Sixty years ago, the London suburb of Surbiton must have seemed like a paradise for automotive fans with a bit of mechanical skills. There were car parts, scrap metal, and tires everywhere. In the background is a dedicated father busily working on cars and bikes in a garage. It certainly seemed like paradise for John Cooper whose childhood shaped who he will eventually become; a renowned racing car engineer after the end of the Second World War.
Today, John Cooper’s name has been associated to his legendary success in Formula One. He was also credited for the sporty models from the MINI brand. In 1959, the revolutionary classic Mini was introduced, but it was John Cooper who was responsible for the release of its more powerful variant some two years later. The Mini Cooper’s high agility and spirited power immediately caught people’s attention. Even after 60 years, the names of the very traditional British car manufacturer and the legendary sports car engineer are often said together. And since then, the Mini Cooper has been synonymous with driving fun and minimal external dimensions.
After the War
Soon after the end of the war, Great Britain’s desire to race was reawakened. Tracks were marked and competitions being held all over the country. John Cooper did not only have the ambition to dominate the field, but he also had the talent to back it up. In 1946, John’s father founded the Cooper Car Company. At this time, John was only 23 years old. It wasn’t long before they developed and built successful Formula 2 and Formula 3 racing cars.
John’s ingenuity blossomed and it was clearly shown in the creation of a new type of Formula 1 racing car. The engine was placed not in front of the driver as was customary at the time, but was placed at the back. In 1958, Cooper celebrated their first victory with the car. In 1959 and 1960, the Cooper enabled Jack Brabham to claim the world championship title. It was then that the mid-engine principle permanently established itself in Grand Prix racing. Until the end of the 1960s, Cooper’s team was active in Formula 1. It was the time of great drivers as Jack Brabham were joined by the likes of Sir Stirling Moss, Jochen Rindt, and Bruce McLaren.
John Cooper’s innovative Formula 1 racing cars have made their mark in history and until today, John Cooper’s influence has remained.
Once again, it was a revolutionary design that influenced everything. While John Cooper was concentrating on formula racing, the British Motor Corporation – thanks to engineer Alec Issigonis – was able to develop a new small car. The car was only a little more than three meters, but the classic Mini was able to give a surprising amount of space for four passengers and their luggage. Issigonis had arranged for the small car to have the engine transversely at the front while the gearbox is directly below. He positioned the wheels far out, and also had short overhangs. The classic Mini, with its transversely positioned four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, Issigonis’ classic Mini laid the groundwork for a design for small and compact cars that is still being used as to today.
The engine output of the classic Mini is at 34 hp, but thanks to the front wheel drive, torsionally rigid body, and a wide track, the car was light and had a surprisingly agile cornering performance.
Originally, Issigonis was thinking of providing a low-priced and economical vehicle that everyone can have, but even then, John Cooper immediately saw the sporting potential of the classic Mini. The two gifted engineers have met previously in racing activities, they later connected for business, and eventually formed a strong friendship over time. At the time, though it took a bit of a hard push to improve the sporting temperament of the classic Mini.
With the approval of the BMC management, John Cooper was able to get a small series of 1,000 vehicles built with a modified engine with the displacement expanded to almost 1.0 liter, giving it the capability to generate 55hp. It was enough to give the car a top speed of 135 kph. Cooper also adjusted it to have a closer-ratio gearbox, improved gear lever, wider tires, and added disc brakes on the front wheels. They also added cosmetic changes with a color-contrasted roof with the interior given a two-tone. In September 1961, the first Mini Cooper was introduced into the market.
It was excitedly supported by the market though the clients were one in the demand for more power. By then, Cooper and Issigonis were already convinced of the sporting capability of the classic Mini. After some modifications, they were able to increase the engine capacity to 1071 cubic centimeters. This gave the Mini an increased output of up to 70 hp.
Another important boost to the Mini’s sporting career was the new chassis technology that Issigonis introduced. He already introduced impressive innovations in the steering and wheel suspension, laying the groundwork to the go-kart feel of the Mini that it is famed for up to this day. He placed homokinetic universal joints that minimized the influence of the drive on the steering. Directional stability was improved by attaching a subframe to the rear wheels. To guarantee great response and progressive spring action they also added rubber suspension and small telescopic shock absorbers.
The Mini Cooper became an instant success on rally tracks and racetracks. Its appearances at the Monte Carlo rally became instant legends. In 1963, its first class victory was taken by Finn Rauno Aaltonen. Aside from racing accolades, the Mini Cooper simply became more and more popular ever year for its appearances. Its success in competition against other more powerful and bigger rivals won the heart of the public. Most notable are its victories at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, and 1967 which was achieved by the Mini Cooper S. After that, the classic Mini’s rally career ended.
From 1961 to 1971, the Mini Cooper brought joy to enthusiasts on the road. It was also then that the model became synonymous to driving fun. John Cooper’s name was also consistently attached for fans of the classic Mini. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cooper developed tuning kits for Mini production vehicles became instant hits. In 1990, the Mini Cooper went back to its model range though the 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that gives 61 hp is now placed below the short bonnet. Fans were then able to face the hairpin bends and serpentines with the fast and sporty Mini Cooper. Until the autumn of 2000, the 63 hp version was produced. By then, its successor was ready to run.
The More Modern MINI
In the early parts of 1994, the Rover Group by BMW took over the Mini brand. This opened a lot of new doors for the company. In 1997, at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, they presented a study of a MINI Cooper. It was a new edition of the beloved and unique British small car. As a modern take of the traditional vehicle, it nicely brought together the car’s classic values towards the modern era of the 21st century. In 2001, the new MINI was officially launched.
The new MINI was bigger, more colorful, and unsurprisingly, a lot more modern. Fans were happy to note that they were able to keep the typical go-kart feeling of the classic Mini. The MINI from Oxford, England also repackaged itself as a premium vehicle in the small car segment.
Unlike the classic, the MINI Cooper was immediately part of the starting line-up. The new engine and chassis design were beautifully brought together to give utmost driving pleasure. The four-cylinder engine was returned to its previous position, transversely mounted at the front with a displacement of 1.6-liters with a maximum output of 85 kW / 115 hp. The additional power gave the new MINI Cooper the capability to go from 0 to 100 kph in just 9.2 seconds. It also recorded a top speed of 197 kph. The new MINI Cooper was equipped with the superior chassis technology like the McPherson struts on the front axle, multi-link rear axle unique in the small car segment, axle shafts of equal length, disc brakes on all four wheels, and the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) driving stability system.
The modern MINI was finally able to fulfill all the clients’ desire for more power. As early as autumn 2001, they released the 120 kW / 163 hp MINI Cooper S.
In November 2006, the MINI launched a new edition of their modern model. It featured an evolutionary design development, and it was given a fundamental technical overhaul. The visual appearance of the MINI, which was what drew people to it initially was given a few refinements. They placed more emphasis on the sporting virtues of the compact curve artist.
The MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S, which had 88 kW / 120 hp and 128 kW / 175 hp, respectively were already available upon launch. It was immediately noted that the new models had a much improved performance while it also greatly reduced the fuel consumption and emissions.
After two years, they released a MINI Cooper with a diesel engine. The MINI Cooper D had 81 kW / 110 hp. Immediately after, they also released the MINI Cooper SD with 125 kW / 170 hp which gave a powerful drive.
Mike Cooper, John Cooper’s son, brought the knowledge and expertise of his family into the project as he developed the modern MINI. Mike was committed to the sporty versions of the MINI. After a few years, the connection between the two companies became even close as the BMW Group acquired the brand rights of John Cooper Garages in the early parts of 2007.
This transaction resulted in having the John Cooper Works brand becoming part of the MINI brand since 2008. The John Cooper Works brand which represents maximum power and performance can then be felt by their clients in their MINIs.
Until today, the driving fun experience of a MINI can still be experienced in the current model generation, and it can even be realized in a lot of different forms. With a three-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet, the new models can now produce 100 kW / 136 hp. The Cooper name has also now been added to the entire range of the current model program.
MINI Goes Electric
The brand also released their first all-electric model in the MINI Cooper SE with a combined power consumption of 17.6 – 15.2 kWh/100 km as per WLTP. It is equipped with a 135 kW / 184 hp electric motor. It has successfully brought together sustainable mobility, premium quality, expressive design, and its characteristic driving pleasure.
There is also the new MINI John Cooper Works GP which has a combined fuel consumption of 7.3 L / 100 km. It was equipped with a 225 kW / 306 four-cylinder turbo engine. It is the fastest MINI to be registered for the road.
Whether opting for a local emission-free drive in everyday traffic or giving in to the call of the track, all the MINI that was given the Cooper designation was named in honor of the formidable and legendary engineer.