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

 

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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>> Search Morris Mini cars for sale


 

 

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