Model history: Formula 1 history was made when Jack Brabham pushed his Cooper T51 Climax across the line in the 1959 United States Grand Prix at Sebring. For the first time a mid-engined car was used to win the driver's and constructor's World Championships. It was not just the location but also the type of engine that would have a lasting effect on the sport. Cooper had proven that a customer engine could do the job, which opened the door for teams like Lotus and later Brabham and McLaren to success in a once manufacturer dominated sport. Moments before Brabham's epic effort, Bruce McLaren had become the youngest ever driver to win a Formula 1 race in a sister T51. This record stood for nearly five decades.
Well over a year earlier, Stirling Moss had already revealed the potential of the 'horse behind the carriage' layout when he drove a Rob Walker entered Formula 2 Cooper T43 to victory at Buenos Aires against full bore Grand Prix cars. The superior handling characteristics enabled Moss to bridge the 50+ bhp power deficit over the more conventional Ferraris. A few months after Moss' groundbreaking victory, French veteran Maurice Trintignant scored a win on Monaco's tight streets in Walker's latest Cooper T45. On faster circuits like Reims and Monza, the small Coopers were still comfortably outpaced by the larger engined rivals. For a serious assault on the titles, Cooper needed a full 2.5 litre engine, which was duly provided by Coventry Climax in 1959.
The 2.5 litre Climax FPF was the latest development of a four cylinder engine that was originally developed in the early 1950s to power fire-pumps. Although obviously not intended for racing, it was designed by Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy to be light and powerful. These two men were no strangers to cars and it did not take long before the all-aluminium 'four' made its debut in a racing car. During the following years, it gradually grew in size and received a twin-overhead camshaft cylinder head. In its full Formula 1 guise, the Climax FPF displaced 2495cc, which was just shy of the 2.5 litre limit. Breathing through two twin-choke Webers, it produced around 240 bhp. This was an obvious improvement over its smaller predecessors but still well short of the leading Ferrari and BRM engines.
Cooper's earliest, motorcycle engined, racing cars used mid mounted engines but that was more for practical reasons than an actual design choice. With the imminent arrival of a new 1.5 litre, Formula 2 class in 1957, the Cooper brothers John and Charles did make the choice to replace their existing front-engined single seaters with the revolutionary T41, which sported a mid-mounted Climax four cylinder and reversed Citroen gearbox. Apart from its layout, the T41's tubular steel chassis was still very conventional with typical Cooper suspension of lower wishbones and transverse leaf springs all-round. The chassis was gradually developed and received double wishbones and coil springs at the front to form the T45 used in 1958. For the T51 the crude rear suspension was replaced with double wishbones as well, which ironed out the final handling bugs.
Cooper's works drivers for 1959 were Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren while a T51 was also made available for Rob Walker's Stirling Moss. It was Moss, who scored the new Cooper's first major victory during the non-championship Glover Trophy at Goodwood in March. Little over a month later Brabham scored his first win with the T51 during the International Trophy at Silverstone. For the World Championship's first round, the Monaco Grand Prix, no fewer than five T51s were entered. Moss placed his Cooper on pole with Brabham a close second. Moss was forced to retire with gearbox problems, which would continue to dog the Coopers throughout the year. Australian Brabham went through to score his first Grand Prix victory. Tony Brooks in a front-engined Ferrari was second ahead of 1958 winner Trintignant in a Walker entered T51.
In the subsequent Grands Prix, it became increasingly clear that the race for the championship would be between Brabham, Moss and Brooks. With reportedly 290 bhp on tap, Brooks managed to win at Reims and Avus, which were both high speed tracks. Brabham won Cooper's home race at Silverstone and Moss added two more wins to the T51's tally in Portugal and Italy. This left Brabham leading the championship from Moss and Brooks going into the final round at Sebring. Young Bruce McLaren won the race, Moss retired, again with transmission problems and Brooks finished third. Cooper's fabulous season almost ended in bitter disappointment as Brabham's car ran out of fuel on the final lap. A momentous effort saw Brabham push his stricken T51 over 400 metres, up the hill across the finish where he collapsed. He was placed fourth in the race and scored enough points to claim both titles.
Ahead of the introduction of the more sophisticated, spaceframe T53, the Cooper team traveled to the season opening Argentine Grand Prix with the old T51s. McLaren showed there was still live in the 1959 World Championship winning machine by taking victory ahead of Cliff Allison in a Ferrari. In the new T53, Brabham confirmed his and Cooper's dominance by winning five of the next nine Grands Prix on his way to back-to-back Championships. All other manufacturers followed Cooper's lead and in September of 1960, Phil Hill scored the last ever Grand Prix victory with a front-engined car. Within in two years of the Cooper T51 Climax's introduction, the mid-engined revolution was complete. Few other Formula 1 cars have revolutionised the sport like the little Coopers did.
A Works car, chassis F2-23-59 was used for several races by Bruce McLaren during the 1959 season. In the opening races that year he used a T45/51 hybrid chassis F2-23-58 and it is believed that the chassis was renumbered upon its upgrade to full T51 specifications. Cooper sold the car at the end of the World Championship winning season Fred Tuck and Horace Gould. They entered the car in 1960 for the likes of Lucien Bianchi and Roy Salvadori. It was fitted with a 1.5 litre for the 1961 season but did not score any notable results. It was sold to American Frank Dochnal in 1962. He raced the car in local events but also entered it in the inaugural Mexican Grand Prix. He crashed during a very wet practice session and decided to retire from racing.
Less engine and gearbox, the ex-Works Cooper was sold on and continued to be raced with various engines for many more years. Its contemporary racing career finally ended in 1970. The car was eventually bought by collector Murray Smith, who carefully had it restored to its original configuration. Fitted with a two-litre engine, it was raced extensively from 1984 onwards. Smith competed in 15 editions of the Monterey Historic Automobile races. In 2004, it was fitted with a Crosthwaite & Gardiner built 2.5 litre FPF engine, restoring it to full Formula 1 specification. A few years ago Smith decided to retire from racing and offered his prized Cooper for sale. It was acquired by the current owner, a compatriot of McLaren, who had it restored and repainted again, this time by Neil Twyman in England. Driven by the owner and Jack's son David Brabham during the 2009 Goodwood Festival of Speed, fifty years after the historic 1959 season. Later in the year the owner drove it to a win in the Jack Brabham Trophy during the Silverstone Classic.
Presumably another T45 upgraded to full T51 specs, this Cooper T51 was used by Brabham to clinch fourth in the United States Grand Prix in epic fashion. Today the car is owned by an American collector. He brought it to the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance where the fiftieth anniversary of the American Grand Prix at Sebring was celebrated. A week later the car was at Sebring and in the build-up to the 12 Hours sports car race, Jack's son, David drove several laps in the T51. He also re-enacted the push across the line but from a lot closer to finish.
Chassis F2-24-59 was one of three Cooper T51s sold to the Yeoman Credit team for the 1960 season. It was extensively used and finished second in the 1960 French Grand Prix, fourth in Belgium and fifth in Portugal. After its contemporary career, it was used regularly in historic events. Despite its extensive racing career, it has survived relatively unscathed. Considered by many as one of the most original T51s in existence today, it still sports its original Coventry Climax engine and Colotti Transaxle. The ex-Yeoman Credit Cooper is seen here at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.