The Cooper S in com­pe­ti­tion

Australian Muscle Car - - Aussie-Built Mini -

The sporty han­dling of the Mini trans­lated eas­ily from road to race. How­ever, the stan­dard 850 model lacked power and made lit­tle im­pres­sion on the track. It wasn’t un­til the lo­cal re­lease of the 997cc-en­gined Mor­ris Cooper in late 1962 that the Mini started to make its mark.

How­ever the 997 and 998 pro­duc­tion Coop­ers were class cars, al­beit dom­i­nant ones, at pro­duc­tion races such as the new Bathurst 500 and Sandown 6 Hour In­ter­na­tional. It would take the Cooper S 1275 to change the script.

The first pro­duc­tion Cooper S 1275s to race in Aus­tralia were English mod­els im­ported for the 1964 Sandown 6 Hour In­ter­na­tional by the new­ly­formed and Zet­land-based BMC Com­pe­ti­tion De­part­ment, mod­elled on the suc­cess­ful Bri­tish team that would pre­pare pro­duc­tion race and rally Coop­ers for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion up un­til 1969. The driv­ing force was BMC PR Man­ager and rally driver ex­traor­di­naire Evan Green, who gen­er­ated sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic­ity by bring­ing out star fac­tory rally driv­ers such as North­ern Ir­ish­man Paddy Hop­kirk and the Fly­ing Finns, Rauno Aal­to­nen and Timo Maki­nen, to race the Cooper S with the lo­cal hot­shot driv­ers John French, Brian Fo­ley and Peter Man­ton.

While the Cooper S was out­classed by Group 2 Alfa Romeos and Lo­tus Corti­nas at the Sandown 6 Hour, these car were not el­i­gi­ble for the 1965 Bathurst 500. Get­ting 100 Cooper S cars pro­duced in time to qual­ify for the 1965 race was a close run thing. What BMC didn’t fac­tor was the spe­cially ho­molo­gated Ford Cortina GT500 with its sec­ond fuel tank. Even though the Cooper S was a match on lap times with the GT500, it needed an ad­di­tional and lengthy pit­stop for fuel. The best

fin­ish­ing Cooper S in the 1965 Arm­strong 500 was the Aus­tralian driver combo of Brian Fo­ley and Peter Man­ton in third out­right, a lap be­hind the Barry Se­ton/Midge Bos­worth and Bruce McPhee/ Barry Mul­hol­land GT500s.

For 1966 the race or­gan­is­ers changed the el­i­gi­bil­ity rules with a min­i­mum of 250 cars need­ing to be pro­duced. This ren­dered the Cortina GT500 in­el­i­gi­ble and meant that the Cooper S would have lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion for the out­right win. As a re­sult, 17 Cooper S en­tries were re­ceived for the Gal­la­her 500, pi­loted by the best tour­ing car driv­ers of the day: Bruce McPhee, Barry Se­ton, Fred Gib­son and even Harry Firth! An­other notable driver was Frank Matich in a rare tour­ing car out­ing.

Pre­pared at Zet­land were the three fac­tory cars of Hop­kirk/Fo­ley, Aal­to­nen/Bob Holden and French/Steve Har­vey. These were ac­tu­ally pre­pared by the Syd­ney plant’s Ap­pren­tice School.

The three works cars were painted in a dark green (but not Bri­tish Rac­ing Green) hue and white in def­er­ence to spon­sor Cas­trol.

It’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that the fac­tory at­tack used cars im­ported from the UK, in the man­ner of the trio of TWR Jaguar XJSs that were brought in from Eng­land in 1985. But the three works Coop­ers Ss were built in Syd­ney.

The ma­jor threat to the works out­fit were top pri­va­teers Charlie Smith/Ron Haylen.

Noel Delforce was a 19-year-old BMC ap­pren­tice who, af­ter hours, found him­self pre­par­ing the Smith/Haylen ma­chine, as he re­called for AMC.

“My brother Rus­sell (an­other BMC me­chanic) and I pre­pared Charlie Smith’s Cooper S. We be­lieved we could build an en­gine as good as the fac­tory and we achieved the high­est speed down Con­rod – 113.9mph! For some rea­son Dun­lop wouldn’t sell us their race tyres that they sup­plied the fac­tory team. (ED: BMC me­chanic John Cot­ter be­lieves Smith didn’t want to pay for the ex­pen­sive race tyres!) We used Pirelli Cin­tu­ratos. Un­for­tu­nately, at the half­way mark a right front tyre blew at Cas­trol Curve with Ron Haylen at the wheel. They were lead­ing at the time.”

Cen­tre: BMC me­chanic John Cot­ter, hold­ing cham­pagne bot­tle, went on to over­see an­other Bathurst vic­tory 32 years later. Bot­tom: The Cooper S was still win­ning its class into the mid 1970s. #54 sur­vives to­day.

The fac­tory team pre­vailed on Oc­to­ber 2, 1966, with Aal­to­nen/Holden #13C car lead­ing home an­other eight Cooper S en­tries. Such dom­i­na­tion would not be seen again un­til the To­rana A9X an­ni­hi­lated the op­po­si­tion in 1979.

The Smith/Haylen Cooper S was not alone in com­ing a crop­per, with eight fail­ing to fin­ish, most be­ing ca­su­al­ties of the fe­ro­cious squab­bling and pace up­front.

The fac­tory team re­turned in 1967 for one last tilt at the Moun­tain with its ar­mada of fac­tory driv­ers be­liev­ing it had the op­po­si­tion cov­ered. The new Fal­con GTs were thought to be prone to break­ing wheels like big cars in the past. How­ever, it was the Mini’s other threat, the Alfa Romeo GTV, that would have wheel prob­lems. As in pre­vi­ous years, the brick-like Cooper S was able to at­tain a higher top speed through the art of slip­stream­ing. Brian Fo­ley told Mini Ex­pe­ri­ence mag­a­zine in 2005 how it was done.

“Timo (Maki­nen) and I were back in the pack. We were slip­stream­ing each other and then we’d change over so things wouldn’t over­heat. Charlie Smith (in his Cooper S) had got away to a fairly good lead. Then Timo and I got out of the pack and were slip­stream­ing each other down Con­rod and I can still re­mem­ber to this day our cars were touch­ing and when I looked through his rear win­dow I could see his in­stru­ments. The old nee­dle was wrapped around the end of the gauge. Any­how, here’s Charlie go­ing down Con­rod do­ing 104mph and Timo and I just drove past him at 114mph! He was fu­ri­ous and shak­ing his fist.”

In the ‘67 race two Fal­con GTs and two Alfa GTVs would fin­ish in front of the first Cooper S of Holden/Tony Fall. The lit­tle car’s grip on the big race was over.

The Cooper S would go onto to win its class an­other five times at Bathurst and as late as 1975, the last year that it was el­i­gi­ble. It was a fit­ting farewell for a true leg­end of The Moun­tain.

#13 Rauno Aal­to­nen/ Bob Holden 1st

1964 Sandown 6 Hour

1965 Arm­strong 500

1967 Gal­la­her 500

1966 Gal­la­her 500 podium

1974 Hardie-Ferodo 1000

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