Rounding the left-hander at Tabac for the final time and powering toward the line, Bruce McLaren held onto the slimmest of margins over Phil Hill in his Ferrari. Powering down the straight along the harbor, McLaren would manage to hold on to provide Cooper its first victory in more than a year. It had seemed like a long drought after the highly successful championship years of 1959 and 1960. But thanks to Bruce McLaren, the men at Cooper and to a new car, Cooper would make its way back to the top at Formula One’s crown jewel race.
Jack Brabham’s effort to push his T51 across the line at Sebring after running out of fuel ensured that he would take the Drivers’ World Championship title. Bruce McLaren’s victory in the same race helped ensure that Cooper would take the manufacturer’s title. The Cooper T51 would be the first since the days of the Silver Arrows to introduce mid-engined race cars to the elite levels of grand prix racing. And though it was not the first rear-engined grand prix car, the T51 would be so revolutionary to Formula One at the time that its effects would still be felt in all of racing even to this very day.
The Cooper T51 had shocked Formula One manufacturers and had sent them scurrying around trying to formulate their own mid-engined designs. This would take time. As a result, the T51, and its successor, the T53 would dominate Formula One throughout the 1960 season giving Jack Brabham back-to-back championships. Bruce McLaren’s victory in the first round of the 1960 season, and Jack Brabham’s run of five straight in the middle would mean Cooper would be victorious in six of the ten rounds of the championship that year. And with the combined effort of Brabham and McLaren, Cooper would dominate in the Constructors’ Championship standings having fourteen more points in hand by the end of the season than Lotus in 2nd place.
But the rule and reign couldn’t last forever. And to those at Cooper, it seemed as though the FIA were making sure of it. The FIA would make the decision that from 1961 onwards the size of the engines would be reduced from 2.5-liters down to 1.5-liters. Many teams and drivers railed against this idea. The smaller, less-powerful, engines seemed like a step backward not one forward. In many respects there was to be almost no difference between a Formula One and Formula 2 car as a result of the new regulations.
Most all of the English teams and English engine manufacturers opposed the change in regulations. The only manufacturer that seemed to embrace the new regulations, or that was prepared for such a change, was Ferrari. Ferrari had a V6 engine that it could use it was just developed to rev higher to produce more horsepower.
Many of the manufacturers protested to no avail and were, now, well behind schedule developing a car and engine to best maximize what the new regulations allowed. Of all of the British makes, Cooper seemed to be the worse off and it would show throughout the season.
The new T55 and T58 performed no better than the older T53 driven by customer privateer teams. By the end of the torrid season, Cooper had fallen from 1st in the Manufacturers’ Championship standings to 4th.
Cooper needed to regain its footing, but the team only kept losing more of its balance when Jack Brabham departed the team at the end of the season to start his own. The team needed to refocus and try to claw back some of what it had. Thankfully, the team had Bruce McLaren as its driver. Cut from the same cloth as Brabham, McLaren not only was a gifted driver but he too understood the technical aspects of Formula One quite well. Therefore, the designers and everyone at the team went to work to build itself a car capable of competing and regaining some of the team’s former glory.
The Cooper team had ended the 1961 season utilizing two different, but similar, chassis. Known as the T55 and T58, both of these chassis would bear a great resemblance to the T53 used to win the championship in 1960, and therefore, was sporting a wider profile. But still, the chassis needed improvement in order to be competitive against the likes of Ferrari and Lotus.
Owen Maddock and John Cooper, with the help of Bruce McLaren, set about designing a new car based around the smaller 1.5-liter engine. Coventry would produce an eight cylinder example of their 1.5-liter engine. And so, while the engine would be much more powerful its longer dimensions would lend the design team to build a much more slender car to fit around its profile.
The problem Cooper started out addressing would be an evolution of the underlying chassis itself. Though considered a spaceframe chassis, it would be almost entirely redesigned from previous versions that had been used over the previous years. Therefore, the car would be new, inside and out.
Lacking the power offered by the 2.5-liter powerplants, Cooper and Maddock would need to build a car that handled supremely in order to inspire confidence in the drivers that the car could be driven through the corners faster. Therefore, a major focus of the new car’s design would be in lowering its overall ride height. Also, designs like the BRM, Ferrari and the coming revolutionary Lotus 25, all had sleek and slender lines similar to that of a cigar with wheels. Therefore, Maddock and Cooper would design a much slimmer chassis.
Maddock would achieve his aim. He would produce a car with a lower height, thereby lowering the car’s center of gravity. But he would also achieve the aim of producing a narrower chassis with much more flowing lines starting from the low-profile radiator inlet in the fiberglass nose of the fiberglass to the smoothly-flowing fiberglass body paneling covering the engine and the exhaust pipes exiting the rear of the car, just about every detail of the new T60, as it would become known, would be trimmed down and smoothed aerodynamically.
With the bodywork removed, just how tightly wrapped everything was within the chassis becomes more than apparent. The slender lines of the car meant the driver would be squeezed down between the tubular steel chassis and the fuel tanks on either side of the car. Right at the base of the driver’s feet in the foot box was the radiator and the line running back to the engine. The tops of the driver’s shoe practically served as the attachment point for the coil springs in the double wishbone front suspension.
A race car, especially a Formula One racer, was never designed with incredible comfort in mind. It would be built with performance in mind. And with Girling disc brakes on all four wheels and an overall weight (dry) of just 1030 lbs, the car could certainly get going and come to a stop rather quickly. With the 185 bhp Coventry V8 engine onboard and its Cooper C6S 6 speed manual gearbox delivering the power to the rear wheels, the T60 could certainly accelerate, but it still lacked the top speed of the BRMs and the Ferraris. And of course, when the Lotus 25 came along, the T60 would certainly find itself overmatched in the handling department. Still, the T60 represented an obvious improvement upon the chassis used the previous season. Just one look at the new car and it was obvious the strides Cooper had taken to produce a trimmer and much more nimble chassis for use with the small 1.5-liter engine configuration.
Still, the car had its short-comings. Besides outright speed and some handling issues, McLaren would not be all that excited about how the car dove when the brakes were applied. This would be a factor that would be addressed with subsequent variants. But, Cooper still had a car in which it could regain some of its competitiveness. And while the car would have some short-comings, Cooper would have Bruce McLaren to make up the difference. This he would do a number of times throughout the 1962 season, and especially at the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix.
In that race McLaren would make it through the first lap melee and would do his best to keep in touch with Graham Hill throughout the whole of the race. Despite losing ground to Hill and, soon, Jim Clark, McLaren would continue to press hard and would eventually be rewarded when both Clark and Hill ran into trouble. McLaren would make up the rest of the difference by driving an absolutely perfect race around the tight streets of Monaco. Holding off Phil Hill and his Ferrari, McLaren would provide Cooper its first win in more than a year. And for a team that seemed headed absolutely in the wrong direction, the victory in Monaco would signal Cooper seemingly had righted the ship and were back on track.
Obviously the T60 wasn’t the ultimate car, like that of the T51 and T53 that provided Cooper its World Championships. But when the outlook seemed bleak and the team desperately needed to turn things around, they would produce the T60. And in the hands of Bruce McLaren, the T60 would prove capable of holding fast, keeping Cooper from sinking any further.
By Jeremy McMullen
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