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Cooper Badge.jpg (18721 bytes)The Cooper Car Company story begins in 1946, simply as project to build two cars for John Cooper and Eric Brandon and ends with two Formula 1 World Championships and the iconic Mini Cooper. Along the way, Cooper Cars became the largest and most successful builder of 500cc Formula 3 Cars and helped create the industry of racing car production.

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In 1946, John and Eric decided they they would build two cars for themselves to hillclimb and race. They had already decided that a light weight, small engined car would be the only practical way forward and the new 500 rules were ideal. They enlisted the help of John's father, Charles who owned Cooper's Garage in Surbiton and had been a mechanic for Kay Don prior to the war.

The resulting Prototype Cooper was a simple, light design using the remains of two Fiat 500s for front and rear suspension, a JAP speedway engine (obtained through Charlie's motorbike connections), a simple ladder style frame and aluminium body. Crucially, and for largely practical reasons, the engine was placed in the middle of the car, driving a chain to the gearbox and a second chain to the rear axle.

 The mid-engine layout had been used before, of course, but coupled with light weight and good handling, Cooper Cars used it to great effect through Formula 3, 2 and ultimately to two Formula 1 World Championships for Jack Brabham.

Cooper 500/Formula 3 Types

The Cooper 500 evolved as series of models from 1946 through to 1960. Usually a new model appeared for each year although this could be very arbitrary for the early cars (Mk II-IV) and dependent on parts availability and Charlie's mood. Later cars (Mk IX onwards) are almost identical. 500s are usually referred to by their Mk numbers however Coopers also recorded type (T) numbers. In many cases, cars were also fitted with 1 litre and 1,100cc engines (usually JAP V twin), for hillclimbs and, for a while, Formula 2, where they were also successful. These chassis were longer and given a separate type number. Some related types are included for completeness such as the Triumph engined sports car, trailer and two streamlined record cars. T1 was retrospectively given to the Austin 7 special built by Charles Cooper for John in 1936.

Year  Mk No. Type Click on each Mk No. to see more details
1946    Prototype (T2/T3) Prototype 500 for John Cooper (T2) & Eric Brandon (T3).
1947    Mk I    (T4) Sports car based on 500 chassis with Triumph twin engine.
1948    Mk II (T5) 1st production run of twelve cars (ten 500cc and two long chassis, 1,000cc).
1949    Trailer (T8) A trailer for 500cc racing cars using 500 wheels and brakes for use as spares.
1949    Mk III (T7/T9) T7 500 cc production model. T9 stretched chassis, larger tank and 998cc.
1950    Mk IV (T11/T12) FIA Introduces Formula 3. 500 cc production model (T11). Long chassis (T12).
1951    Mk V (T15/T16/T17) Detachable body panels, box section chassis frame, rack & pinion steering, side tanks. Long chassis version for 1 litre engine (T16) Streamlined car for record attempts (T17).
1952    Mk VI (T18/T19) Multi tubular chassis, magnesium rear uprights, magnesium final drive housing. 500 cc production model (T18) 1 litre, long chassis (T19).
1953    Mk VII (T26/T27) Newton & Bennett shock absorbers replaced with Armstrong. 500 cc production car (T26) long chassis, 1,100 cc Formula 2 (T27).
1953    Mk VIIa n/a Francis Beart's modified car, built with co-operation of the works.
1954    Mk VIII (T31/T32/T28) Central scuttle tank, curved tube chassis, "curled leaf" spring, lowered body, revised gearbox mounting, 500cc production cars (T31) 1,100 long chassis (T32). T28 Mk VIII streamlined car.
1955    Mk IX (T36/T37) Single disc brake at rear, flattened springs to reduce ground clearance, modified centre spring mountings, revised engine mounts. 500cc production cars (T36), long chassis (T37).
1956    Mk X (T42) New Mk number issued for 1956 but almost identical to Mk IX.
1957    Mk XI (T42) New Mk number issued for 1957 but almost identical to Mk X.
1958    Mk XII (T42) New Mk number issued for 1958 but almost identical to Mk XI.
1959    Mk XIII (T42) New Mk number issued for 1959 but almost identical to Mk XII.

Approximately 320 Cooper 500 cars were built, however it is impossible to be precise as cars were sometimes re-built and many cars left "by the back gate" sometimes with Charlie's approval and sometimes without!. Factory records were incomplete, at best, and many have been lost.

A shot of the assembly area, taken in early 1955. Mk IXs in production.

Cooper 500 Drivers

Prominent Cooper 500 drivers included Stirling Moss, Les Leston, Stuart Lewis-Evans, Ivor Bueb, Jim Russell, Trevor Taylor, Bill Whitehouse, Cliff Allison, "Curly" Dryden, Ken Carter, Alan Brown, Peter Collins, Don ParkerRaymond Sommer, Harry Schell as well as Eric Brandon and John Cooper, himself. Graham Hill, Bernie Ecclestone and Ken Tyrrell also began their careers in Cooper 500s.

The Cooper works in Hollyfield Road, Surbiton in 1959. The cars on the forecourt are a Monaco, a Mk XII and two works F1/2 cars.

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The start of something big. John, aged nine, with the first Cooper Special, built by Charlie using a motorbike engine and gearbox in a home made chassis with chain drive to the rear, not a bad recipe! Kay Don's sister supervises.

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In 1936, Charlie built a second car for John, based on Austin 7 components. This car was later given the Cooper type number of T1.

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A group shot at the works in 1954 courtesy of Rick Michaud. The streamlined Mk V is being handed over to John Fox of San Anselmo, California. John was setting up a Cooper dealership on the West Coast and ran the car at Bonneville Speed Trials in August.

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In parallel to, and financed by Cooper's success in Formula 3, the company was able to develop a range of competitive cars for the larger classes. The brief period of 1 litre Formula 2 allowed the company to fit V twin engines to long chassis versions of Formula 3 cars to establish the marque and then develop sports cars and single seaters including the Cooper Bristol, Bobtail, Monaco and a series of Formula Junior, Formula 2 and Formula 1 cars, culminating in back to back World Championships for Jack Brabham in 1959 and 1960. A brief look at any of these cars will reveal a clear lineage to the 500cc cars, many using transverse leaf spring and upright suspension arrangements derived from the original prototype car and the famous curved chassis tubes introduced for the Mk VIII 500.

Some years later John Cooper developed a sporting version of BMC Mini, the Cooper and Cooper "S" models which attained cult status following wins in the Monte Carlo Rally and staring role in the film "The Italian Job".

A postcard, printed in 1955, featuring the Cooper 500

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Race on Sunday, sell on Monday, Cooper Cars advert for the Mk III.......

Mini Cooper in its element on the Monte

The Cooper Car Club is managed by Richard Neale, click on the logo to visit

Go to the Cooper Car Club

Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren pose with their 1959 Type 45s

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