An Old Friend

Rediscovered an old friend at the Goodwood Revival meeting. Cooper MG NKC195 lined up for the Stirling Moss 80th birthday tribute and I confirmed with owner George Cooper that it belonged to Frank D Dundas, for whom I navigated many times on his local South of Scotland Car Club and my local Lanarkshire Car Club rallies in the 1950s. Most memorably we scored third in class on the 1955 Scottish Rally in Frank’s Morgan Plus 4, one of the first with the Triumph TR2 engine. I only did one event in the Cooper, as replacement for his regular navigator Jimmy Bogie, one of a rallying family still to the fore. The Cooper had minimal weather protection; it wasn’t suitable for the “plot and bash” events of the time. It was all right for the bash, but a bit inconvenient for plotting. It had a hood of sorts, and a proper windscreen not the aero screens it has now, but OS maps blew about a lot.

After Frank started rallying the Morgan PSM 508, the Cooper was consigned to the roof of his Dumfries agricultural building. I never knew at the time that Stirling Moss had driven it.

I came across the Cooper at service area on the M5 some years ago. It had been splendidly restored and repainted blue instead of bronze (maybe it was green). I had to look up Doug Nye’s Cooper Cars (Osprey 1983) for more detail. Cooper had been making 500cc racing single seaters, then in 1948-1949 John Cooper put a Vauxhall Ten engine into the front of a chassis, engineered much like one of the racers. It had box-section longerons and independent transverse leaf springing front and back.

Encouraged perhaps by George Phillips’s 1949 Le Mans MG, Cooper built another, like the Vauxhall, with an MG TC engine developed by Barwell Engineering to give 75bhp, against the standard car’s 55bhp. This became the works racing car and was driven by John Cooper to a second place at Goodwood in May 1950. In June, Nye says, Moss was available to drive the car at Goodwood, “but it proved fractious and he was only fifth. John took over – actually wearing Stirling’s helmet – in a five-lap handicap and finished second, setting fastest lap at 73.56mph. In the final members’ meeting of the year he at last achieved that elusive win, averaging 71.74mph for the five laps and topping 100mph along Lavant Straight.”

John Bolster road-tested the car afterwards, deciding the suspension was on the hard side but the ride still good on bad surfaces. “In cornering the machine really excels.” JV Bolster was almost as much of a hero as Stirling Moss. In the 1950s I had admired them both at a distance. Getting to know them later only enhanced the respect. Boisterous Bolster, melodramatic Moss. National Treasures and they both drove this astonishing little car, Frank Dundas’s Cooper MG and he either didn’t tell me or he didn’t know. Most likely he thought it didn’t much matter.

What a treat to see it at Goodwood and re-live a piece of history. That’s George Cooper and his lady wife Carol: " secretary, without her I would not be able to go anywhere," in the picture above. The one on the left in the vintage dress is number one Dymock daughter Charlotte. Frank Dundas, generous, engaging, warm-hearted to a Dumfries fault and a gifted driver, would have enjoyed the occasion.