Classic: Morris Cooper S

By: John Wright

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At Bathurst in 1966, the hottest Mini was 'Jack the Giant Killer'...

Classic: Morris Cooper S
Classic: Morris Cooper S



Has there been a more memorable sight in Australian tin-top racing than those phenomenal Mini-Cooper Ss hurtling down the hill at Mount Panorama, leaving their opposition for dead? It was only one year, 1966, but how bloody fabulous!

I think that the Cooper S was as significant a car in most respects as the Mini-Minor (and Austin Seven) from which it was derived. Arguably, it had a more widespread influence. The Issigonis Mini inspired no imitators, although it perhaps helped Lord Rootes to decide that the Hillman Imp would go the opposite way with rear-engine, rear-wheel drive. The closest copy is the BMW Mini.

By contrast, the Cooper S effectively invented the idea of small performance cars. Despite its lack of a hatchback, it may be thought of as the first of the type, even if it was Volkswagen who invented the category. Before the Cooper S, who ever thought of trying to make a little car go faster than a big one? The Renault Dauphine Gordini is the exception that proves this rule. Yes, there was the Porsche 356, but it must be thought of as a dedicated sports car that just happened to evolve from the Beetle.

Throughout the ’50s manufacturers were offering twin-carb versions of humdrum sedans and Aussie enthusiasts were adding go-faster bits to their Holdens and Zephyrs, and later their Volkswagens. But when BMC joined forces with John Cooper to transform the Mini, firstly into the marginally fast 997cc Mini-Cooper, the world changed. And who could have predicted the 1275cc Cooper S?

To get an inkling of this car’s historical sporting significance, consider that it replaced the Austin-Healey 3000 as BMC’s rally weapon of choice.

The Lotus Cortina ended the Mark 2 Jaguar 3.8’s dominance of international sedan racing but the Cooper S was the last mass-produced vehicle to win at Bathurst in the Series Production era.

By today’s standards it was not a fast car. But it was different in 1966. The Cooper S was not the fastest car over one lap of Mount Panorama as the Studebaker Lark drivers proved, but over a race distance it had no rival. Within a few laps a brace of Minis had wrapped up the powerful Larks and Valiants that had led early on.

I can admit to having owned one of these beauties and having sold it too early and too cheaply. There was a designed-in fault. Simply, the Cooper S would overheat when used in heavy traffic. And its joys tended to wear off as you screamed along the open road at 100km/h, longing for both another gear and a tachometer.

But the Cooper S defined 1966 and made its mark in history in a way that few other cars have. Every drive around the block was, in my imagination, like the cresting of Skyline and the plunge through the Dipper towards Forrest Elbow.



More reviews:

> Classic: Mini Cooper 50 years on

> Oz vs Euro: 1965 Cortina GT500 vs 1969 Cooper S review here

    plus watch the video here


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