The 1960 2.5 litre Cooper-Climax
The marque Cooper, from Surbiton in Surrey, is without doubt or exception the most successful entrant in its day on the motor racing scene that Britain has ever produced. The most successful, and probably the least glamorous. From a tiny suburban enterprise, (tiny to start with, at least, and still small by comparison with most of its rivals), backed by no government or industrial giant, and holding to a combination of sensible engineering and patience rather than advanced scientific research, has come a stream of racing cars to sweep the boards successively in Formula 3, Formula 2, and most recently the full Grand Prix Formula 1. Yet it has all been done with so little fuss and publicity, with cars of – let us admit it – such unexciting appearance, that even today one is apt to speak of the “little” Cooper, relating it subconsciously to the motorcycle-engined 500 of twelve years ago.
To put things in perspective, the machine which was responsible for bringing home both Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships in 1959, and bids strongly to do the same this year, has a longer wheelbase than any serious contender yet built under the 2 ½ litre Formula. It weighs 9 cwt. (heavier than Lotus, not much lighter than B.R.M.). and is known when suitably geared to reach about 180 m.p.h. in a straight line.
The Cooper record in big time motor racing is well enough known. Since the first days when John Cooper and his father, Charles, built a 500 cc. special 14 years ago, the score of wins has gone far beyond the point where anyone can keep track of them – and the present Grand Prix car bears even yet a resemblance to the earliest design of all. Not only is the engine still at the back, but the suspension still follows the same basic layout, independent with wishbone links at front and rear.
Essentials but no frills for the pilot of the fastest G.P. car racing today; reading clock-wise, the dials are a fuel pressure gauge, a water temperature gauge, a rev counter, oil pressure and oil temperature gauges and a gauge showing the gearbox oil pressure.
Since that time the Cooper line of descent has been progressive, with scarcely a deviation. As Formula 3 came into international being, the Coopers earmarked it, followed it through from the Mk 1 to the Mk 11 against the coming and going of half a dozen opponents, and finally saw it into the ground through their own persistence, when the near-monopoly caused the Formula to dwindle and die and give rise instead to Formula Junior.
When the Cooper 500 had reached Mk 2 in 1952, two names hit motor racing simultaneously at the Easter Goodwood meeting. Mike Hawthorn and the front-engined 2 litre Cooper-Bristol – one of the rare departures from family likeness. Outsider or not, the Cooper-Bristol was a timely booster of British morale. When even its Formula 2 rivals of 2,000 cc. were disposing of 150 b.h.p., Hawthorn and the Cooper electrified crowds all over Britain and Europe by thrusting their 127 horse-power into third and fourth place amongst the 1 ½ litre supercharged and 4 ½ litre unblown cars of Formula 1.
But the Cooper-Bristol is a diversion. The Champion Grand Prix car of today is descended through the 500’s, Mk 7, 8 and 9; the central-seat 1,000 cc. Cooper-Climax sports car of 1955; and then Cooper’s first attack on Formula 1, the same sports car with a Bristol engine enlarged to 2.2 litres. Its driver and instigator, appropriately, was Jack Brabham.
The short cut to Grand Prix was unsuccessful, and for another year the Cooper works went back to climbing the hard way, entering Formula 2 (by then 1 ½ litres) in 1956 with a single overhead camshaft Coventry-Climax engine bored out to 1,460 cc. in a car logically developed form the earlier rear-engined machines.
The real Formula 1 story began in 1957, first with the new twin-overhead camshaft FPF 1 ½ litre engine from Coventry Climax, developing 140 b.h.p. and almost immediately with an enlarged version using cylinder liners and a different crankshaft to obtain 1,960 cc. This was the car which both the Cooper works and Rob Walker’s private stable raced throughout the year until the full 2 ½ litre Climax engine should be ready. The independent entry was the car also that was to sound the first knell of doom for its established Formula 1 rivals when, in spite of its half-litre handicap, Stirling Moss drove it to victory in the Argentine Grand Prix at the very beginning of 1958.
By the start of the European season the 1,960 cc. version of the twin-cam Climax engine had been stretched still farther to 2,200 cc. – still down on its rivals by 300 cc.; considerably less powerful, and not always very reliable. The only other outright win of the year was, in fact, by Trintignant in Walker’s 1.9-litre car at Monaco. Nevertheless, a second, two thirds and two fourth places in the 1958 Grandes Epreuves kept the Cooper name among the up-and-comings. The 1½ litre cars, under no handicap to engine size, took the Formula 2 Constructors’ Championship.
Nineteen-fifty-nine was jackpot year for the Cooper, though not consistently and not in both forms – for the Walker ‘equipe went off on a different transmission tack, using a special five-speed Italian gearbox designed by Colotti and a Maserati clutch. The works, on the other hand stuck to the reinforced ERSA-Citroen-Cooper gearbox which had been developed from the days of the single-seater sports car. Most of the troubles that did beset both teams were located in the transmission, brought on by the year’s big development; the full 2,495 cc. Coventry-Climax engine.
Simultaneous success and failure attended Cooper at almost every 1959 Grande Epreuve. At Monaco, Brabhams’s works car won after a bearing in Moss’ Colotti gearbox broke to rob him of a runaway lead; in the Dutch G.P. Moss again had the same trouble, giving first place to Bonnier’s B.R.M. with Brabham second; at Rheims for the French G.P. the Coopers could not hold the more powerful Ferraris; at Aintree Brabham beat Moss, who drove a B.R.M. and stopped for tyres and fuel. In the German G.P., on the artificial track at Avus, the Ferraris again ran away while Moss, Brabham and McLaren all had gearbox trouble; the Portuguese G.P. saw Moss winning by a lap with so much in hand that, in spite of an unmodified gearbox, his car ran perfectly, whereas McLaren again had transmission failure; at Monza Moss was first, Brabham third to a Ferrari, and only McLaren retired – this time with a broken piston. At the very end of the season McLaren had his compensation with a surprise win at Sebring, Florida, where Moss’ gearbox again let him down, Brabham ran out of fuel when leading on the last lap and pushed home to finish fourth (but still World Champion) and Trintignant was second in Rob Walker’s other car with a broken wishbone.
The last appearance of the 1959 car before the advent of the current model was in the Argentine G.P which Bruce McLaren won in January of this year. And now the lower, lighter, five-speed gearbox 1960 Cooper has stepped right into its predecessors’ Dunlops, with victories in the Dutch, Belgian, French and British Grand Prix, Brabham taking the four in a row with a car which seems, as we write, to combine speed, road holding and reliability to a rare degree.
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