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John Cooper motor racing legend

THERE have been many notable sporting personalities who have lived and worked in Kingston and its surrounds but few have made such an impact on their sport as John Newton Cooper.

He was born in Kingston in July 1923 to Charles and Elsie Cooper. His father had been a mechanic to some of the top racing drivers at Brooklands before the outbreak of the Second World War and ran his own garage at Surbiton. Even at the age of just nine, young John was behind the wheel of a miniature racing car designed and built by his father.

So it was hardly surprising that when John was demobbed from the army with his close friend Eric Brandon in 1946, that the pair should decide to build cars in which they could take part in formula three races and hill climbs. They plumped for a 500cc small car and, with help from his dad, Cooper came up with the idea for the Cooper 500 which made use of a Japanese motorcycle engine driving a chain linked to the rear wheels as the power source.

From 1947 until 1955, Cooper’s revolutionary little cars and their subsequent derivatives, almost totally dominated the world of formula three. It was not unusual to see Cooper-built cars taking the first eight or 10 places in major races. Cooper and Brandon both scored notable successes during this period driving their own cars.

However, one consquence of this success was that Cooper found less and less time to be behind the wheel and began concentrating on the design and production side of the business. He built more than 300 of the Cooper 500s and these were driven by a host of well-known racing names including Stirling Moss, Ken Tyrrell and Bernie Ecclestone.

Cooper’s moved up through the racing classes – and the company also began to produce sports road cars – but it was the move into formula one that really established the company as a major force in the world of motor racing.
While Cooper was not the first to put the engine of a racing car behind the driver, it was certainly the case that his version of a rear-engined car was one of the most startlingly successful.

Jack Brabham took sixth place in the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix driving a rear-engined Cooper which raised more than a few eyebrows in the racing world. And when that was followed by Stirling Moss’s victory in the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix and Maurice Trintigant taking the chequered flag in the 1958 Monaco race, every race car manufacturer started to turn to rear-engined designs. In all, Coopers competed in 129 world championship formula one races, winning 16.

John also made his mark on the saloon car world, forming a partnership with BMC that saw the Alec Issignois designed Mini ‘worked over’ by Cooper to provide better performance and a real dash of élan for the boy racer who wanted a small car with real punch. The Cooper badge on the back of a Mini still carries the same cachet to the present day.

John Cooper CBE died in December 2000 – but his legacy for motorsport will
never be forgotten.
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What's On...

Events, shows, concerts, sporting occassions - month by month in your area -
What's On
Sept 16-17
Open House London Free Admission Kempton Waterworks, Snakey Lane, Hanworth Visit the Museum for free and marvel at the spectacular 1000-ton engines in this beautiful Art Deco building. Doors open at 10:30am (please note: engine not in steam!) (www.kemptonsteam.org)
Sept 30
Glow in the Park Kempton Park Dance, jog, run or walk your way around a 5km course. Glow zones and music will keep you grooving round the route. Don't forget to wear all your glow kit (www.kempton.co.uk)
Oct 1-7
The Turn of the Screw Hampton Hill Theatre, 90 High Street, Hampton Hill A ghost story by Henry James (www.teddingtontheatreclub.org.uk)
Nov 4 (tbc)
Roundtable Fireworks Kempton Park Fun for all the family (www.kemptonfireworks.org.uk)