Category Archives: HILLCLIMBING

HOW MANY KEN WHARTON
COOPERS WERE THERE?

There seem to be more ex Ken Wharton Coopers about than there are ex Stirling Moss Coopers, so the purpose of this post it to try to set the record straight, at least as far as that is possible with the limited information available today on Ken’s cars.

KKK

Ken’s first appearance in a Mk4 Cooper, apparently new, was at Goodwood on 27 May 1950 with the BSA engine out of his hillclimb special. His first appearance with a twin JAP was at Shelsley Walsh on 10 June (Stilltime pic from Power Without Glory  above). It’s not known what happened to this car.

For 1951 he had one of the ‘lighter’ lower Mk4 Coopers, this one allegedly built or designated for Raymond Sommer but it is not clear why a 1950 car would have been readied for him – he  was killed on 10 September that year. He was anticipating ‘a little Cooper team’ for 1951 – as he wrote to a friend – why would he not have lined up a Mk5 for 1951?  The caption in the Autosport pic below is wrong, by the way –  the nominal capacity of the iron engine was 996cc.

XXXKen Wharton also had a Mk5 for 1951, Mk5-19-51, according to the factory records published by Doug Nye, and he raced this as a 500 through the year (see Autosport pic at Castle Combe below) then advertised it for sale in Autosport on 14 and 21 September.

LLL

It has been claimed that he kept this car until it was sold by his father after his death in 1957, but this is simply improbable. First, it is unlikely that having advertised the car at least twice, it didn’t sell and was mothballed for the next  five years. Furthermore, I asked his race mechanic Bill Blythe, ‘Was there another Cooper stored at the workshop or at his home’, and he said there definitely wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t the car, seemingly a Mk7 which he used in 1956.

Whatever it’s history (which didn’t involve Ken’s hillclimb championships), the car survives and I believe it was last seen in public at a UK Coys auction in 2013. The following pic shows the car as it was previously owned for some years by Mike Sythes who sold it on but without the twin engine it had at the time.

AAA

The next Wharton car emerged in 1956, probably first at a Bugatti Owners Club Prescott test day in April (see photo below). Comparing this with the Peter Bell owned Mk7 supercharged car that Michael Christie hillclimbed in 1955 (as well as his own 1107cc unsupercharged car), they are clearly identical in engine and other details.

DDD

The proof copy of a  LAT photo below shows Michael Christie at Prescott on 9 May 1954. . The second picture is one of many showing Ken in what is, I believe, the same car which he ran through much of 1956.

BBB

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It isn’t known whether Ken owned this car or whether it remained in the ownership of Peter Bell. The plot thickens after Ken was killed in New Zealand on 12 January 1957. It has frequently been said that Tom Norton bought Ken’s cars from his father and there is no doubt he bought ERA R4D and the Mk4 Cooper; he used the Mk4 at Prescott on 4 May 1958 (see  below) and possibly only on this one occasion. He is understood to have sold this car then to Duncan Hollingsworth who sold it to Brian Eccles about 1959. Brian sold it to a Scandinavian buyer less engine about 1961. The engine and blower were fitted to Brian’s M11-14-57 which he now has again after it being in other hands for many years.

FFF

But did Tom also buy Peter Bell car, as many have said, presumably because during 1959 and 1960 Tom appeared regularly in a car that was very similar? Well, no, in my view, because the Bell car had distinctively badged long front dampers (probably Girling) with bottom mounts below the wishbone tubes. The Norton car had shorter Armstrong type front dampers with the bottom mounting bolt above the bottom tubes (below).

GGG

 

There are other minor differences but there is none so clear as the front damper set-up. It would be improbable that Norton modified the wishbones and dampers on his car from the set-up Ken Wharton had on the Bell car.  The following George Phillips picture, which shows George Boyle (who did a lot of Peter Bell’s mechanical work) on the right and Bill Blythe in the centre is the most detailed available of the front suspension. The set-up is clearly quite different to the Norton car.

JJJ

In all probability Tom Norton simply had a car that was very similar to the Bell car and it was this car which he campaigned through 1959 and 1960 and then sold to Wally Cuff who used it from 1961 onwards.

So to answer my own question, Ken Wharton definitely had three Coopers and may or may not have also owned the Peter Bell car, the fate of which is unknown for the moment. I do not know of it competing after Ken was killed, nor do I know of any car that can definitely be identified as it; it would be nice to know.

 Terry Wright

 

 

‘CLIMBED YOUR LAST HILL’

So concluded Camille, wife of the great Bruce Walton, 1-WaltonCooperLogo.jpgin a notice of his death in The Age of Melbourne this week.  Australian hillclimb champion for a Guinness Book of Records cited six years on the run from 1958-1963, Bruce was 90 and had been disabled for some years after a stroke.

After taking a science degree at the University of Adelaide, Bruce came to Melbourne in the early ‘fifties to take up a post in the laboratories of the new Gas and Fuel Corporation,  with which he stayed all of his working life. As some did then, he took a keen interest in the new 500 car movement, and set about building a Cooper likeness. He started by buying a pair of Ford 10 stub axles and after he ran out of room in his bed-sitter the project was moved to Ken Gayfer’s workshop in Coburg North (below). Bruce happened on an 8-80 twin JAP from a crashed Cooper and this was his brave choice of engine rather than a 500.

1-Top-1Under construction with the 8-80 JAP in Ken Gayfer’s workshop

The car, the Walton Special – later know as the Walton JAP –  made its first appearance at the Fishermens Bend records day on 18 July 1953,  but he didn’t finish a timed run. Then followed Templestowe, Rob Roy, Albert Park, Templestowe again and Altona, with the 8-80 JAP eventually being superseded by a more manageable and reliable 500 JAP

1-BruceWaltonRobRoy 001Fully rigged and flying at Rob Roy: Photo by Peter D’Abbs

The best performance to date had been at Templestowe with a second fastest-time-of-day – FTD – but with the 500 Bruce drove better and better. There was a third at Fishermens Bend races, a class win and third FTD at Collingrove, South Australia, a first at Altona, and class records at Rob Roy and Templestowe. The 8-80 went back in for 1956 – itswas later supercharged – and there followed class and meeting wins at hillclimbs around Australia including Newcastle for the NSW championship (first) and Bathurst for the Australian championship (second to Lex Davison).

1-Trevor_0004Chasing the NSW championship at King Edward Park,
Newcastle in 1956

With a supercharged 1100 JAP installed, Bruce finally beat the Davison car, which was tuned by Phil Irving, over the closely fought three rounds of the Victorian Hillclimb Championship in 1957. In the final round at Rob Roy on 5 November, if Lex made FTD then the title was his;  if Bruce made FTD it would be a tie and he would win the title only if he got the bonus point for a new hill record. Lex’ last run was a new record at 24.44sec; Bruce, who had been frantically replacing his over-stressed universals, made a final last dash of the day in … 24.4sec! With a new record the title was his and photographs show that nobody seemed more pleased than Lex himself.

1-waltonHepburn Springs, with the JAP supercharged

With more than a few factory racing cars to his name, Lex sometimes teased Bruce about his ‘home-built’ special. In 1958 Bruce took the bait and bought a Mk8 Cooper which had pressed him hard when he had been up to New South Wales to take the state championship. The Marshall-blown 1100 JAP was slotted into the new Cooper and the ‘Walton- Cooper’ was born, first appearing   at  Rob Roy on June 1, with a not very good time of 26.24sec. Disappointingly, the new car was nearly two seconds slower than the old one.

1-templestoweBruce tips the Walton Cooper into the first corner at Templestowe

It took months of work to find and cure the Cooper’s massive handling problems. Built for fast racing on (relatively) smooth English airfields, the Cooper just couldn’t handle the bumps that were the norm on Australian hills. When sticking  splines on the rear drive-shafts were diagnosed and replaced, Bruce was back at the top from the two Victoria rounds of the 1958 Australian Hill Climb Championship, beating Lex Davison’s Cooper at both.

1-silverdaleaIt was the beginning of a run of titles that earned Bruce his place in the (Australian) Guinness record book for the most successive Australian championships in any sport –  from 1958 to 1963. Of course he again won New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian state championships, his last meeting before retiring being the Victorian titles at Templestowe on 10 November 1963. It was his seventh in a row and his notes simply say “FTD 54.07 on melting surface. McEwin (Elfin) 56.64. Replaced cracked piston during the day”.

Bruce was absolutely committed to his car and to driving it –  just look at the pictures. He was very kind to the writer when he acquired and restored first one and then the second of Bruce’s cars; he would write long letters of advice enclosing data from his record books. At our last meeting at Rob Roy he looked wistfully at the Cooper and said to Camille, “Did I really own that?”

1-silverdalebigtreeAbsolute concentration at Silverdale, New South Wales

Maybe 50 years on now, going to see Bruce Walton is something people still remember from their younger days, as the late Peter Brock once recalled. As a  great champion, Bruce had many headlines and my favourite probably sums him up best  –
BRUCE WALTON: Maestro of the Hills.

Terry Wright

Postscript: the Walton Cooper is still competing today

Walton Cooper -  as restored 2004Photo by Katy Wright