Available in California: Ex-Team Tyrell, Ex-McQueen Cooper T56 Formula Jr.
Let’s take a moment to set aside the provenance of Steve McQueen’s car collection and the fervor that the mere mention of his name seems to send rippling through the racing community. Let’s ignore that baggage for a moment: that baggage that makes people spend one-and-a-quarter million dollars on a bone stock 911S; that baggage that makes people spend 150K on a well-worn old husky 400. Let’s ignore all that… Just for a moment. Let’s simply look at this beautiful little Cooper T56 and let her hold her own without the Hollywood associations.
Let’s just look at it for what it is, because—like the 1970 911S and the 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross—this Cooper is a piece of motoring perfection that stands on its own just fine, thank you very much. Iconic design and racing lineage? Yep. There aren’t many machines with as close a familial tie to the rear-engined revolution and the Owen Maddock-designed T43 that shook open-wheeled racing to its very core when Jack Brabham took her to the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix.
Imagine the joy you would get walking up to this little piece of fantastic in your garage. Walking past that little ridge that flows along the engine cover that harkens to it’s larger cousin on the D-Type Jag and certainly to the mighty T51 that gave Cooper the constructor’s championship in 1959. Sure, you might not beat Jack Brabham’s 1959 Monaco GP fastest lap time of 1:40.4 with a 994cc BMC formula junior engine in place of the T51’s Cooper Climax. Then again, with the better tires you’d be running today, you might get close.
Ok. Let’s face the inevitable and bring Mr. McQueen back into the discussion. The truth is that this example of the T56 has a remarkable history even without the Cooler King. The car was one of the two Cooper Works cars campaigned by Team Tyrell in 1961. With Tony Maggs winning at Goodwood, Magny-Cours, Monza, Kalskoga, Rouen, Zandvoort, Oulton Park, and Montlhery this car won Tony and Team Tyrell the European Formula Junior Championship for the season. After the season, the car was returned to Cooper and subsequently snatched up by McQueen while Steve was in Europe pickup up a Mini Cooper and attending John Cooper’s racing school. After taking the T56 back to the States, Steve captured a few wins with her in California. Indeed, this may be the car and the string of races that finally alerted the studio to Steve’s dangerous extracurriculars that famously resulted in the ultimatum that continuing to race would be the end of his acting career. The bastards.
After Steve and this Cooper parted ways, the car continued on to greater successes stateside with Al ‘Buster’ Brizzard winning SCCA championships with this car (fitted alternately with the BMC, Alfa, or Cosworth engine). The car eventually made its way back to Steve McQueen’s racing mechanic, Skip McLaughlin, for many years before its magnificent restoration by Hardy Hall. Today the car is on offer from the Canepa Collection and looks ready to grid up at the Goodwood Revival.
Not bad. Not bad at all.