John Cooper, winner of Formula 3 race at Rouen, 1952, surrounded by onlookers.



When the extraordinary design prowess of Sir Alec Issigonis met the motor racing passion of John Cooper an extraordinary automobile marriage of compact, go-kart handling infused with an inspirational and extreme energy took on the motorsports world…and won!

British-Greek car designer Alec Issigonis, Technical Director of BMC, talking to John Cooper about the Mini Cooper at Longbridge, Birmingham, December 1962.

For the chequered flag to go down on such a small car captured not only the racing world hearts but also the public minds. But just how does a car designed for the urban dwelling, creatively-minded, design-savvy driver, come to dominate the race circuit? The answer lies in the very special vision of John Cooper.

Cooper was introduced to motor racing mechanics at an early age. His father Charles was a race car mechanic. Young Cooper left school at fifteen hoping to gain a trade as a toolmaker. The outbreak of World War II meant Coopers early career had to be suspended and he served in the Royal Air Force as an instrument maker. At the end of the war father and son set up shop together building single seater racers for private commissions, often using ex military hardware in the spartan times. The cars were so successful that the fully-fledged Cooper Car Company was set up in 1946.

John Cooper, sitting in the 'dish cover' racing car designed by him and his father Charles Cooper.
John Cooper looking at the engine of cooper v8 reg parnell of Jack brabham in the pits at the Italian Grand Prix, 1961.

But it was the decision to situate the engine in the rear that brought his eponymous works their renown. "We certainly had no feeling that we were creating some scientific breakthrough! We put the engine at the rear...because it was the practical thing to do," Cooper said. Between 1947 and 1959, the Cooper TSI took Formula Three by storm and became the first British winner of Formula One Constructors Championship. Singled out by young drivers as their car of choice, it wasn’t long before what had started as a practical design feature would become the standard in motor racing car manufacture.

Cooper takes the rear engine revolution to Indianapolis in 1961. Driver sits in race car while Cooper kneels beside and others look on, full stands in the background.

Having achieved such outstanding success, it was unsurprising that Cooper might be looking for a new challenge. The newly launched Mini intrigued him. It had a handling capability and dynamic attitude that he felt sure could be tailored to take high speeds and racetrack bend thrills to the max. By fine-tuning the engine to add a highly competitive edge, heightening the brake performance for a super assured drive and refining the steering to race level responsiveness, he created the Mini Cooper. With his genius vision the car astonished the racing world, winning the Monte Carlo rally three times between 1964 and 1967.  

The dynamic genes of the original are still part of every MINI John Cooper Works model. From the exhilarating go-kart experience offered by the MINI John Cooper Works 3-door Hatch to the power and All-Wheel Drive versatility of the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman – John Cooper's passion lives on within each and every one.