Quotes from John Cooper on the Mini, MINI, and More

John Cooper with a classic Mini Cooper and MINI Cooper

Next to Sir Alec Issigonis, John Newton Cooper was the man most responsible for the success of the classic Mini.  He took Issigonis’ brilliant little car in 1959 and turned it into a rally and racing legend in just a few short years.  John Cooper lived long enough to see the new MINI Cooper concept car, which he helped debut in 1997, but sadly died on December 24, 2000, before the MINI went into production.  The car bears his name to this day.

Here are some of the most interesting quotes from John Cooper on the classic Mini, MINI, and more.

On Developing the Mini Cooper

“So I suppose I was already something of an old hand when Roy Salvadori and I took the prototype Mini for testing at Monza. Its potential was not lost on the Italian cognoscenti; Ferrari’s chief engineer, Snr Aurelio Lampredi, remarked: ‘If it wasn’t so ugly, I’d shoot myself if that isn’t the car of the future!’

During our World Championship winning years – 1959-1960 – ‘the Boys’, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren, were already using Minis as road cars and, naturally, started to play around with them. We were very well versed in tuning the 1100cc Formula Junior engine, which was essentially the BMC A-series unit built by Eddy Maher at the Morris Engines plant at Coventry. I decided to try fitting one in the Mini. This motor had all the regular racing goodies, like nitrided crank, nemonic valves, a bigger oil pump and twin one-and-a-half inch SUs and adapted so that the gearbox was in the sump: it was a real flyer. A number of factors came together at the right time to make the Mini-Cooper work, and one of these was Lockheed’s development of a suitable disc brake system. We also produced a remote gearshift.

I was rubbing shoulders pretty much on a day-to-day basis with the likes of Sir Alec Issigonis and Donald Healy, which perhaps isn’t too surprising when you’re World Champion Constructor, and one day in Spring 1961 I went to (Sir) George Harriman, BMC’s Chairman and Managing Director, and said to him ‘Let’s do one for the boys!’ The depth of my rapport with BMC management was evident when George Harriman responded enthusiastically ‘Yes! Go away and do it!’

Very soon the notion of capturing the European Touring Car title had taken hold. I told an incredulous Harriman: ‘You’ll have to make a thousand for Group II homologation by September. You only have to say you’ve made a thousand.’ Harriman laughed. By January of 1964, Paddy Hopkirk had won the Monte Carlo in a Mini-Cooper S and we never looked back.”

From the “Forward” of Mini Cooper: The Real Thing! by John Tipler.

John Cooper in front of John Cooper Garages

On the Mini Cooper

“Alec [Issigonis] wanted to keep the sliding windows in order to retain the door pockets: somewhere to keep the gin bottles from rolling around.”

From the “Forward” of Mini Cooper: The Real Thing! by John Tipler.

“The only car people wanted after the film [The Italian Job (1969)] was the Cooper S.”

The Times (London): “Italian Job in the Frame Again” (November 27, 1992)

On the 1990s Mini Cooper

“I know the Mini is getting expensive. There are still people though who love the Mini because it is fun to drive.

The new car has various improvements, such as the front seats which fold as well as tilt forward to make it easier to get into the back. It is much quieter because the radiator has been moved to the front of the engine with an electric fan instead of the old mechanical fan which robbed it of about three horsepower. There is an airbag, side-impact bars in the door, and higher gear ratios to help make motorway driving more enjoyable”

The Times (London): “Cooperman and the Flying Mini” (October 19, 1996)

“It is a great little car. It’s quieter, it’s fun, it still handles and feels like a Mini, and I am sure it will carry on until the end of the century when the new Mini arrives.”

The Times (London): “Cooperman and the Flying Mini” (October 19, 1996)

John Cooper with a MINI Cooper

On the R50 MINI Cooper

“My own ideal would be to have the new MINI using Rover’s own K-Series engines. That would give a range of cars from 1.1-litre to 1.8-litres. Imagine a Cooper S with the 1.8-litre K-series engine which Rover is using now in its MGF sports cars. That engine gives a thumping 143bhp! Quite enough I think to get the Mini Cooper S back into international competition.”

The Times (London): “Cooperman and the Flying Mini” (October 19, 1996)

“I think it’s great. It’s a Mini and it’s going to be the new MINI. It’s got a wheel in each corner. It looks like a Mini. And I know it’s a little bigger and it had to be modified slightly for the safety regulations and those sort of things, but I think the team at Rover have done a wonderful job on it, actually, and I’m very proud and I’m sure Issigonis in the 21st century would have been very proud of it if he had seen it.”

Interview by Men & Motors.

“And the thing about a Mini is when you get in it, it’s part of you. It’s fun to drive. And I’m sure the new one’s going to be the same.”

Interview by Men & Motors.

“This is a proper MINI, with the engine in the same place Issigonis put it 40 years ago, in the front with the front-wheel drive. No, I think It’s great and I’m very proud.”

Interview by Men & Motors.

On Goodwood

“Goodwood was always fantastic because the Easter meeting was the first meeting of the year and we could try out the new cars. I did a lot of development work on the Mini-Cooper there.”

The Times (London): “The Good Old Days Remembered” (September 10, 1999)

On Receiving the CBE

“Her Majesty the Queen is clearly a motorsport fan as she commented on our successes with the Mini Cooper. I am indebted to the hard work of my teams throughout the years and I will treasure this honour.”

Hampshire County Publications: “Mini Maestro is Honoured” (April 10, 2000)

See other quotes from Frank Stephenson, Mike Cooper, Sir Alec Issigonis, and Anders Warming.