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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced in:1953
Author:Pieter Melissen
Last updated:November 23, 2009
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Click here to download printer friendly versionCharles and his son John Cooper operated a Vauxhall dealership after World War Two. They keenly recognised the need for cheap and simple racing cars, during a time when everything in England was still rather scarce, and motor racing was not seen as a direct necessity.

Charles Cooper had gained considerable experience in motor racing, first as a mechanic for Kaye Don (from the Avon Tyre company) but he had also opened a workshop in the little town of Surbiton, Southwest of London. Starting just after the Great War with refurbishing motor cycles, his business soon grew significantly and by 1934 he moved to what became the cradle of many interesting racing cars to come, the Cooper Garage on Hollyfield Road, still in Surbiton.

Very soon after the War, some British enthusiasts decided that a new class of simple racing cars could start to satisfy the first demand for resuming motor sports. Based on motorcycle engines, with a capacity limited to 500 cc and readily available, a simple car could be made, with still a relatively favourable power to weight ratio. Cooper was not the first to enter the scene, but John picked up the ideas very quickly, and by mid 1946 Cooper had constructed its first 500, based on Fiat Topolino suspensions and using a JAP engine for propulsion. In 1947 developments continued and by 1948 the Cooper Garage got his hands full meeting customer demand.

In 1949 a little foray was made into a larger car, by producing the Cooper Vauxhall, a small front engined car. Several additional units were made along the same lines, although mostly powered by MG engines.

While the 500 class had become the international Formula 3 class in 1950, Cooper also ventured out in the larger F2 class, not by entering a purposely designed car, but by fitting the F3 cars with 1000-1100 cc JAP two cylinder engines, done first by some privateers. It was considered that in spite of giving up a significant of engine power, the mid-engined feather weight cars could still be competitive. The stressed 'twins' turned out to be quite unreliable. The nimble cars could keep up with most of the cars in the F2 field but nevertheless few successes were recorded. An 1100 cc Cooper MkIV did give Cooper its first Grand Prix outing, when Harry Schell put it on the grid of the 1950 Monaco GP. Unfortunately it became involved in the mass turmoil during lap 2 when Giuseppe Farina spun his Alfa Romeo.

For 1952 only very few teams and manufacturers committed to Formula 1 and the organisers of most Grands Prix decided to run their races for Formula 2 cars. Eventually the World Championship, with the exception of the American round at Indy, would be run under F2 regulations. The Coopers saw an opportunity and provided their customers with a new car to step up to the top level.

Literally from scratch (drawings were made later) and in a very short period Cooper developed a single seater racer for the 1952 season. It used a box section chassis frame strengthened with bracing tubes, which was also used to carry the superstructure. The engine selected was the Bristol straight-six, based on the famous BMW 328 engine. This engine was taken by the British authorities as part of war damage reparation, and even BMW engineer Fritz Fiedler came to work in the UK to continue developing the engine. Suspension was typically Cooper with a transverse leaf spring as top half of the suspension, complemented by lower wishbones. Outboard mounted telescopic shock absorbers were used all around.

The first prototype of the car (Mark I, later to be assigned type code T20) was rolled out already in January 1952. Initially a production run of just three cars was planned, until Mike Hawthorn's father placed and order for a fourth car. All four were completed for their first public outing, for the Goodwood Easter Meeting in 1952. It was there that Mike Hawthorn established his reputation by winning the Lavant cup (with second and third place also going to the new car). He also challenged Froilan Gonzales, in the fearsome Ferrari-based ThinWall Special, for the lead early in the Richmond Cup, the main event of that weekend.

Hawthorn went on to successfully campaign the car, not only in the UK, but also on the Continent. At the end of the season his exploits in the Formula 2 Cooper had earned him a Ferrari Works contract. Following the success at Goodwood, Cooper took orders for four more cars. The last one was was fitted with 16 inch wheels and sported a longer wheelbase to accommodate a single-stage supercharged ERA engine. While relatively successful in local events, the Cooper Bristol was no match against the much more powerful Ferrari 500, but the cars did score some points in the world championship races.

Cooper presented a heavily revised version of the Formula 2 car for the 1953 season. Dubbed the Mk II (later referred to as T23), the first car had already been completed by October 1952. The main improvement compared to the Mk1 was the introduction of a tubular frame chassis. Several other parts were changed in the drive train to lower the driver's seating position. The large radiator of the Mk I was split into two blocks in the shape of a V, joined at the top, and with the oil cooler below the two blocks. It made the nose scoop of the Mk I no longer required. The carburettors were also fed through the V-shape, which meant the bonnet louvers used in the Mk I could also be discarded. The new frame gave customers the choice of other engines than the standard Bristol 'six'. Several cars were fitted with the four-cylinder Alta engine and even an Alfa Romeo 1900 engine was tried in one car. The Alta engined Mk II cars were later referred to as T24.

The integral alloy Cooper made Mk I wheels, incorporating the brake drums were changed, in order to allow the use of separate, much larger drums. Several other technical changes made the Mk II a much better car but not necessarily more successful. In the World Championship races, not a single point was scored. The best result was sixth in the German GP for Stirling Moss in his Cooper Alta. (In 1953 only the first 5 places gave points). In minor events the Coopers had their occasional days of glory, but in general the cars were underpowered. Starting in 1954, the World Championship would again be held for Formula 1 cars, rendering the Coopers obsolete. They were raced for many more years in local events. Soon after their retirement from the contemporary racing, the Cooper Formula 2 cars became regulars in historic racing; they were easy to prepare and maintain as parts were readily available. In modern historic racing the Cooper Bristols have been further developed beyond their historic capabilities and now achieve lap-times unheard of during their contemporary career.

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  Article Image gallery (48) CB/4/53 Specifications