John Cooper and Rauno Aaltonnen were crucial to the monumental success of classic quick Minis.
John Cooper with a 1994 Mini Cooper Grand Prix limited edition.
AS a tiny yet incredibly roomy, low-priced two-door passenger car for the masses, the original 1959 Mini Minor was technically far superior to most cars of its era. The car’s simple little 4-cylinder 8-valve 848cc engine (no overhead camshafts) shares its oil with the sump-mounted 4-speed gearbox, the chassis is sprung on variable-rate rubber springs, and the 10-inch wheels are mounted on hubs with basic drum brakes at all four corners. Maximum speed of the 34bhp Mini is catalogued at 116km/h.
Formula One constructor John Newton Cooper (1923-2000), whose racecars won the 1959 and 1960 Formula One World Championships, realised that the Mini possesses innate handling qualities thanks to its front-drive traction, low centre of gravity and compact dimensions. With the cooperation of BMC (Mini’s manufacturer), John’s Cooper Car Company modified the Mini’s engine by adding a carburettor, increasing valve size and raising the compression ratio. Engine capacity was enlarged to 998cc and the result was a 62 percent increase in power
Rauno Aaltonnen with a 2015 MINI John Cooper Works.
Thus was born the first Mini Cooper. A 1275cc “S” version followed soon after, and it became a giant slayer on racing circuits all over the world during the 1960s and 1970s. In Singapore, it was a hot favourite with every motoring enthusiast and anyone wanting to modify a cheap car. Mini Coopers were inexpensive and reliable, even after extensive modifications with bolt-on kits. A standard 1275cc 4-cylinder Cooper S boasts 76bhp and 107Nm.
With high-lift camshaft, bigger valves, even higher compression and twin Weber carburettors, these lively Minis could easily attain 100bhp and sprint to 100km/h in under 10 seconds. On lowered suspension, the Cooper S could run rings around many bigger and more powerful cars. Rauno Aaltonnen ran rings around his rivals. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the charismatic Finn raced in a variety of cars in many gruelling events. His most famous victory was at the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally, which he tackled in a Mini Cooper S. Rauno wasn’t just a fast driver.
He understood automotive technology and the engineering that went into a racecar. For instance, his Cooper S that won in Monte Carlo was fitted with half throttle bodies because the rules prohibited non-standard intake manifolds, and the stock Weber carburettor just wouldn’t fit. On many occasions, Rauno and his co-driver had to perform urgent vehicle repairs in the middle of a rally stage. Once, they had to escape from a flaming, overturned rally car. These days, 77-year-old Rauno spends his winters with his son at his own high-speed ice-driving school in Finland. He continues to drive with all the pace and passion of his younger days.