Tracking Down American Racing History, One Cooper Monaco At A Time
We were excited when our colleague Jarrah Venables recently told us that he had a cool barn-find story about a rather historic sports racing car, a suitable reaction to hearing such news. The car in question, which has been hiding in a quiet town in upstate New York for decades, is the ex-Roger Penske/Dan Gurney/Tim Mayer Cooper Monaco Sports Mk3. This sleek early-‘60s fin-tailed racer is a fantastic piece of American sports car and motorsport history, and Jarrah is now working to find it a new home, one where it can be brought back to its former winning glory. He elaborates on the car’s history up to this point—in other words, it’s been around.
I have to take you back in time a few years to 2015, when I had been searching for cars for the Bruce McLaren tribute at that year’s Goodwood Revival that I was coordinating. Most of his significant machines had been found already, but the unique “Zerex Special” Cooper that Penske had bought from Bruce, modified and used to great success proved elusive. After speaking to most people I could think of who might have a lead on such a car, I focused efforts on web research and eventually turned up a clue as to a possible name of the current owner. I idly looked him up on Facebook thinking I’d probably draw a blank, but lo and behold there he was! Still, I figured the person who mentioned his name may have gotten it wrong or if this was in fact the right guy, that he very well may not reply to my message at all—who’d have thought Facebook would prove useful in tracking down a car! Later on day in fact, I got a reply from the owner and we traded a few messages back and forth about his Penske Zerex Special before I asked for a current photo. Two things disappointed me when I got the photos; first, that it was in a decidedly “barn-find” condition and had been partially disassembled ages ago, and second, that it was not in fact the Zerex Special, but something else.
The owner wasn’t a car collector, but said his father absolutely bought the car from the Mayer estate sometime in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, but that he couldn’t be sure of the specifics beyond that as he was so young at the time, and alas neither of his elderly parents remembered that period in detail either. All he knew was that the car had been bought from Roger Penske by the Mayers in 1962, raced a bit, then mothballed when Timmy Mayer tragically lost his life in an accident testing in Tasmania in 1964. Since Penske’s Cooper was known as the Zerex Special, he figured this must be the same car.
I explained that this couldn’t be true, as the car in his garage was a two-seater, while the Zerex was actually a Formula 1 Cooper T53 which, due to a loophole in the rulebook, had been converted into a single-seat closed-wheel sports racer for the 1962 SCCA season in the ‘States. If the car had been owned and raced by Penske though, it must in fact be the “Telar Special,” which he had raced with success in 1961 and 1962 before switching to the Zerex. By the way, in case you were wondering where the two names came from, Telar and Zerex were Dupont brands, who sponsored Roger.
The Telar Special was one of three Mk3 Monacos built by Cooper for the 1961 season. These cars were in effect significantly upgraded versions of the already successful Mk2, with fully independent suspension, straight chassis tubing, and a more aerodynamic body with striking fins being noticeable differences compared to previous versions. The first car went to Texan Hap Sharp, the second to Penske (chassis CM-2-61) and the third to Brit Peter Berry. Penske put his car to good use straight away, scoring a 2nd place at Indianapolis Raceway Park on the 20th of August 1961. During 1961 and 1962 Penske raced CM-2-61 a total of seventeen times, scoring four victories, four 2nd place finishes, and two 3rd place finishes. These fabulous performances led to him winning the Class D Modified discipline in the SCCA National Sports Car Championships in 1961 and 1962. When Penske moved onto his new car, the Cooper Zerex Special, in late 1962, he sold CM-2-61 to the Mayer family for rising star Timmy Mayer to race with.
Mayer drove the car nine times during 1962 and ’63, everywhere from the US, to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and in the UK, notching up best finishes of a 2nd and two 3rd places along the way, whilst the legendary Dan Gurney made a guest appearance in it for the 1963 Player’s 200 at Mosport, finishing 3rd. In summary, CM-2-61 is one of the most significant and successful Cooper Monacos to race in America, and as such it is a very special piece of sports car racing history. Hopefully it can look the part again soon enough.