One of the unique features of the early international influence on New Zealand Motorsport was the annual pilgrimage down under by some of the best Formula One drivers’ of the time. Coupled to this was the fact that they brought with them the F1 cars or chassis that they had been competing with.
One of these was Australian Jack Brabham who won three world F1 titles (1959, 1960 and 1966). Brabham begun racing in Australia in the late 1940s, first of all on dirt ovals in midgets. In 1951 he switched to road racing taking on several cars from the British Cooper Car Company competing in both NZ as well as at home. Then in 1955 he was persuaded to head to Europe.
Meanwhile, John Cooper had started the Cooper Car Company in 1948 along with his father, Charles Cooper, based in Surbiton, UK. Three years after the end of the second World War, rationing was still in place in Great Britain.
Essential to the early success of the Cooper Car Company was designer Owen Maddock. He came up with the first rear-engine Cooper, more out of practicality than invention. As the car was powered by a motorcycle engine, it needed to be put in the rear of the chassis in order to drive a chain.
Maddock was the chief designer for the Cooper Car Company from 1950 through to 1963, designing a number of very successful cars, including the F1 world title winning T51 and T53 variants. Upon leaving Cooper, Maddock did some freelance work for Bruce McLaren’s team including the design of the McLaren M1A sports car and the McLaren four-spoke racing wheel.
Brabham was to compete in New Zealand in Cooper cars’ between 1954 to 1962. His first NZ Grand Prix in 1954 at Ardmore in Auckland saw him finishing sixth in a Cooper T23 / Bristol 1971cc 6cyl. He returned the following year with the same car, this time finishing fourth. 1956 saw him enter with a Cooper T40/Bristol 1971cc 6cyl but did not make the start due to gearbox issues.
1957 he placed tenth in a Cooper T41 / Climax 1460cc 4cyl and then went on to take his first NZGP victory in 1958 in a Cooper T43/Climax 2249cc 4cyl.
1958 Cooper T43
The Cooper T43 first appeared in the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix driven by Brabham. Stirling Moss was to drive a T43 to victory for the Rob Walker Racing Team to win the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix, the first GP win for a mid-engine car.
Brabham took this car to victory in the 1958 NZ Grand Prix at Ardmore Circuit in Auckland, ahead of Ross Jensen (Maserati 250F). Cooper cars were to win the NZGP for the next three years. Stirling Moss won the 1959 in a T45, Brabham in a T51 in 1960 and again winning in 1961 in a T53.
The T45 was an improvement on the T43. while using the same fundamental chassis unaltered from the T43, Brabham had suggested to the designer Owen Maddock that the engine could be lowered, which they did.
1960 Cooper T51
Used in both F1 and F2 and designed by Owen Maddock, the Cooper T51 was built for the 1959 Formula One season and was the car that Brabham won his first F1 driver’s title. Also significant is that the T51 was the first rear mounted engine car to win the World Championship.
The T51 was a development of the T43 and T45, powered by a 2.5 litre four-cylinder Coventry Climax engine. The increase from 2.0-2.5 litre was a significant factor in the increased performance of the T51.
Brabham won both the 1960 NZ Grand Prix and the Lady Wigram Trophy race in the T51.
1961 Cooper T53
The Cooper T53 is referred to as a lower, slimmer and better packaged update of the T51. Before heading to New Zealand at the end of 1960, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren dominated the Formula One season finishing first and second overall.
The T53 incorporated a new five-speed C5S transaxle gearbox. The rear leaf-spring suspension was replaced with coil-spring strut. The 2.5 litre four-cylinder Coventry Climax engine was lowered as was the driver position which became more reclined.
Both Brabham (F2-8-60) and McLaren’s (F2-5-60) F1 cars were shipped to NZ and raced in both the NZ Grand Prix (Ardmore, Auckland) and the Lady Wigram Trophy (Christchurch) races. Brabham won both the NZGP and the Lady Wigram Trophy.
1962 was the last season that Brabham raced a Cooper in NZ, the T55 model, retiring with gear selection issues. Later that year he left Cooper and began to race his own cars after he and Ron Tauranac set up a company called Motor Racing Developments (MRD) in order to produce customer racing cars.
Brabham unsuccessfully competed in three more NZ Grand Prix in his own cars in 1963 (Brabham BT4), 1964 (Brabham BT7A) and 1967 (Brabham BT19). It was Graham Hill who drove a Brabham BT11A to victory in the 1965 NZGP. This was a year after Bruce McLaren took the last NZGP victory in a Cooper car (Cooper T70), in 1964.
Main picture: #3 Ron Flockhart (Cooper T51), #7 Stirling Moss (Lotus 14), #47 Bruce McLaren (Cooper T53) and #4 Jack Brabham (Cooper T53) at Ardmore in 1961