The end of an era
Daily Telegraph
January 6th 2001
Doug Nye, David Burgess-Wise, Andrew English
courtesy and copyright of The Daily Telegraph.

Doug Nye, David Burgess-Wise and David English look at the lives of two great men of motoring who passed away over Christmas.

The sporting world is mourning the deaths, over Christmas, of two significant figures of 20th century motoring – John Cooper and Walter Hayes. John died on Christmas Eve, aged 77, and Walter on Boxing Day, aged 76. Yet despite being from the same generation, their careers and achievements reflected very different times.

Genial, pipe-smoking John Cooper and his rugged garagiste father Charles founded in 1948 what became the world’s biggest manufacturer of specialist racing cars – the Surbiton-based Cooper Car Company. The media has rightly latched on to John’s later Mini Cooper activity, but to fellow racers that pales beside his stature in Formula One. Early customers included Stirling Moss and Bernie Ecclestone, while one Cooper Car Co employee was the young Ron Dennis. Cooper’s sharply focused and cottage industry-style practicality popularised rear-engine racing car design, launched Formula One’s “Rear-Engined Revolution”, and, with such like-minded team drivers as Roy Salvadori, Jack Brabham and the young Bruce McLaren, built towards the company’s double Formula One World Championship titles in 1959 and 1960.

While cashflow-conscious Charlie Cooper would carol, “Why change it when we’re winnin’?”- and world champion driver Jack Brabham would be needling John incessantly with, “We’ve got to change, or get left behind”- it was the younger Cooper who erected the umbrella under which his team and drivers could go for gold. “Just don’t tell Dad, all right?” he’d confide to Brabham, as the shrewd Australian was despatched to ZF in Germany or to ERSA in Paris to buy crucial components without which the little Cooper cars would never have worked so well. When their tiny team won the Formula One world titles in 1959, their budget for the year from Esso was just £10,000. For 1960, developing their own Cooper gearbox cost as much- John again keeping it from Dad- yet 20 years later when Williams won the titles its budget was nearer £10 million. And that disparity in available funding reflects the change which overcame premier-league motorsport through the 1960s – with Walter Hayes, Ford of Dagenham’s dapper, pipe-smoking director of public affairs, leading the charge.

Hayes’s arrival in the motor industry was unusual to say the least. In 1962, with the launch of the Cortina imminent, Ford of Britain chairman Sir Patrick Hennessy was anxious to revive the company’s flagging public image, so he asked his wartime colleague Lord Beaverbrook to recommend a likely candidate for the job. Beaverbrook’s recommended 38-year-old Hayes, associate editor of the Daily Mail (he was formerly editor of the Sunday Dispatch), who – though not a motoring man by background – had employed Colin Chapman on a freelance basis to contribute a “new type of motoring column”.

When the Cortina was launched, it was apparent that – apart from an unfortunate tendency for gearbox seizure on some early production cars – it was somewhat lacking in excitement. Hayes recalled: “A performance version seemed one obvious way of adding excitement, because the heart of the Lotus Cortina was one of the greatest engines the world has ever known. I don’t really think that’s an exaggeration. Also, it was something that could be easily done.”

The first fruit of this policy was the construction of a “GT” version, “so named because we sent somebody to Halfords to find the prettiest badge to put on it. The prettiest badge he could find had GT on it, so we bought one!”

The GT soon represented 25 per cent of all Cortina production, recalled Hayes: “It was an enormous success. This splendid performance sedan was a new concept in the marketplace, but it became perfectly obvious (to me anyway) that it wasn’t enough and a ‘super GT’ was obviously needed because the competitors were beginning to nibble at us. Colin Chapman was frankly a bloody marvellous ideas man, the only ace motoring man I knew when I joined Ford. I’d paid him so much money as a journalist that I sometimes think I started Lotus!

“Harry Mundy had done a twin-cam head for Colin on the 105E Anglia engine. He was always pissed off because I think they paid him £200 for it. There was this twin-cam version of this incredible engine which was doing things on the track in a modest way.

“At that time, it would have been ridiculous and bizarre to try to develop twin-cam engine manufacture or assembly inside Ford operations because in 1962 Ford in Britain was just Dagenham; there was no Halewood. The idea that somehow we could run a highly sophisticated twin-cam line there was impossible, so it was agreed that Colin would do the Lotus Cortina.

“I wanted it very much because by then Lotus was quite a name, and Colin and I sat up late one night to design the car around the twin-cam engine.”

Hayes also fought battles within Ford to pay for the motorsport programme which would- he was convinced – dispel the utilitarian old image of the “Dagenham Dustbin”. Under Walter, a Ford rally programme flourished and the firm’s illustrious Boreham competition department grew. Hayes also gave his considerable support to the fledgling Formula Ford single-seater class, seeing it as a “nursery for drivers”. In the 33 years since, more than 8,000 Formula Ford chassis have been built and more than 30,000 budding racers have been at the wheel, including James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jody Scheckter, Nigel Mansell, Martin Brundle, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button.

Hayes, Colin Chapman and Lotus – in fact the commercial nemesis of Cooper, yet one which John Cooper (unlike Charlie) hugely admired- had used Ford power, tuned by Cosworth, to dominate minor Formula racing. Then, in 1966 at a Ford policy committee meeting, under “any other business”, Walter Hayes announced: “Yes, I’d like to do a grand prix engine.” He told Henry Ford quite simply it would be the best £100,000 he’d ever invested…” and sure enough the result was the V8 Cosworth-Ford DFV engine, which one 155 Grands Prix and, like Cooper 10 years earlier, revolutionised F1.

With such competitive engines available off the shelf, and on-car advertising allowed from 1968, F1 exploded into the bug-money modern circus it is today. Where John Cooper’s little company – never employing much more than 40 – had once dominated, modern Ferrari and McLaren, fully employing 10 times more, are locked in combat today.

Alumni from the Cooper works in Surbiton, which is today the police patrol car garage flanking the Kingston Bypass, fed the booming British motorsports industry. Jack Brabham set up his own operation from 1961, and Bruce McLaren followed from 1964. John Cooper’s generosity of spirit was so great that to his ‘dying day he would not only bless both their efforts, but shared delight at their success.

Walter Hayes funded Colin Chapman’s creation of the Lotus superteam for 1967, combining the driving brilliance of world champions Jim Clark and Graham Hill in the Ford-engined Lotus 49s. They won or bust all year, until the United States GP at Watkins Glen. For Walter, victory there was crucial: “I told Jimmy and Graham, ‘This is the cars’ first race on Ford’s home ground, it’s vital we set the seal on the programme here’, and then in practice these two asses started competing with one another. I had to make them toss up to decide who was going to win without racing each other into the ground. It was Graham, but his car broke- so did Jimmy’s, yet he nursed it across the finish line and won! Then he gave me the trophy and I put it on my lap in the helicopter and brought it all the way home…and thought this was a great thing.”

As, indeed, it was.

Not that Hayes had finished making waves by any means. In 1987, he convinced his friend Henry Ford II to purchase Aston Martin and Hayes became chairman of the marque. Never the strongest firm financially, Aston Martin in the Eighties was in desperate need of a new, smaller car to increase overall sales. Hayes, adopting the role of James Garner’s “Scrounger” character from the film The Great Escape, cobbled together the parts and resources to build what became the DB7, the most popular Aston Martin model ever and the car which arguably saved the company.

These were two great men, both utterly charming, both real “racers” but with very different approaches – in very different times – to the same problems. With their passing, a great era has truly ended.