CHARLES IVEY’S COOPER GRAND PRIX CONNECTION
Porsche specialist discovers showroom link to grand prix icon
Surrey Porsche independent Charles Ivey is the first ever garage to bear an English Heritage blue plaque, which celebrates notable people of the past and the buildings they occupied. The granting of the distinctive rounded signage was made possible because the owners chose to preserve the building’s heritage rather than sell for redevelopment to the highest bidder.
When proprietor Alvaro Crego moved Charles Ivey from Fulham to the Hollyfield Road, Surbiton facility, the building had been a police vehicle depot for over 40 years. What Crego didn’t know was that the showroom and workshop had originally been the premises and headquarters of the Cooper Car Company. Founded in 1947, Cooper famously built singleseat, rear-engined grand prix cars and latterly the Mini Cooper road car. ‘It was derelict, we had no idea of its history,’ Crego says.
In a ceremony in mid-august attended by co-founder John Cooper’s son Michael and other family members, plus Cooper employees from the 1960s, the structure with its curved frontage – described by English Heritage as ‘Thunderbirds architecture which captured the modernity of 1957’ – became the 938th building in London to bear a blue plaque and the first in Surbiton. Several Minis and a 1959 Cooper race car were on display.
Michael Cooper said his family, who had retained ownership of the building, had planned to sell to a developer but could not get an assurance that its character would be retained, so accepted a lower price from Crego. ‘Some things are more important than money,’ he told us. Michael is a BMW Mini brand ambassador – but turned up in his Porsche Type-991 911.
The building, which was sympathetically converted back to original after the police vacated it in 2012, is now Grade II listed. Also in attendance at the ceremony was Charles Ivey, who set up his Porsche business around 1971 and sold it to Crego (who began there as an apprentice in 1978) on his retirement in 1991. The front showroom accommodates the Porsche 959 that was bought new in 1988 by Ivey, who revealed: ‘I was going to buy two, but I decided to cancel the order for one of them!’