In the Postwar era B.C. – Before Cooper – Formula 1 cars (like the Vanwall on display) were large, heavy, beautifully built, super-expensive leviathans. Because of the desire for predictable handling, these cars were designed to understeer and thus gobbled up engine power through curves. Moving the engine to the rear would mitigate that understeer and reduce frontal area at the same time. It would also allow the Coopers – father Charles, son John – to build light, efficient, somewhat crude but comparatively cheap race cars…and enjoy phenomenal success. Their small factory in Surrey was the largest manufacturer of thoroughbred racers in the world.
The display car was one of three purchased on October 28th, 1959 – at ₤980.5s. 10d. each – by the Yeoman Credit Racing Team which had been formed by Ken Gregory and Alfred Moss (Stirling’s manager and father respectively). Six weeks earlier Cooper had clinched the Formula 1 Championship.
Although these Yeoman cars would see occasional Formula II use, the trio had been bought principally for the 1960 F-1 circuit. A 2nd and 4th in the French Grand Prix was the team’s best effort that season. Behind the wheels of the team cars in 1960 were some rather spectacular drivers: Tony Brooks at Monaco (4th), Zandvoort (d.n.f.), Spa (d.n.f.) and Silverstone (5th); Oliver Gendebien at Oporto (7th, unclassified) and Riverside (12th); Henry Taylor at Reims (4th); Dan Gurney at Brands Hatch (7th).
Cooper won the Formula 1 World Championship again in 1960, effectively turning the frontengined leviathans into dinosaurs, but also ending the era of the Surrey factory’s dominance. In their execution, the Coopers have been likened to blacksmiths. Now the engineers – aware of the brilliance of the Cooper solution – took over. The Coopers had fired the first shot, Colin Chapman and others would complete the revolution.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham imported the first Ferrari to race in the US and you can see it in the museum. Learn more