A preview from "Around the Raceway"

The Neville Cooper Story

Gordon Stephenson (left) and Neville Cooper (right) on the roof of the Cecchele Motors Alfa after placing fourth outright in the 1966 Six Hour Race. (Neville Cooper Collection)
On the grid at Geraldton in 1965, in PK752, the ex-Norm Beechey Holden. (Neville Cooper Collection)
PK752 in all its glory at Caversham, Neville Cooper having fun. (Neville Cooper Collection)
With PK752 at Calder Raceway, shortly before the Sandown accident. (Ellis French)

Born in 1942, Neville Cooper was 15 years old when his older brothers took him to Caversham for the 1957 Australian Grand Prix. He has vivid memories of the intense heat and the huge crowd, and the drinks sellers who ran out of soft drinks and were reduced to selling the icewater from the big coolers to a thirsty public. He was hooked on motor racing from that moment, and longed to drive a Grand Prix car. (This dream was fulfilled in 1968 when his friend Gordon Stephenson let him do 20 or so laps of Caversham in the ex-Don O'Sullivan Cooper Climax, an unforgettable experience.)

Around the age of 20, he at last ventured into motor sport, having a dash in a Morgan sports car, and simultaneously taking out a pilot's licence. The contest between flying and racing was won by racing, and Neville was able to buy Norm Beechey's famous FX Holden, PK 752 (so known from the number plate). Beechey was extremely helpful and supplied Neville with details of all the mods and tricks, and Neville found some of his own. With the help of an aviation engineer friend, he found a way to reduce the risk of crankshaft breakage, always a problem with the Holden grey motor, thus allowing him a reliable 6,000 rpm.

He ran the Holden very successfully in Western Australia, before venturing east with a view to living in Melbourne and racing more professionally. Here he discovered there were a lot more tricks to learn, receiving generous, unstinting help from Norm Gown, Beechey and other top Holden drivers of the time. The car was easily the most powerful and fastest "humpy" Holden in a straight line, but he couldn't afford racing tyres and had to settle for radials, so the other guys could take him in the corners.

Eventually he crashed the car and destroyed it at Sandown. Out of hospital, and out of money, he came back to WA to rebuild his fortunes. By 1966 he was racing a fast HD Holden, and was recruited to co-drive the Cecchele Motors Alfa GTV in the Six Hour race, where they placed fourth outright behind Ron Thorp (Cobra), Ted Lisle (Cooper S), and Stan Starcevich (Holden EH). This was the beginning of a long association with the Alfa Romeo marque. In 1967 he was back at the Six Hour, this time sharing a new Fiat 125 with Max Fletcher. Towards the end of the race he rolled the Fiat, but got it back on its wheels. In the pits the windscreen was kicked out, and Max Fletcher finished the race. Amazingly, despite the crash, they placed 5th outright.

A vigorous race at Wanneroo Park in the XU-1 (Neville Cooper Collection)
The ex-John French Alfa GTV Ford V8, which Neville raced for a season or two before Peter Gillon bought it. After two years with Peter, it was bought back for further successful campaigning. (Neville Cooper Collection)
1979, the Wanneroo 300 km race (Wells/WASCC collection)

When Wanneroo Park opened in 1968 he joined the Series Production circus with an XU-1, which being very nose heavy understeered mightily until he worked out a cure. After that he was back in an Alfa, this time for Basil Ricciardello in the Alfa Romeo GTA formerly raced by Gordon Stephenson, now with bigger wheels and more development. After another crash in this much-crashed car, another Alfa was acquired - the ex-John French GTV with the Ford V8 engine, (which fitted in the engine bay with surprising ease). This was eventually sold to Peter Gillon, who raced it for two years, before being bought back by Ricciardello and Cooper in partnership, and it was driven by Cooper to an outright win in the 1979 Wanneroo 300 km race. The GTV-Ford was a very fast car, and in the the Sports Sedan category in 1980 he fought many close battles with Wayne Negus. Unlike many drivers, he loved handicaps and reverse grid races, because he relished close combat. In the 1980 Australian Sports Sedan Championship round held in Perth, Neville was the fastest of the Western Australian contingent.

Neville Cooper would have driven the Ricciardello Alfetta GTV Chev sports sedan when it appeared, but Neville is very tall, and the driving position in the car was very small. Brian Smith got that drive, and later of course Basil's son Tony Ricciardello took over with enormous success.

By 1982 Neville had all but retired after just on 20 years of active and exciting racing. Recently he re-appeared in a Westfield clubman for sprints, but the laid-back straight arm driving position aggravated an old shoulder injury, so it was soon replaced by a more comfortable Mazda MX-5.

Neville Cooper (right) at the 2005 reunion of Caversham drivers, with Rod Style Jr (Terry Walker)
At the June 2008 Sprint in the Westfield, nursing a very painful shoulder (Terry Walker)