1961 Cooper T56 Mark II Formula Junior - Steve McQueen
This Cooper T-56 Formula Junior is one of only two Cooper Works cars campaigned by Team Tyrell for Cooper in 1961. At the hands of South African driver, Tony Maggs, it won eight races that season: Goodwood, Magny-Cours, Monza, Kalskoga, Rouen, Zandvoort, Oulton Park, and Montlhery. Those victories and other podium finishes gave Maggs, Cooper and Tyrrell the European Formula Junior Championship.
At the end of the 1961 season Tyrrell returned Magg's car to Cooper, who then refurbished the car and sold it to up-and-coming Hollywood actor, Steve McQueen in January of 1962. McQueen had attended Cooper's race school in England, and had become close friends with John Cooper. (Pictures of the two of them and the T-56 above.) McQueen would even stay in Cooper son's room when he visited. After becoming enamored with the championship car, McQueen purchased it, along with a Mini-Cooper, and had them both shipped back to California.
McQueen immediately began racing FJ-2-62 in California, scoring a number of victories, including the Santa Barbara street races. McQueen's performance in the car was so impressive that John Cooper personally invited him to come and test for a Formula drive in Europe.
When McQueen's Hollywood bosses learned about his "other job" they decided to intervene. In the pits right before his race at Laguna Seca studio lawyers showed up and asked him a question, "Are you a movie star or a race car driver? Choose."
McQueen had just finished his TV series "Wanted: Dead or Alive", and had made a huge splash starring in "The Magnificent Seven." With "The Great Escape" on the horizon, the studio wasn't about to take a risk with their new star. The ultimatum worked, and the King of Cool would go onto become a Hollywood icon, not an F1 driver. He wouldn't return to the track until he created his own studio, Solar Productions, where he was the boss, and the boss liked racing.
When McQueen made the decision to suspend his racing activities he left the car with his mechanic, Stanley Peterson, to put it up for sale. In 1963 Stanley sold the car to Al 'Buster' Brizzard, and extremely competitive driver in SCCA. He ran the car with the BMC engine in 1963, a Cosworth engine in 1964, and finally an Alfa-Romeo 1600 cc engine in 1965, winning the Pacific Coast Formula B Championship. He captured five straight wins with the Cooper, and its third championship title in five years.
Brizzard sold the Cooper to Robert Badilla in 1966, but reportedly bought it back again in 1977, still racing, but now with wings and wide tires. Skip McLaughlin, McQueen's original mechanic, was in possession of the car from 1980 into the 1990's and gathered a great deal of information on the car while in the process of restoration. Donald Sandy is noted as an owner in 2000, and the last owner acquired the car in October 2003, after its discovery was reported in Classic and Sports Car Magazine's Lost and Found section.
The owner commenced a profound restoration and engaged Hardy Hall Restorations, of Herefordshire, England to return FJ-2-62 to its Tyrrell / McQueen configuration of dark green with white roundels and stripes. It was restored from the ground up to race-ready condition. Any parts which were not up to that standard were replaced, rebuilt, or simply re-fabricated. An original and correct five-speed ERSA gearbox was found, and the car is fitted with the appropriate 1098 cc BMC engine.
The documentation file contains not only extensive photographic restoration documentation but also period photographs, including some with the "King of Cool," news clippings, invoices, ownership records, and correspondence with both Ken Tyrrell and John Cooper.
This T-56 is eligible for the Goodwood Revival, the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, and celebrated classic series in Europe, America, Australia, and New Zealand. With its successful, storied past that makes it unique among a mere 30-odd survivors and a race-ready restoration, the new owner can be assured that FJ-2-62 is as right now as it was over 50 years ago.
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