The start of the 3-litre era
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W Summer 2001 issue
- Joakim Bonnier - Bonnier takes BRM by the horns, by Felix Muelas/Leif Snellman/Mattijs Diepraam
- Rob Walker - The ultimate privateer, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Guy Ligier - Broad-shouldered man from Vichy becomes pride of France, by Mattijs Diepraam
Anglo-Suisse Racing Cooper-Maserati T81
XVIII BRDC International Trophy (14 May 1966)
A wonderful picture of Jo's impeccably finished 3-litre Cooper T81, prepared to take the start of the 1966 International Trophy. His glory days with BRM now firmly a thing of the past Bonnier had long since morphed into a privateer also-ran.
On the waves of the success of his 1959 Dutch GP win, that one special occasion when he proved to be untouchable, Jo joined Porsche for their works assault on Grand Prix racing but very much played second fiddle to Dan the Man. After Porsche's pull-out he swapped to Rob Walker's leading private outfit, to race there for three years having taken over from Moss' replacement Maurice Trintignant. And now, at the start of the new 3-litre formula, Bonnier set up his own outfit, which under various guises would allow him to keep his toe in F1 with equipment of gradually declining quality until 1971, the year before his fatal Le Mans accident, while continuing to build on his blossoming sportscar career.
Since his works involvement with BRM Jo had not seen much success. He picked up the odd point for Porsche in the World Championship and repeated those kind of performances for Walker in 1963 and '64 while doing a steady job for the Germans and Rob in several non-championship outings. His last podium came in the 1962 Kanonloppet at Karlskoga, finishing third in the Porsche 804. Since then, fourths and fifths were Jo's best performances. In 1965 Jo Siffert joined the Swede at RRC Walker Racing Team and immediately eclipsed his more experienced team mate.
Then came the International Trophy, a reasonably well entered race but one that was suffering from that well-known disease of 1966: lack of pukka 3-litre cars. With Cooper going an unusual route in picking the old Maserati Tipo 9 2.5-litre engine and boring it out to 3 litres - although it wasn't that unusual given the fact that John Cooper had sold out to the British Maserati importers, the Chipstead Group - they were among the few that had a full if not quite such a powerful 3-litre car ready for the first season under the new regs. And they sold it to all interested parties, which probably stretched their resources too thin for the works effort to be a success - but that's another story. Among their first customers were Guy Ligier, Jo Bonnier and Rob Walker.
It was Jo's first outing in the car, as the International Trophy was scheduled a week before the World Championship would get underway at Monaco. In other words, a perfect occasion to get F1-5-66 rubbed in. Ligier (F1-4-66) and Walker (F1-1-66 in interim T80 spec, and F1-2-66, both for Siffert) were there as well with their new T81s - Cooper's first monocoque - along with the works cars of Ginther (F1-6-66) and Rindt (F1-3-66). Interestingly, Cooper team manager Roy Salvadori also got an entry as the alternative driver for Ginther's car.
The other 3-litre cars were the two Ferraris of Surtees and Bandini, Jack Brabham's brand-new Repco 620-engined BT19 (with Hulme still in the FPF-engined BT11) and the Lotus-BRM 43 driven by Peter Arundell. The rest of the entry was made up by Bob Anderson's Brabham-Climax BT11, John Taylor's David Bridges-entered BRM-engined BT11, two old Lotuses entered by Reg Parnell for Paul Hawkins (25-R3, Climax FPF) and Mike Spence (33-R13, BRM 56), another old Lotus 25 entered by Paul Emery for Trevor Taylor and reserve driver John Markey, with three drivers sharing the entry of the Chamaco Collect BRM P261 in which Bob Bondurant would take a surprise 4th one week later: Bondurant, car owner Vic Wilson (who got to drive it in the race) and… Innes Ireland (but for PR purposes only!). The rare bird in the field was John Lewis' Ted Martin-entered Lotus 24 which was powered by Martin's own V8.
In practice Jo did well to qualify 6th, ahead of works Cooper driver Ginther, although pole man Brabham - already showing the form that would make him the new World Champion - was nearly three seconds up on the Swede's time. John Surtees' Ferrari was 0.2s slower than the Brabham-Repco (what a title fight that would have been), with Rindt's Cooper a further 0.8s behind. Mike Spence was a surprising fourth in his 1.9-litre Lotus-BRM, with Denny Hulme fifth in the old BT11. In occordance with Emery's record, Trevor Taylor did not make an appearance, his Lotus not ready in time. Nor was the Martin-engined Lotus of John Lewis, who also was a no-show. The same applied to Arundell's Lotus with its troublesome H16 BRM. So in total, a disappointing number of 13 cars took the grid, Anderson, Taylor (John), Wilson, Ligier, Hawkins and Siffert (with no time) forming the rest of the field.
The 35-lap race became a straight fight between Brabham and Surtees, the two best cars of the field setting a scorching pace, with the Aussie taking fastest lap at 1.29.8s, a time that equalled his pole time! At the finish Black Jack had inched out a gap of eight seconds to Surtees. Through four retirements (Spence, the Coopers of Ginther and Siffert, Wilson in the BRM) and a flagging Cooper causing Rindt a delay a steady drive by Bonnier - in the only Cooper that worked properly all the way to the line - got him the remaining place on the podium, a full one-and-a-half minute behind Brabham, but unlapped. He had to race Denny Hulme for it, though, who was hot on his heels in fourth. Rindt finished a distant and lapped fifth, with Taylor, Anderson and Hawkins the remaining finishers, all several laps down.
It was to be Jo's last podium in Grand Prix racing. In the years following he would score the occasional World Championship point - a fifth in a one-off for Honda in Mexico in his last full F1 season in 1968 giving him his last two - but he would never again feature prominently in single-seater racing.
Reader's Why by Richard Armstrong
Jo Bonnier was probably looking forward to the 1966 season when this picture was taken. He had just taken delivery of this Cooper and had set up his own team, which he called the Anglo-Suisse Racing Team. This was to be his first race in the Cooper, which was thought at the time to be a good bet as a competitive car in the new 3-litre formula. Bonnier no doubt expected to pick up a few placings as a privateer in Championship races, but this first race would turn out to provide his best result in the T81, which he campaigned until the beginning of 1968. Here at Silverstone he finished third, a lap behind Jack Brabham's BT19 and John Surtees' Ferrari 312.
The colour scheme is probably unique, being modelled on Cooper's own design, which was of course green and white, but with the red and white of Switzerland substituted. Bonnier was actually Swedish, but had lived in Switzerland for tax reasons for several years and ran his own art gallery in Lausanne. Born in 1930, he was a member of a well-known Swedish publishing family, but after taking his degree at Oxford he failed to find a role in the family firm and instead joined the Swedish navy. Jo took part in his first rally at the age of 18 and had a five-year career on the gravel before graduating to ice racing with an Alfa Romeo Disco Volante in 1953. Success on the ice led to him becoming Alfa Romeo's distributor in Sweden in 1954 and he moved on to circuit racing with Alfa Romeo GT and touring cars soon afterwards. He also acquired a Maserati 150S sports car and graduated to Formula 1 in 1956 with a one-off drive in a Maserati 250F in the Italian GP. Sporadic appearances in 1957 were followed by a full season in 1958, his last two races being in a works BRM P25.
Bonnier spent the next two years with BRM, famously scoring their first, and his only, Championship Grand Prix win in the 1959 Dutch GP. In Formula 2 he drove for Porsche, winning the 1960 German GP in a torrential downpour, possibly his finest-ever drive. He also co-drove a Porsche RS60 to victory in the 1960 Targa Florio with Graham Hill and Hans Herrmann, a feat he repeated in 1963 with Carlo Abate, this time in a Porsche RS62. Bonnier switched to the new Porsche Formula 1 team for 1961 and 1962 alongside Dan Gurney, with even less success in terms of results than his team-mate. For the next three years he drove for Rob Walker, becoming increasingly involved with the newly-formed Grand Prix Drivers' Association, of which he was President - he campaigned for greater safety in motor racing alongside much younger drivers like Jackie Stewart who were just making their way in the sport. This earned him a certain amount of criticism from some dyed-in-the-wool 'old school' writers, but the safety concerns he raised were entirely justified and the number of drivers saved by his initiatives can only be guessed at - it must run into the hundreds, if not thousands.
By 1966 Bonnier's Formula 1 career was in decline, but he proved to still be a force in sports cars when the mood took him, scoring notable wins with Graham Hill in the 1964 Reims 12 Hours in a Ferrari 275LM/P and with Phil Hill in the 1966 Nürburgring 1000 Km in a Chaparral 2D.
In 1968 he replaced the Cooper with the unique McLaren M5A-BRM, scoring a sixth place in Italy. Its engine expired in practice in Mexico and Jo had a one-off drive in a spare works Honda, finishing fifth. The McLaren was then pensioned off and exhibited in his gallery. It was later mounted on the wall of the lounge in his house - quite a conversation piece!
1969 and 1970 saw Bonnier making only occasional appearances in Formula 1, but he was reinvigorated in sports cars, co-driving a Lola T70 with Herbert Müller to a second place in the 1969 Austrian GP and taking a solo win in the Prix de Paris. In 1970 he drove a Lola T210 in the new European 2-litre Sports Car Championship, clinching both the Group 6 class and the overall title. The following year he ran a Lola T212 and won the Barcelona 1000Km with his young compatriot Ronnie Peterson.
Still racing hard at the age of 42, Bonnier bought a new Lola T280 for 1972, but in an ironic twist of fate the man who had done so much for motor racing safety was to die in a racing car. At Le Mans, where Bonnier actually led the race for a short while, he was approaching the Indianapolis corner in the dark when his Lola hit the Ferrari Daytona of Florian Vetsch and was launched high into the air, scything through the treetops before crashing to earth again, shattered into countless pieces: he was killed instantly.
The winning car at Le Mans that year was a Matra MS670 driven by Henri Pescarolo and Graham Hill. Hill had been Bonnier's team-mate in 1960 at both Porsche and BRM, and they had shared many sports car drives: it must have been a hollow victory for Graham as he completed his unique treble of World Championship, Indianapolis and Le Mans.