Motor Sport Walter Hayes editorial

February 2001
Paul Fearnley
courtesy and copyright of MotorSport

They came from opposite ends of the motorsport spectrum. One had been imbued in all things fast and mechanical from an early age by his garage-owning, racing-mad father. The other stumbled into the arena, unencumbered with knowledge or interest, after a meteoric career in journalism. Different, yes, yet both carved an indelible niche. For both possessed an uncanny ability of seeing through what was considered the norm, of cutting through to the quick and of turning the sport on its head.

To lose the founding father of the British garagiste Formula One coup, John Cooper, and the founding father of the Ford-Cosworth DFV, Walter Hayes, in a two-day spell over the Christmas period, is cruel in the extreme. I met neither face-to-face, but spoke to them on the phone on a variety of topics: nothing was too much trouble, time was not of pressing importance and events and anecdotes were recalled with alacrity and precision.

And these brief insights proved to be a microcosm, for when I spoke to the great and the good, nay, the legends of the sport, people whose lives were inexplicably woven with those of Cooper and Hayes, my suspicions were confirmed: intelligent, perspicacious, brilliant at their respective jobs.

When Jackie Stewart tested his first single-seater, a works BMC-powered F3 Cooper at a chilly Goodwood in March 1964, John Cooper stationed himself at the first, sweeping corner, Madgwick, to assess this little-known Scot. After a handful of laps, he dashed back to the pits. Not to haul back a rookie, in way over his head, or even to inquire about his lap times: no, he just wanted to tell all and sundry that the young man should be signed up – there and then.

At the end of that year, after JYS had won 11 of the 13 F1 races he’d contested, after he had signed for BRM for his maiden season in F1, he was stood on the Ford stand at the Earls Court Motor Show, gazing wistfully at a white Zodiac. Up popped Hayes, asking if he would like the car. Jackie explained that he was skint. Hayes pounced, offering Stewart the Zodiac, £500 (“That meant a lot to Helen and I at the time, saw us through a difficult time”) and a works Cortina drive in exchange for a signature. This was a long-term investment, very long-term, one that gave a massive return, and one that Ford still benefits from today.

Their biggest legacy is that Cooper and Hayes realised it is people who count, not money. It matters that Hayes raised £100,000 for the DFV’s development, but it matters more that he gave it to genius Keith Duckworth. Cooper would have swooned had that amount been offered to him in the halcyon period, 1959-61. His mechanics were paid peanuts, but worked like Trojans – because it was fun and their boss was a diamond. Shine on.