1949 1130cc NORJAP Engine John Bennett
Built by Robin Jackson for Cooper MK6 racing car Prescott Hill Climb 2008
The principal attraction of this MK.VI Cooper is the adoption of its historic engine, which has excelled in three different variants of Cooper cars since 1951. The design was originally conceived in 1950 by the remarkable Brooklands engineer Robin Jackson, who was responsible for many successful cars including the Friekaserwagon which was driven by Joe Fry when it took the long standing record at Shelsley from Raymond Mays in 1949. The engine was built to the order of Ray Merrick who installed it in his MKIV Cooper and was based on the normally aspirated 1100 racing J.A.P. engine of the period. The crankcases were suitably modified and the original Alfin barrels were used with twin B.T.H. magnetos but little else from the J.A.P. was used. Jackson produced his own flywheels, conrods and large capacity oil pump. SOOcc S.O.H.C. Manx Norton cylinder heads with racing cam boxes were used. The usual Norton bevel gear drive assembly was utilised which just fitted into the J.A.P. timing chest. Two 1949 SOOcc Manx Nortons had to be purchased (at great expense) for the project as the Norton Works would never supply their engines to the car racing fraternity ! The resulting 1130cc engine was claimed to produce 125 B.H.P. but this seems unlikely. This car was circuit raced by Ray often beating many fast cars including the George Abercassis H.W.M. and the very fast 3.8 litre supercharged Alfa Romeo of Dennis Poore during 1951. It also distinguished itself at Goodwood, Boreham and Snetterton as well as gaining the track record at Ibsley.
The next owner was Bill Sleeman who then hill climbed the car. In 1955 Nancy Mitchell gained the ladies record at Prescott driving this car. Unfortunately, also in 1955 Bill Sleeman was killed at Bouley Bay in his Cooper whilst lying second in the hill climb championship that year. Prior to his untimely accident, Bill had arranged for his friend Doug Haig to fit a Shorrocks Supercharger to the engine (which I still have, with a view to possibily fitting later). The engine in its new guise came into the possession of Doug Haig, who fitted it to his long chassis MK VIII Cooper, which had been modified by Kieft Engineering. Doug then hill climbed the car for two seasons before eventually selling it in September 1963 to Ernie Woods with the Cooper trailer for £275.
Ernie was a well known J.A.P. engine builder, tuner and sprinter of some repute. He had also raced Cammy Nortons at Brooklands before the war. The car was eventually sold but Ernie retained the engine which, by this time, had endured a very hard life. In 1995 I purchased my MKVI Cooper (which had also had a hard life!) from David Stevenson and proceeded to research the history of the car. I eventually found that Ernie Woods had once owned the car, and during conversation with him the subject of the NorJap engine was raised, which it transpired had remained in pieces on his bench in a forlorn state. The suggestion was made that it would fit very nicely into my long chassis MKVI and would I like to view it and make him an offer after my holiday in Ireland was over. Of course, I couldn't wait! Unfortunately, Ernie died soon afterwards but I was approached by his son Steven who knew of my interest in the engine and asked if I would like to visit him in Milton Keynes to discuss a deal. I therefore made the visit with my son Andrew and the deal was made. A lot of work was necessary to rebuild the engine but all the parts and a whole mass of documentation relevant to the engine were there, including Robin Jackson's original working drawing of the project.
The Bennett family have for thirty years been building and racing Cammy Nortons, A.J.S. 7R's and of late building and racing replica works racing Benelli motorbikes, so the prospect of rebuilding the Cooper and NorJap engine although quite a challenge went fairly smoothly - but it was a lengthy process! After tremendous help from both my sons, Andrew and Ian, the Cooper NorJap emerged from my workshop earlier this year and after just a few teething problems seems to "go like a bomb" and will be competing in a few favored events this season after many years absence.