The ex-Jim Russell, Mike McKee 1958 Cooper-Climax Type 45 Formula Two Single Seater

Chassis number: F2-8-58

In the austere years directly after World War 2, Charles Cooper and his son, John, founded the Cooper Car Company in Surbiton, South West of London. Having made racing increasingly accessible, the success of its innovative motorcycle-engined racing cars and for a decade seemingly unquenchable demand for replicas as far afield as the USA and Australia established Great Britain as the hub of the world’s industry.

Ten years after teenager Stirling Moss’ early wins in a Cooper-JAP single-seater in Formula 3, the maestro won the company’s first World Championship Grand Prix, defeating the might of Ferrari and Maserati in 1958’s Argentine Grand Prix in privateer Rob Walker’s nimble rear-engined Cooper-Climax. The writing was on the wall for the establishment, not from grandee manufacturers but artisan craftsmen toiling in a former police garage in Surrey. In ’59, Australian Jack Brabham won the F1 World Championship with the Cooper factory team, titles they successfully defended in 1960.

As 500cc F3 grew through the 1950s, by far its most successful driver was Jim Russell. Although hostilities had robbed his generation of its prime years, the gritty little Norfolk garage owner won the British F3 championship three years running, in 1955, ’56 and ’57, in Cooper-Nortons immaculately-prepared by Pip Preece and Mervyn Trundle in Downham Market. To enthuse others, Jim started a racing drivers’ school at nearby Snetterton in ’57, which became the world’s most celebrated training establishment, opening motor sport to the masses.

Already in his late 30s, by ’58 it was time to move on from F3. Offended by Charlie Cooper’s offer of the ‘number two’ works F2 drive, following occasional ‘trial’ outings in Alan Brown’s car the previous season, Russell decided to take them on. He ordered a Type 45 chassis – numbered F2-8-58, fitted with the state-of-the-art Coventry Climax FPF engine, the car was prepared by his own team – and Jim quickly found his feet in the 1500cc category.

Driving the highly polished aluminium-bodied car, with its distinctive black-topped ‘anti-glare’ prow, Russell debuted at Aintree’s BARC 200 feature (for F1 and F2 cars) on April 19, 1958, finishing 12th overall in a race won by Moss by a whisker from Brabham in F1-engined Coopers. Tenth overall, fourth of the 1500cc finishers, followed in Silverstone’s BRDC International Trophy which was won by Peter Collins in a wailing Ferrari Dino 246.

Jim scored his first F2 win at Crystal Palace in the first Anerley Trophy heat in July, and started from pole on home soil at Snetterton before retiring. International successes included first time abroad in the Berlin GP on the East German city’s fearsome high-speed AVUS road course – dual carriageway sides linked by hairpins – and the wet Coupe du Salon at Paris’ Montlhèry circuit after a spin demonstrated Jim’s legendary racecraft, unbreakable determination and indomitable spirit.

In Germany Brabham, outflanked in the opening heat, stopped on the final lap of the deciding leg, whereupon Russell followed suit rather than pass and opened himself to being slipstreamed. Bizarrely, first past the chequered flag in the opener was Masten Gregory in a wind-cheating Porsche RSK, also eligible for the F2 class through promotors’ option. Porsche and Borgward sportscars (most of which were given their own heat) took the top five places on aggregate, with Russell sixth and top single-seater driver. 

Russell had well and truly arrived in F2 and, determined to capitalise, updated his T45 with disc brakes and a different livery in ’59. Renowned for his wet weather prowess, Jim started the season strongly, third in Goodwood’s Lavant Cup race presaging victory in Oulton Park’s British Empire Trophy event and the 1500cc classification of the International Trophy at Silverstone. He also reset the outright lap record at Snetterton in an epic Formule Libre scrap with his old F3 rival and double Le Mans winner, Ivor Bueb, in a Lister-Jaguar.

Russell was in with a strong chance of winning the F2 title, with the prospect of graduation to F1 in the final year of the 2.5-litre regulations with a new larger Coventry-Climax FPF engine, when he suffered third degree burns and numerous broken bones in a fiery accident at Le Mans in his class-leading Cooper Monaco, which works F1 driver Bruce McLaren had co-driven.

Saved by the skill of medics and his own fighting fortitude, Jim returned to race again, and built his school business. While he was recovering, ‘star pupil’ turned chief instructor Mike McKee – whose father Kenneth was the surgeon who fixed Russell’s smashed leg – was entered in F2-8-58 in 1960. McKee junior was fast but mercurial, nonetheless he finished sixth overall (second in class) in the Silver City Trophy F1/F2 race at Snetterton. He won at Aintree and Snetterton’s Vanwall Trophy race and finished second at Oulton Park, but back at Snetterton retired from the Lombank Trophy F1/F2 race.

With the 1500cc Formula 2 formula finishing at the end of 1960, F2-8-58 does not appear to have been used in 1961. Mckee advertised the car in the December 1961 edition of Autosport magazine. It is thought that the car was bought from this advertisement by South African Dave Hume and certainly by 1962 the car was actively racing in SA. From Hume the car passed to Neville Austin and onto Alex Blignault who had a racing accident in the car in around 1965. By now F2-8-58 was simply an outdated racing car, as such Blignault removed the parts of the car he had an immediate use for and decided to bury the rest of it at his farm. The car remained with Blignault hidden from view, until South African Cooper enthusiast Lew Baker was able to purchase the car from him and disinter it. Baker in turn sold the project to well-known Cooper collector and restorer Sydney domiciled South African Ivan Glasby during the 1980s. Glasby commenced the cars restoration before selling it onto  seasoned historic racer Tasmanian Scotty Taylor in 2003, who completed the restoration, with bodywork by highly respected Sydney specialists Natoli Panel Creations and restored back to its 1958 colours. The distinctive Cooper T45 served Mr Taylor well in Historic events for many years. During much of this period the car has been looked after by highly respected Cooper Specialists Hoole Racing.

With illustrious period participation in Grand Prix, F1 and F2 events, plus successful period Goodwood outings on its CV, F2-8-58 is of course eligible for Monaco Historique, Goodwood Revival and many other of the best historic racing events world-wide. This represents an unmissable opportunity to acquire a competitive 1500cc example of Owen Maddock’s design in which the founder of the world-famous Jim Russell Racing Drivers’ School achieved so much success. Offered with FIA HTP valid until 2026.

John Polson