Front Cover: Cooper MG sports racing car

2 Nov

Richard Hirst, whose car graces the front cover, has penned this article for us. In doing so, he traces the history of Cooper Cars and that of his own car, MDM 64 which was featured in the December 2001 issue of Classic and Sports Car.

Many MG enthusiasts who visit Silverstone find their way to the XPAG Specials display and so will have some idea of the foundation of Britain’s race car industry.

Soon after the end of WW 2 there was a workforce who could design and build as never before. With the skills and enthusiasm and the advantage of surplus parts and now empty airfields, there was a newly found desire for affordable exciting transport.

This was the start of the “Specials builders”, a few of whom formed companies producing small volumes of sports cars. This created associations like the 750 Car Club, who were able to organise competition events. The area around South London saw at least 20 of these small companies, one of which was Cooper Cars of Surbiton.

Charles Cooper had run a car showroom and repair business and having been a trained engineer before the war, he was capable of building a very smart 2-seater 750 sports car for his son John. This No1 Cooper is still a regular entrant at several classic car events.

This was followed by the type of racing car that made the name of Cooper famous; these were small, lightweight, motorbike engined single seater racing cars, which were so successful that it became necessary to produce them in batches of six and later twelves.

All these early cars had a ladder style chassis made of recycled airfield huts! They had independent suspension, rack and pinion steering, and chain driven JAP air cooled 500cc engines which were mounted just behind the driver.

As the cost of racing this type of car was so modest, the number of races, sprints, and hill climbs attracted new companies to join in the sport. This 500cc model was soon to be joined by a more powerful 1000cc version, and it was from this that the Cooper company were able to create a two-seater sports racer. This had a model code of T14, which is an indication of the company’s growing output. With this growth came difficulties in maintaining supplies of steel, which was still rationed, and yet aluminium was not, so Coopers had as many components made of aluminium castings as possible, many of which are still in use today.

This two-seater sports version used the same chassis but had the radiator and engine in front of the driver, gearbox alongside, and a differential in place of the chain drive box, surrounded by a lightweight aluminium body. Whilst a number of different car engines were tried, it is believed that all of the 12 cars built subsequently used the MG XPAG engine and gear boxes.

My Cooper MG in this article was probably built by Coopers using one of the last ladder framed chassis or possibly converted from one of their 1000 cc models. It was specially built for Horace Porteous, who was a garage proprietor from Abergele North Wales.

Because of its later build date in 1952 it had a code of T21 – initially using 2 different Rochdale fibreglass bodies, which were not ideal! It is an interesting note that the neighbouring AC company used the same chassis layout for their then new ACE sports car, which used both AC and Bristol engines.

When my father first became involved in motorsport, he initially drove an L-type MG Magna, which was soon to be replaced by a Cooper MG which we happily shared and enjoyed success at many local speed events. Many years and cars later I read that a Cooper MG was included in an H&H auction in June 2001 and had to go in the hope of winning it with my bid – which did in fact happen!

Having owned one before it was easy to decide the priorities this time….. less weight, more power and hopefully no oil leaks, which seems to have been achieved.

The MG XPAG engine suits the car very well, it’s simple and sturdy and accepts a high level of tune without falling apart. To minimise any oil loss, I have used modern seals at each end of the crankshaft, opened up ways for the oil to return to the sump, and in turn reduce the build-up of internal pressures.

I am using a Laystall cylinder head, fast road cam, steel crank and rods and lighter fly wheel. The major improvement in power and drivability has come from the inlet side of the engine, by feeding cool air to the twin 1.5” SU carburettors and careful choice of needles seems to work well.

Whilst the output has never exceeded 100 BHP, the torque figures continue to improve, and the longer special inlet manifold has made a significant gain in performance, so is well worth the effort.

Power is transmitted through a close ratio 5 speed Ford gearbox to a chassis mounted differential and short drive shaft. With the increase in power and reduced weight, the car is an ideal, very quick road car which being almost 70 years old is quite remarkable and like most front engined racers of its time still looks wonderful.

As a postscript, it was Cooper’s loyalty to Nuffield products which sadly began their decline in the Formula 1 world, as others moved on to Cosworth power. Thankfully, John’s great enthusiasm for the Mini has kept the great name alive today.

XPAG engine: cool air supply from space above radiator in nose and heat shield under inlet manifolds.

Front suspension arrangement: top transverse leaf spring, fabricated upright, lower wishbone. Note magnesium brake backplate.

Magnesium Cooper wheel with cast in brake drum (clearly shown in previous pic.)

Cockpit details: shaped seats, ex-Moss steering wheel and Cooper fabricated pedal assembly.

Ed’s note: What a delightful car!

From a study of the Classic and Sports Car article, MDM 64 is thought to have started life as a 1100 cc single seater, itself based on a 500 Formula 3 car with the engine in the front. It sported two different Rochdale bodies in the past; the first, an all-enveloping glassfibre C-type body, which, in words of the day “rather over-whelmed it”. The second, a more elegant and flattering F-type body which was fitted by Cyril Porteous of North Wales, who used the car for hill climbing. Porteous also changed the 1140cc Morris Ten engine for the XPAG 1466cc power unit, which it still has.

It was advertised for sale with the Rochdale F-type body and XPAG engine in the 25th November 1955 issue of Autosport with a price tag of £895.

During the 1960s and early 70s it was owned by A F Rivers-Fletcher, who discarded both Rochdale bodies.

The bodywork you see now was fashioned during a restoration by Adrian Rice Carrosserie Sportif of Small Dole, West Sussex.

The results of a rolling road test follow (click graph for bigger). Compare them with the ones in TTT 2 Issue 44!


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