The ex-Bob Drake, Joe Lubin 1955 Cooper-Climax Type 39 ‘Bobtail’

Unknowingly, at that stage, building towards Formula 1 World Championship glory in 1959-’60, the Cooper Car Company of Surbiton, England, was plugging away building 500cc F3 cars to satisfy global demand when the commercial availability of Coventry-Climax’s fire pump-derived 1098cc single overhead camshaft FWA engine proved a game-changer. One which would quickly open Charles Cooper’s eyes to the ultimate prize as the basis of a pukka F2 challenger. 

From the pen of Owen Maddock, Cooper’s first volume-produced small-capacity sportscar, the transverse leaf-sprung T39, was essentially a streamlined tube-frame single-seater chassis which, on its introduction in 1955, carried the Climax FWA engine mated to a Citroen-based ERSA gearbox. With its truncated tail, the model was quickly nicknamed ‘Bobtail,’ which stuck. A vestigial perch beneath a hatch in the left-hand sponson was capable of taking a small passenger, thus satisfied regulations. Indeed some were driven, two-up, to race meetings.

Despite being pushed along by around 75bhp, the slippery drum-braked featherweights would pull around 125mph and handled superbly, making for an attractive and competitive package. Ivor Bueb and future race school king Jim Russell’s successes in factory-run cars – countering the might of Colin Chapman’s Lotus 11s – were eagerly added to by private entrants. Edgar Wadsworth/ John Brown ambitiously debuted theirs in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and finished!

For 1956 the stretched 1460cc Climax FWB engine brought greater success and more orders for the Lotus eaters. Russell, Roy Salvadori and Michael MacDowel raced the factory cars and Stirling Moss won the British Empire Trophy race at Oulton Park in MacDowel’s, before briefly owning one. Others contested the Sebring 12 Hours in the USA, the World Championship TT in Northern Ireland, Goodwood Nine Hours and Le Mans.

The model proved popular, with a total production of circa 50 – original Cooper records were lost, so the precise number eludes even marque experts among detectives – emerging from the Hollyfield Road factory over a period of two and a bit years. For that reason, compounded by not every car being issued with a chassis ID plate, pinpointing the histories of numerous individual cars has proved difficult in the intervening period.

Not so with this example, the provenance of which is exemplary. Supplied to Cooper’s US West Coast agent Joe Lubin of Los Angeles in late 1955. When Lubin retired the Bobtail from racing it was placed on display at his office on Firestone Boulevard in Los Angeles for many years. The car was subsequently sold by his family to veteran Tasmanian racer Scotty Taylor 52 years later.

Lubin entered the car, proudly carrying America’s white and blue national colours into battle, for Bob Drake, one of the West Coast’s leading sportscar drivers of the period, who had enjoyed success over many years in Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and most famously Maserati ‘Birdcage’ sportscars owned by wealthy entrants. He subsequently successfully saddled Max Balchowsky’s celebrated, and extremely hairy, V8 special Ol’ Yeller IV.

Drake competed in the little Cooper over five seasons, winning first at Palm Springs in ’56. He also scored victories at Paramount Ranch, Santa Barbara and Pomona. While many of the events contested were regionals, the combo also finished 10th in the GP of Riverside 200-miler in October ’58 and a USAC Road Racing Championship round at Pomona in ’59. Other tracks frequented included Stockton, San Diego and Del Mar. At many of these venues he battled with drivers of the calibre of Pedro Rodriguez and Ken Miles for wins.

During Scotty Taylor’s subsequent ownership the car benefitted from much work by highly respected Cooper specialist Hoole Racing, including the building of a fresh engine incorporating a new cylinder block and head. Treated to a body-off restoration in 2017, its 1460cc Coventry-Climax FWB engine, like the ERSA transaxle it drives through, were refreshed during the renovation programme. Requiring only final race preparation to suit a new owner, this Bobtail would make an ideal and potentially very competitive entrant for the world’s leading historic motor sport events including Le Mans Classic, Goodwood Revival, the Woodcote Trophy, FISCAR and countless other races and series around the globe.

John Polson