John Cooper, the founder of the Cooper Formula One team and the winner of four World Championships, died on Sunday at the age of 77 after a prolonged struggle with cancer.
Cooper, born in 1923, apprenticed as a toolmaker in the 1940s, and later took over the running of his father's garage in Surrey when his father was injured.
Cooper's father, Charles, had already begun building race cars in the late 1930s, and after the end of the the Second World War, the father and the son joined forces to build cars for the new 500 cc class. The first cars used a JAP motorcycle engine rear-mounted in a Fiat Topolino-based chassis. The Cooper-JAP took part in the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, but was involved in a first-lap collision.
With the advent of Formula One, the 500 cc class became Formula 3 in 1951, and the Cooper chassis gained popularity throughout Europe. Meanwhile, the company built a Formula 2 challenger, and the Cooper-Bristol finished third at the British Grand Prix.
When Formula One changed to the 2.5L engines in 1954, Cooper largely disappeared from the Grand Prix scene, until 1957, when John cooper fitted two-litre Coventry Climax FPF engines into a new mid-engined chassis featuring the Cooper trademark transverse leaf spring suspension.
As a driver, Cooper had the previous season hired the relatively inexperienced Australian, Jack Brabham. In spite of the undersized engine, the team managed a fifth place in Monaco and a sixth that British Grand Prix.
The next year the team continued with first 2.0L and then 2.1L engines, but the first team brought the Coopers their maiden victory: Stirling Moss pipped Luigi Musso's Ferrari to the chequered flag by just under three seconds, having passed the more powerful Ferraris and Maseratis in the Rob Walker-entered Cooper-Climax.
Maurice Trintignant drove the same car to a victory later that year in Monaco, while Brabham managed a best finish of fourth for the works team at the same Grand Prix.
It was 1959 that made the combination of Jack Brabham in a Cooper-Climax legendary. With a full-sized Climax engine, the cars now had 240 bhp on tap. Although still underpowered compared to Ferrari and BRM -- and running on a budget of just 50,000 pounds -- the Cooper chassis design enabled the cars to instantly become front runners.
Brabham took the first race in Monaco by over 20 seconds from Tony Brooks' Ferrari, and went on to score a string of podium finishes, including a second victory at the British Grand Prix. While Brabham claimed his first Drivers' Championship by four points, Cooper's margin was double that, thanks to the success of the numerous privateer entries.
1960 was the year of complete Cooper-Climax dominance, with the T53 now featuring a wishbone suspension with coil springs, at Brabham's request. Brabham took an incredible five victories on the trot -- Netherlands, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Portugal -- and took his second Championship by comfortable 48-34 margin over Bruce McLaren.
The introduction of the 1.5L formula in 1961 gave the team more teething pains than to many others. In spite of getting first crack at the new 1.5L Coventry Climax, the team could not put a winning car together for Brabham, and with five mechanical DNFs in eight races, Brabham decided to go his own way, founding Motor Racing Developments -- better known as Brabham F1 -- in 1962.
John and Charles Cooper continued with Bruce McLaren, but without much success in the 1.5L formula, with the exception of McLaren's victory in the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix. By now, other teams, too, had switched to mid-mounted engines, and Cooper's advantage as a trailblazer in that category had severely diminished.
After Charles Cooper died in late 1964, John decided that he had had enough of Grand Prix racing, and next spring he sold the Cooper Car Company to the Chipstead Motor Group, headed by Jonathan Sieff. John Cooper stayed on for the 1965 season as the technical director.
In 1966 Cooper left the team for good to run a garage in Sussex, while the team went on to run Maserati- and BRM-powered cars until 1969, with victories by John Surtees (Mexico 1966) and Pedro Rodriguez (South Africa 1967).
John Cooper continued his motorsport involvement, however, with BMC, as he had assisted Alec Issigonis in the development of the Mini. The Mini Coopers became legendary and saw a great deal of success on the rally circuit.
The World Rally Championship had not yet been established, but Mini Coopers took victories at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 (Paddy Hopkirk), 1965 and 1966 (Timo Makinen) and 1967 (Rauno Aaltonen) -- but the 1966 1-2-3 victory was stripped from Mini Cooper on a headlight technicality.
Mini Cooper road cars continued until 1971, the end of the Mini production, and John Cooper was again involved when Rover restarted the Mini Cooper production in 1991, due to end in the autumn of 2001 with the introduction of the "New Mini" by BMW.
John Cooper was awarded a CBE for his services to the automotive industry team.