Coppers in Coopers
Incredibly, of the 7905 Cooper S cars built in Sydney between 1965 and 1971, over one thousand were sold to the NSW Police Force, according to a Leyland Australia press release dated 29 July 1971. That is one in eight Cooper S cars built! While it is not correct to suggest the Cooper S owes its existence in Australia to our Police forces, it is unlikely that its successor, the Clubman GT, would have been built without existing lucrative Police contracts. The Cooper S first saw service as a pursuit car in the Australian Capital Territory, in late 1965. The Victorian Police trialled two Cooper S as patrol cars in 1966 but didn’t proceed with further orders. The NSW Police purchased the first of its unmarked Cooper S ‘Special Traffic Patrol’ (STP) cars in June 1966 and continued right up until the Clubman GT cars were replaced by Holden Torana LJ GTRs in 1972. In 1966 there were 1,590,097 registered motor vehicles in NSW and the road toll was 1143 fatalities. By comparison, in 2015 the road toll had reduced to 348 despite there being 5,247,199 registered vehicles. In other words, the road toll was 10 times higher 50 years ago, with one death per 1391 cars compared to one per 15,078 cars in 2015.
In the days before random breath testing, radar speed traps and unrestricted speed limits beyond town centres, the police needed to curb a mounting road toll and using unmarked STP cars was the first step. In 1966 there was no faster car on the road than the Cooper S.
The mechanical specification of the later STP Cooper S differed significantly from the standard. To operate at constant high speeds, engines were rebuilt to competition spec, with a ported and polished cylinder head, hotter camshaft, freeflow exhaust, blueprinted distributor, Lynx Ram-Flo air-cleaners for the bigger SU 1½” HS4 carburettors and competition brake pads. The front seat frames were lowered to accommodate burly officers, rear seatbelts were added, as were reversing lights, two-speed wipers, a handbrake warning light and a Smith tachometer mounted on the right side, in front of the driver.
Not surprisingly, the survival rate of genuine ex-police Cooper S cars is low. Many were written off in the line of duty. A number that were sold through the trade were de-speced and re-engined to Mini K specification and sold on. High insurance costs were a factor in these conversions, plus selling Cooper S engines and brakes was easy and more profitable. Few wanted an ex-police Cooper S.
Below: The NSW Police Academy in Goulburn honoured a surviving Mini Cooper S HWP Car and retired officers recently, highlighting that the Cooper S was the first HWP car used by the Force for speed detection.