Rear-engined cars in grand prix racing would be a sight witnessed in the years prior to the outbreak of World War II. However, there wouldn't be a company that would perfect to concept any better than John Cooper's Cooper Car Company. But while the company would begin producing rear-engined cars right from the very beginning, it would take the company's T41 to really bring about the revolution in Formula One.
Cooper's first rear-engined car, the Cooper 500, would first come to be produced using two Fiat 500s and a JAP motorbike engine. But while the car would be put together of bits and pieces from other cars and components, the simple reality of its mid-engined layout would trump any snickers the car may have received.
Before too long the Cooper 500 would be the most popular car in Formula 3. As a result of the car's popularity and sheer abilities, the Cooper 500 would go on to incredible success in Formula 3 and would be the car in which the likes of Stirling Moss, Peter Collins and others would first cut their teeth.
John Cooper would make his first appearance in Formula One with a modified Cooper 500. The model T12 would be just an enlarged version of the Cooper 500, but it would allow Harry Schell and the Cooper Car Company to take part in its first Formula One World Championship race.
Cooper's involvement in Formula One would be from almost day one. The first race in which the team would enter would be the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix. Schell would take the mid-engined T12 and would find himself on the eighth row of the grid preparing for the 100 lap event.
All of the preparation in the world wouldn't be able to prepare Schell for the catastrophic accident that would take place on the very first lap of the race that would take out Schell and a vast majority of the field.
Cooper's first foray into Formula One would be more of a novelty than anything else. However, the experience would be valuable to the company for its future Formula One endeavors.
Cooper's future World Championship endeavors would come in the form of a brief Formula 2 era in which the company would earn some rather impressive results with its front-engined T20, T23 and T24 chassis.
As the 1950s decade soldiered on, more opportunities would present themselves for Cooper and his team to fashion a truly competitive mid-engined car for use in Formula 2, and hopefully, Formula One.
New regulations would be introduced for Formula 2. These regulations would be centered around a 1500cc normally-aspirated class. The updated class would soon have the support of such organizations as the British Racing Drivers' Club. In fact, the BRDC would react by creating a race for this class that would compete as part of the British Grand Prix weekend.
John Cooper would react to this announcement by finally focusing on fashioning a mid-engined car for Formula 2 which, ultimately, would lay the groundwork for a serious Formula One effort with a mid-engined car as its weapon of choice.
Work on this new car, what would become known as the T41, or MK I, would begin in 1956. To begin the effort of building a purpose-built mid-engined car, Cooper would not only need the right engine, but also, the right gearbox in which to pull it off. Once again, Cooper and his team would piece-meal together a car in order to make the design work.
Cooper purposed to use a Coventry Climax engine in the design. He would end up getting a 1.5-liter Climax, single-cam, 4-cylinder engine. The engine situation taken care of, Cooper would then turn his attention to the all-important gearbox. The solution to this challenge would come in the way of a 4-speed, Citroen-ERSA gearbox.
The engine and gearbox would then be attached to its small conventional tubular steel chassis. Of course, where to put the fuel would be of particular interest in the new car in order to maintain its stability. The result would be to house two tanks up toward the nose of the car around the driver's legs. The small single-seater would be completed with drum brakes and a familiar suspension arrangement of transverse-leaf springs and a single lower wishbone. The finished product would then be covered in a tightly-fitting aluminum body paneling.
The first time in which the T41 would make an appearance would be in the hands of Roy Salvadori at the 1st RAC British Grand Prix F2 race. In that race, Salvadori would be competing against Lotus 11s and Cooper T39s in a 25 lap race around the 2.88 mile Silverstone circuit. The race would prove to be an absolute dream for the T41 debut. Salvadori would power his way to an easy victory beating Colin Chapman in his own Lotus 11 by a margin of 30 seconds.
The victory at Silverstone would be followed up with yet another victory at the 1st Bank Holiday F2 race at Brands Hatch in August of 1956, another at Goodwood in the Sussex Trophy race, and yet even more at the 3rd International Gold Cup at Oulton Park and the 2nd BRSCC Formula 2 race at the hands of Tony Brooks. This would make it five straight victories for the T41. This incredible run of success would come in the car's first five races of its existence. What an incredible debut.
Success would continue to come the T41's way in 1957. In the first race of the season, again at the hands of Tony Brooks, the T41 would score what was its sixth victory in a row when it took top honors at the 8th Lavant Cup race at Goodwood on the 22nd of April.
However, the T41 wasn't alone. Cooper and his team constantly looked and planned toward the future. The T41 was merely a stepping-stone, granted, a very successful stepping-stone. But, nonetheless, the car proved the company was on the right track. The T41 would be quickly followed by the T43 and the two models would compete with each other throughout 1957 for top Formula 2 honors. Quickly, however, the T41 would give up ground to the T43.
Although the T41 would be quickly eclipsed by its T43 successor, it would be more than clear the role the T41 would play in the revolution that would take place in Formula One and in the world of motor racing as a result of the Cooper Car Company. In many respects, every mid-engined car after it would have to consider the T41 its mother.
Thankfully, more than one of these revolutionary cars remains in existence to this very day. Unfortunately, certainty of the history regarding these chassis remains relatively mysterious. Still, just the mere fact that these cars still exist is enough of a gift, and one that should never be under-appreciated. Sources:
'1957 Cooper T43 Mark II News, Pictures and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/z13765/Cooper-T43-Mark-II.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/z13765/Cooper-T43-Mark-II.aspx. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
'Marques: Cooper', (http://www.500race.org/Marques/Cooper.htm). The 500 Owners Association. http://www.500race.org/Marques/Cooper.htm. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
'Cooper T51 Climax', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/1424/Cooper-T51-Climax.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/1424/Cooper-T51-Climax.html. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
'Formula 2 & Voiturettes', (http://www.formula2.net/index.html). F2 Register. http://www.formula2.net/index.html. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
'The Chassis History Archive: Cooper T41', (http://www.ten-tenths.com/forum/showthread.php?t=112195). 10TenthsMotorsport. http://www.ten-tenths.com/forum/showthread.php?t=112195. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Cooper Car Company', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 October 2012, 05:46 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cooper_Car_Company&oldid=518831508 accessed 12 December 2012By Jeremy McMullen