ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 2 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

That Was the Century That Was:
A Few Farewells...and a Few Thoughts
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Well, the 20th Century has now finally passed into History. Hail and Farewell to the first full Century of motor racing! Seems as if we hardly knew you and now you’re gone.

In the waning days of the last century we lost two very interesting men who played roles in the history of motor sports in the latter decades of the century: John Cooper and Walter Hayes.

John Cooper

John Cooper, along and his father Charles, were the first folks since the Auto-Unions of the 1934 to 1939 seasons to make the mid-engined (although we all still persist in called them “rear-engined”) racing car work. It wasn’t so much out of being convinced by the technical possibilities of that approach as it was by the pragmatic reason that it seemed to work quite well, thank you very much.

The story of how John Cooper used the Fiat Topolino as the basis for their first racing cars – he used the independent suspension from the front of the Topolino at both ends along with various other bits and pieces and then bolted in a motorcycle engine behind the driver – is a fairly well-known story. The Cooper 500cc cars dominated the fields and the podiums in the very popular Formula 3 events in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Whereas it was John who built the cars, it was Charles who realized that there were customers for them. Some of those customers later went on to bigger and better things: Stirling Moss and Peter Collins to name but two of literally dozens upon dozens of who drove the little cars at some point.

In 1959, Cooper found himself thrust into the first rank of those competing in the Grand Prix events of the day. First, because Vanwall abruptly departed the scene as had Maserati. Second, Coventry Climax was now producing an engine, the four-cylinder FPF, that was now at the full displacement allowed for Formula 1 (2,500cc) and was also reliable. Third, Cooper had devised a gearbox and transmission for his cars that worked to handle this new power. Fourth, he had customers for his cars – lots of them. Fifth, whereas BRM was a valiant and stalwart challenger – Cooper was a winner.

With Cooper the shift from Gran Premio to Grand Prix came to pass. At the start of the decade it had been basically Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Maserati dominating the grids hither and yon, after that it was necessary to usually have a set of tools using the English measurements at hand or a consult a conversion table for the metric equivalent. Someone at the time called Cooper the new Maserati. In retrospect, it was not far off the mark.

In 1959, the garlands of victory were being hung on the walls at Surbiton. In 1969, Cooper was not on the grid as Grand Prix competitor. The death of Charles Cooper, the business of the business of racing, and the nature of the changing face of both Britain and racing saw Cooper go onto to other things. However, Cooper did leave a legacy behind that is still with us: he wedged his foot in the door at Indy and led to a dynamic change there; Jack Brabham and then Bruce McLaren served under John Cooper and then went on to establish their own racing teams; and, since John Cooper the language of motor sport has been English….

Whenever I think about John Cooper, the image firmly etched in my mind is the somersault in the pit lane at Monza in 1959: there is John Cooper the Enthusiast to a tee…

Godspeed, John Cooper.

Walter Hayes

Walter Hayes was not one of those sorts with grease under his fingernails and Castrol in his veins. He was a newspaper man, serving his watch as the editor at the Sunday Telegraph until he became the director of public relations for the Ford Motor Company in Great Britain in 1961. Interestingly enough, one of the first things he did was have the responsibility for racing moved elsewhere from the public relations office. Hayes was a newspaper man, not a racer and with generally little knowledge of motor sports. Hayes, as a dynamic speaker and someone with his fingers on the pulse of the populace, made a genuine impact both within and outside Ford in his role as the head of public relations.

In 1963, Hayes had the responsibility for motor sports competition thrust back into his lap. In the United States, Ford was using the theme "Total Performance" in its marketing and using stock car racing, sports car racing (supporting Carroll Shelby and his Cobra team), and Indianapolis as marketing devices. Dearborn expected its British subsidiary to do likewise. Ford of Britain and Hayes were up to the task. In the Cortina, Ford of Britain had a winner both in the dealer's showrooms and on the track. With the assistance the company lent to a former Sunday Telegraph columnist, there emerged the Lotus Cortina.

Few today probably recall the impact of the Lotus Cortina. It was the car that established the image of Ford of Britain as a major player in motor racing both in Britain and Overseas. It would be interesting to see how many still remember the sight of Jim Clark in his Lotus Cortina – front wheel lifted going into a turn – during the 1964 Saloon Car Championship? Or the sight of a Lotus Cortina in victory circles for rallies, saloon car events, endurance touring races, and many other such racing activities?

When Ford decided to enter the fray at Le Mans, Dearborn decided to use Britain as it base of operations. John Wyer ran the Ford Advanced Vehicle facility at Slough which was to produce the Ford GT40 as the tool for victory. In the middle of all this was Walter Hayes. Hayes also saw to it that the Ford name was well-represented when the new Formula 2 and Formula 3 regulations went into effect in 1964. Keith Duckworth was granted a stipend of £17,500 from Ford (Hayes) to develop the F2 engine Duckworth and his partner Mike Costin – their company was known as 'Cosworth' – wanted to build, the SCA.

In early 1965, Hayes and most of those in motor racing were dismayed to read in their morning papers that Coventry Climax had finally decided – 'really for real' this time – to retire from racing at the end of the 1965 season. This essentially left many folks in the Grand Prix business without something to bolt into the rear of their racing cars in 1966. !966, by no coincidence, was to the first year of a new Grand Prix formula. To many it was 1961 all over again, but for different reasons – this time the British got what they wanted, but still found themselves behind the eight ball.

As the realization that Cooper, Brabham, and Lotus were to be left to fend for themselves with the start of the formula literally around the corner, Hayes found himself listening to Colin Chapman pleading his case for assistance from Ford to help him out of this jam. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders also expressed concern to Hayes over this turn of events. The export of racing cars, replacement parts, and accessories was now Big Business. At this point, Hayes found the man who shared his vision at Ford of Britain: Harley Copp, an American serving as Vice President for Engineering at Ford of Britain. Copp was impressed by the case that Hayes presented – not a real challenge since Copp was a racing enthusiast – and after speaking with Chapman was sold on the idea.

It is the stuff from which legends spring forth. At his first meeting with the Policy Committee barely six days after becoming the new Managing Director of Ford of Britain, Stanley Gillen asked – when they came to the agenda item "Other Business" – if there were any items to be discussed. Hayes informed Gillen that, "Yes, Harley and I would like to do a Grand Prix engine."

Amazingly enough, Hayes and Copp did a presentation on the project and had it approved then and there! They were guaranteed a minimum of £100,000 and told to get on with it. The idea was also supported by Henry Ford II and so Hayes got on with the job of getting Ford into the Grand Prix engine business. Naturally, he turned to Keith Duckworth and by June 1967 Cosworth produced the DFV – for Double Four Valve – for Chapman to place in the Lotus 49, just in time for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. The rest, as they say, is history. And to Walter Hayes great credit must be given for making it happen.

Godspeed, Walter Hayes.

Thoughts, More Thoughts, and Wondering Where the Lions Are...

With the 20th Century now truly in the rear view mirror, it is appropriate to look back and consider a few of its moments, memories, and mysteries. To me, the magic was never quite the same after Jim Clark and Gilles Villeneuve were taken from us. While vastly different in some respects, there were very similar in others: gifted, straight forward, quick, and men of honor. To some of us – okay, Me! – they were the sort of folks that set the mark on the wall that others used to gauge themselves. They were also men could be dropped into any era and do well. As wild and wooly as Villeneuve appeared, he was remarkably adaptable to whatever he found himself in – anyone who could lead a race in the dog he was handed in 1980 is a Gifted man. And Clark – could and did – drive about anything. Both were remarkable men.

While most here are fixated only on Formula 1 (or I refer to it, Formula Ecclestone/ Mosley – FEM), I tend to cast my net much wider. I am a fan of many drivers that usually don't get much press here. The list is long and so I will spare you any recitation of it in its entirety. I will mention but a very, very few if you don’t mind:

Keke Rosberg. A Racer. A man that just amazes me every time I look at him in action, especially in 1982 and 1983. "How did he do that?" is a thought that often crosses my mind. I put him in the same class as Gilles Villeneuve.

Curtis Turner. There are those who drive race cars and there are those who race cars. Turner was a one of the latter. His activities out of the cockpit often detract folks from the fact that Turner was a gifted and extremely talented Racer. Turner lived his life in the same way as he drove – foot to the floor, rubbing fenders, and enjoying every single second of it. His type has passed from the scene and we are perhaps the poorer for it. Racing needs Characters and Turner was definitely that.

Alan Kulwicki. The ultimate underdog and the man after whom I can never hear Sinatra without thinking of one particular song – "I Did It My Way." An intense man who gave new meaning to the word "focused," Kulwicki is one of those racers I miss the most. On the strength of just a few quick minutes of conversation snatched at a few almost chance meetings, I was deeply impressed by this men. He was what many of us strive to be – but, fall short of being. He was his own man. He played the game the way it was supposed to be played. Kulwicki showed that there a huge difference between being focused and being driven or ruthless. Winning is important, but not everything. He lived the Dream. It is the folks like Kulwicki that make me happy I am a fan.

A. J. Foyt. A Racer. Period. Although A.J. could – can – be a real sumbitch, he is one of those that makes me realize just how much enjoyment there is to watching a Master in action. I first saw A.J. on pavement, but when I saw him on dirt – I knew I was in the presence of a true Master. While some make light of A.J.’s "Americanism" and his reluctance to linger long in Europe, he is one of those who could drive the wheels off anything, anywhere. Stirling Moss, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Clark, and Foyt were the Best of the all-arounders when such men allowed to ply their trade. I genuinely admire Foyt for his contributions to The Sport. Go A.J. !

Jose Froilan Gonzalez. Gonzalez is just one of those enigmas that haunt you when you ponder Grand Prix racing. Another of the "How did he do that?" Club. I have never thought that many have given him the credit he was due for his efforts. His wins at Silverstone are usually credited to the problems of the opposition or to the cars he drove. Hey! In each case he drove cars that were not exactly the best that could be placed under him. I have always just thought of him as one of the reasons that racing was so fascinating in those days. Although called the "Bull of the Pampas" by the press, Gonzalez was anything but that – a talented, sensitive, and skilled driver as well as a gracious man.

I find it fascinating that in the year 2001, that we still don't have a clear idea who the European Champion for 1939 was!

I also find it interesting that history seems to be more and more irrelevant and even inconvenient to many followers of modern racing. While there are some great efforts being made to preserve the history of the sport and the many forms of it, there is not much commitment from many of the powers-that-be in its support. I am looking in the direction of the FIA and its idea that F1 is the exclusive domain of only those events run for the mythical World Championship. Indeed, the FIA thinks F1 is motor racing – past, present, and future! Or that anything more than a few seasons past is Ancient History and anything more than two digits old is pre-historic. And that sponsor decals on historic racing cars – especially those that never wore them – is perfectly okay. But, this is another squabble for another time.

Don Capps© 2007
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