally raced by Queenslander Les Taylor (below), it led the under 1500cc handicap race at the Easter Bathurst meeting in 1951 before clutch problems intervened. The next owner was Mrs Geordie Anderson who had a Manx Norton engine fitted and it became known as the LPS Cooper, LPS being the business name made up from the initials of Ray Lewis, Bill Pitt, and Charlie Swinburne.
Events the car competed in included Whites Hill (Brisbane) hillclimb and it also had a 10th place in the 1954 AGP at Southport, Queensland. The next owner was a B Campbell who competed at Lowood, Qld, in 1957, then it went to motorcycle racer Tony Crick of Wellington, NSW who appears to have done very little running with it before was acquired obtained by Jim McQuire of Sydney. Jim ran it once at Orange, NSW with Alan Tatham doing the driving chores; it was still in Norton form.
Soon after, the Norton was hoisted out, and a 1500cc Hillman Minx engine was shoe-horned into the vacant engine bay, complete with the ubiquitous VW transaxle. A radiator was fitted in the nose with suitable plumbing, a gearshift linkage was made-up to suit the rear entry VW box, engine mods were done and the body work modified to suit. Additional spring leafs were added front and rear to handle the extra weight.
Meetings at Lowood and Strathpine in Queensland, as well as events at Tarrawingee and Hume Weir (Victoria ) plus, of course, various NSW events saw many miles racked up by drivers Peter Wherret (below) and Barry Collerson.
July 1960 saw it compete at the Castlereagh sprint strip where it recorded 16.00 seconds for the standing ¼ mile. Later it ended up with Monty South (who was a previous owner of the Sulman Singer) before going to Peter Cohen who ran in many hillclimbs with the car. He recalls replacing the original Cooper wheels with steel rims but the there is some uncertainty about just when this happened. He also tried reversing front and back wheels but only succeeded in turning too much understeer into too much oversteer. [One of the pictures below, from Amaroo Park, February 1966, has been digitally reversed to simulate them both being taken on left hand corners – Ed]
In 1967 Peter on-sold it to David Hunt, who lost a wheel at Silverdale hillclimb, a situation that was to repeated by a later owner, the Cooper rear stub axles not being the best engineered of parts. The next owner was Doug Mcleod but we know little of his exploits.
David Kerr of Kurnell, Sydney was a later owner who competed in many historic events with his side-kick Bill Harris assisting. He, also, once returned to the pits at Amaroo on a truck, missing a rear wheel. David sold the car in 1995 and it is still in the hands of John Hermann in its Hillman Minx form, still carrying its 10/54/50 chassis plate.
Thanks to Kerry Smith, John Medley and Peter Cohen for their input.
Sports Car World, May 1960 has the following story by Peter Wherret on the fitting of the Hillman engine.