BOOKS, PRODUCTS, MODELS
Racing the big-twin Cooper
To see them is to want them
TERRY WRIGHT, Loose Fillings Sydney, £55, ISBN 978 0 9943661 0 8
THE SUB-LINE on the front cover says ‘Racing the Big-Twin Cooper’ but this is so much more than that. It’s better described in the blurb on the back: ‘This book is a new look at the early history of the modern racing car… through the history of world record motorcycles, hillclimb and sprint specials and dirt-track speedway cars.’
And actually, it’s a bit more than that too, because in exploring the development of the first Cooper racing cars, and their predecessors in Great Britain and the USA, author Terry Wright also examines the conditions in which the populaces of the two countries were living before and a"er World War Two. All this turns what might have been a dry tome into a genuinely entertaining read.
So, as you’re probably still wondering what it’s really about, the book’s main focus is the early racing cars built by Cooper, from the first example put together by Charles Cooper and son John in 1946. Stirling Moss and Peter Collins were early customers, but the big break came when the world motorcycle speed record JAP 8/80 V-twin engine was mounted in the back of the little race cars.
With this set-up, Moss, Collins and many others were able to battle on equal terms with the more powerful front-engined Ferraris and Maseratis of the period. Moreover, these V-twin Coopers were perfect for hillclimbing, and they soon came to dominate the British scene of the 1950s. Even more importantly, they provided the basic design for the highly successful Formula 1 Coopers that went on to win the 1959 and ’60 Championships.
So, the Cooper story is well told within the 342 pages, but it’s the surrounding history that really adds to the tale. This covers the predecessors to the Coopers: in Great Britain, fabulously eccentric home-built hillclimb specials and, in the USA, race cars built for the many dirt track speedways that sprang up in the period between world wars.
To help explain those racing scenes, Wright adds in fascinating social history of the period, which brings to life the wonderfully varied (and beautifully reproduced) archive pictures of cyclecars, midget racers and specials driven mostly sideways by their gung-ho owners, wearing little if no protective gear.
For those images alone, the book is worth every penny of the £55 cover price. That it’s a great read as well is simply a huge bonus.