The Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion De­part­ment

Australian Muscle Car - - Aussie-Built Mini -


on BMC’s highly suc­cess­ful Com­pe­ti­tion De­part­ment lo­cated at the MG fac­tory in Abing­don Eng­land, the Aus­tralian out­post’s ver­sion was the first in-house fac­tory rac­ing team in Aus­tralia. Its first ‘em­ployee’ was John Cot­ter, a sec­ond-year ap­pren­tice me­chanic, who spoke to AMC for this story.

“I started as an ap­pren­tice at BMC in 1961,” re­calls Cot­ter. “The Com­pe­ti­tion De­part­ment was PR man­ager Evan Green’s idea. It was headed by Alan Kemp who was the Ap­pren­tice School Man­ager and I was the first em­ployee. Alan looked af­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion and I looked af­ter the cars. We had help from Terry Dou­glass in the Ser­vice De­part­ment and Andy Han­dright came across as well.”

Ini­tially the com­pe­ti­tion de­part­ment as­sisted pri­vate en­trants like Charlie Smith and Don Hol­land. Its first ma­jor out­ing was the 1964 Sandown In­ter­na­tional 6 Hour, where it en­tered three English-built Cooper S race­cars. In­ter­est­ingly, these cars were pre­pared by Brian Fo­ley’s me­chanic Peter Mol­loy at BMC’s Mel­bourne work­shop in Moorab­bin.

The Com­pe­ti­tion De­part­ment put in a mighty ef­fort for the 1965 Bathurst 500, as Cot­ter re­calls.

“We pre­pared six cars for the race! Three Cooper Ss for their im­ported rally stars and lo­cal aces, a 998 Cooper for Charlie Smith and two De Luxes, with one be­ing driver by Kevin Bartlett.”

For 1966 the work rate in­creased as not only did the de­part­ment pre­pare the three Cooper S en­tries for Bathurst, but built a light­weight Mini for Fo­ley/French for the Surfers Par­adise 12 Hour Sports Car Race in Au­gust and a fur­ther three Cooper S for the in­au­gu­ral South­ern Cross Rally for its rally stars a week af­ter Bathurst! Cot­ter takes up the story.

“We built the light­weight Mini from scratch. There wasn’t a lot we could do to the pro­duc­tion race and rally Cooper S. We blueprinted the en­gines and ran them on the dyno – they were all the same. There was no funny busi­ness! Af­ter hours Noel Delforce and I helped Charlie Smith with his Bathurst Cooper S and his ‘sports’ Mini Moke that he ran in the Surfers Par­adise 12 Hour. We were so busy, but we were young!”

“Alan Kemp’s brother Gor­don drove the Austin FJ ‘trans­porter’ to Bathurst. The truck be­longed to the Ex­per­i­men­tal De­part­ment and was in­volved in dura­bil­ity test­ing. We did drive the race Cooper S af­ter dark up to Wise­mans Ferry (50km north of Syd­ney) to run the en­gines in though!”

“As for the driv­ers? Rauno Aal­to­nen was very quick. He re­ally stood out. Timo Maki­nen was good too. I re­mem­ber he put the Cooper S on its side at For­rest’s El­bow in 1967. He clam­bered out, righted the car with a bit of help and only lost about half-a-minute!”

1967 was the last year that BMC en­tered the Cooper S at Bathurst, among myr­iad other projects that ex­tended into ‘68.

In early 1969 Ley­land took over BMC and the Com­pe­ti­tion De­part­ment was closed. There would be a few fac­tory-sup­ported en­tries in both rac­ing and ral­ly­ing up un­til 1971.

John Cot­ter moved to Ley­land’s Prod­uct Qual­ity de­part­ment un­til Zet­land closed in 1974 and then moved to En­gi­neer­ing Ser­vices at Moore­bank. He left Ley­land in 1976 and moved to Volvo Aus­tralia, where he pre­pared the Ross Dunker­ton Volvo 244 that fin­ished fourth in the 1979 Repco Round Aus­tralia Trial. Cot­ter was the li­ai­son man­ager for Volvo when the im­porter backed the Group A Volvo 240T that took Rob­bie France­vic to an ATCC win in 1986 and was the mo­tor­sport man­ager in the Su­per Tour­ing era of the 850R (with Peter Brock!) and S40. The lat­ter, in Jim Richards and Rickard Ry­dell’s hands, won the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000.

Above right: The three-car fac­tory BMC team rocked up to Bathurst in ’66 in style. Top left: John Cot­ter was a cen­tral fig­ure in two Bathurst wins: 1966 and 1998. Top right: Charlie Gib­son’s ‘Sports Mini Moke’ was fac­tory fet­tled af­ter hours.

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