The Sebring 12 Hours Class Winning, Works Entry 1956 Cooper T39 Bobtail
Colin Chapman and Lotus often get the credit for revolutionising the racing world in the late 1950s and on into the 1980s but it was Charles and John Cooper and their team who started it all and to some extent had an even greater impact on the racing world back in the early 1950s. The advent of the lightweight, rear engined and very competitive Cooper 500 put the Cooper Car Co. firmly on the map and launched the career of a number of great drivers including Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren.
On the back of the considerable successes of their 500cc Formula 3 single seaters, Charles and John Cooper set about designing a sports car around the lightweight 1100cc Coventry Climax engine. The result was the sleek, streamline and what would prove to be the highly influential Cooper T39 Bobtail. The work of Owen Maddock, its chassis comprised of four main tubular longerons in a structure coming to a taper at each end and braced by full-width hoops fore and aft of the cockpit.
Weighing in at 65lbs the structure put the driver on the centre line of the car with the engine behind him. Clad in lightweight aluminium and utilising all round independent suspension, it featured rack and pinion steering and a Citroen ERSA four-speed close-ratio gearbox. Priced new at £1,350 the Bobtail soon established itself as the only serious opposition to Lotus in the 1100cc and 1500cc classes.
A success from the start, the first works Bobtail made its debut at the 1955 Goodwood Easter Monday meeting, driven by Ivor Bueb. It beat most of the 1500cc opposition coming in third behind the Connaughts of Leston and McAlpine. A second Works car was completed for Jim Russell and the first of the customer cars for Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour Team.
The success of the Bobtail during the 1955 made the adoption of the 1,500cc FWB Coventry Climax engine for the 1956 season an obvious move, especially with the knowledge that a new 1,500cc Formula 2 would begin in 1957.
Built in early 1956, CS11/1/56 made its race debut at the 1956 Sebring 12 Hours. One of two entries by the Cooper Car Co. (USA), the Bobtail was driven by Leech Cracraft and Red Byron, one of the pioneering NASCAR drivers who won the first sanctioned race at Daytona Beach. Fitted with an 1100cc Coventry Climax FWA engine, the pairing contested the Sports 1.1 class, and came away with 21st overall after 12 hours, and 1st in class.
CS11/1/56 then went to Fred Sclavi in mid 1956 who campaigned the car with the following results:
20th May 1956 SCCA Cumberland 2nd
24th June 1956 SCAA Road America 1st
8th September 1956 Road America 4 Hours DNF
7th December 1956 Nassau 1100cc 7th
7th December 1956 Governor’s Trophy 2000cc 12th, 1st in class
22nd March 1958 Sebring 12 Hours DNA
4th May 1958 SCCA Virginia DNA
16th August 1958 SCCA Milwaukee DNF
Sclavi then sold CS11/1/56 to Charlie Kolb of Florida. Kolb raced CSII/1/56 during the 1959 season at the following events:
5th April 1959 SCCA Pensacola 5th, 1st in class
12th April 1959 SCCA Vineland 1st
19th April 1959 SCCA Malboro 1st
3rd May 1959 SCCA Virginia DNF
30th May 1959 Bridgehampton Handicap 1st
31st May 1959 SCCA Bridgehampton 3rd
23rd August 1959Vineland 4 Hours
26th September 1959 Watkins Glen GP DNA
Kolb later sold CS11/1/56 to R.C. Follows in Vancouver, Canada, who in turn sold the car to Wyn Zablauskas in Connecticut, before going to California with John Evans. From Evans, CS11/1/56 went to Gary Thieltges, California, then Carey Kendall, California, in 1993 before being bought by Mark Leonard of Grand Prix Classics. Leonard sold CS11/1/56 to Porsche collector, Dr. Julio Palmaz in Texas. Dr. Palmaz had Huffaker Racing prepare the car for racing through 1997 to 1998, at which time a 1500cc Coventry Climax FWB was prepared and fitted.
From Palmaz, CS11/1/56 went returned to England and was bought by the current owner in 2005, and FIA HTPs were granted in 2007. More recently, Brazell Engineering Limited went through the Cooper and ensured that it was FIA complaint for the then upcoming racing season in 2012. The gearbox was also rebuilt at this time, with new parts where necessary, and the invoices totalled over £25,000. Since then, the Cooper hasn’t been raced and remains in very tidy condition.
With its racing history including the class win at the 1956 Sebring 12 Hours, this is a highly eligible and desirable entry for a wide array of 50’s Sportscar and Pre-66 GT events including the Goodwood Revival and Le Mans Classic. Remaining very original and accompanied by its history file, including a 2005 letter of recognition from Mr. Richard Neale, President of the Cooper Car Club Ltd. Mr. Neale describes CS11/1/56 as being on it’s database since it’s inception, and as the car being in ‘very original restored condition and has an impeccable provenance and Sebring history”.