Twice F1 world constructors' champions and Mini rallying pioneers Cooper Car Company's former Surbiton workshop has been commemorated with a special plaque
Double Formula 1 world champion team and legendary Mini tuner Cooper Car Company has been honoured with a trademark blue plaque by English Heritage, marking out the company’s former workshop in Surbiton.
Several historic Cooper vehicles turned out to celebrate the commemorative plaque’s unveiling on Hollyfield Road in Surbiton, the site of Cooper Car Company’s workshop until 1965.
A 1955 Cooper T39 Bobtail owned by Bob Searles, son of Cooper’s former Works Manager Ron Searles, headed a quartet of classic vehicles designed and built in Surbiton. Bruce McLaren’s 1959 United States Grand Prix-winning T45/51 also featured, alongside two Mini vans.
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‘The Cooper Car Company works is a hugely important building to the history of the British car industry,’ said Howard Spencer, senior historian for English Heritage.
‘With a small staff that never exceeded 35, the works in Surbiton achieved great success.’
Founded by father and son duo Charles and John Cooper in 1947, their eponymous outfit became F1 world champions in 1959 and 1960, a garagiste team winning top honours against the might of Ferrari.
Cooper was best known for revolutionising how F1 cars are designed, becoming the first team to win a world championship title using a mid-engined car. Since the Cooper T51 took top honours with Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren at the wheel in 1959, every title-winning car since has had its engine behind the driver, not in front as had previously been commonplace.
‘The Cooper family are very proud that the Cooper Car Company’s old works in Surbiton has received a blue plaque,’ said Mike Cooper, son of founder John Cooper.
‘The amazing racing cars that were designed and manufactured there by my father, John Cooper, went on to conquer the world of motor sport.’
After their F1 triumphs Cooper went on to conquer the automotive market in collaboration with British Motor Corporation, from which the iconic Mini Cooper was born.
While mass-market road-going versions of the Mini Cooper were assembled at BMC’s Longbridge and Cowley plants, Cooper designed and assembled rally prototypes at its Surbiton workshop, which would later go on to win the Monte Carlo Rally three times.
Even Enzo Ferrari, who had decried Cooper’s rear-engined F1 revolution years earlier by coining the garagiste term as an insult, could not resist buying a Mini Cooper of his own.
Despite their worldwide success in both motorsport and automotive manufacturing, Cooper remained a small family-run workshop throughout, being sold a year after Charles Cooper’s death in 1964 and moving to Byfleet, Surrey before its eventual demise in 1969.
Race photos courtesy of Motorsport Images