John Cotter sets the record straight on BMC Australia’s Competition Department.
A young mechanic stands on the podium, a bottle of champagne in his hand. He wears a clean jumper, and overalls that are grimy from the day’s work. He shares a laugh with drivers Rauno Aaltonen and Bob Holden, victors in the gruelling Bathurst 500-mile race, and fellow mechanic Andy Handwright.
The young mechanic is John Cotter, and he describes this moment as “the thrill of a lifetime”.
“There’s not that many people who can say they worked for the race team that won Bathurst. It was a great feeling”, John recalled recently. It was a feeling he was to experience again, 33 years later when he was boss of the motorsport division at Volvo and Rickard Ridell and Jim Richards won the race. “It was a long time between drinks”, John admits.
“The leading technician of the winning car should be recognised, today. At least him, if not some of the other guys”, John says. “They’re the guys who put in all the sweat and they don’t get much out of it if they don’t win. Not that I’m knocking the drivers, they do a fair bit of work, but as far as the mechanics, why not? They all play an important part. It only takes one of them to stuff up the whole race, so they’ve got a fair bit of responsibility.”
John began an apprenticeship with BMC in March 1961, the same month the Mini was released onto the Australian market. He was the first BMC apprentice to go right through his training as a mechanic, as he explains. “Most of the guys were fitters and turners. When I went for my interview, old Tommy Jessop said they didn’t want any mechanics, they only wanted fitters and turners. I said if that was the case I didn’t want the job. Anyway, he took me on, so it went from there.”
After a couple of months in the training school John did stints in various factory departments, as was the norm. “We did a three-month stint in the company garage, in vehicle proving, service workshop, and so-on.”
Toward the end of 1963 John moved to the new BMC Competition Department, set up under the umbrella of the PR Department, and recently appointed PR Manager Evan Green and Apprentice School Manager Alan Kemp.
Although we have reported in the past that the Competition Department was not officially its own entity, and run only as part of the PR Department to prepare rally cars when not doing press cars and the like, John emphatically says that is not the case. “If anyone says the Competition Department at BMC didn’t exist, I’m here to tell you it did. I know, because I was the first mechanic employed to work in it.”
“It was a separate department. We had our own space in the factory. We started in the Service Workshop, then we went to the old parts Spare Parts office. They moved all the desks out, and moved the Parts Department out to Moorebank, and then we had an area in the office where we used to work on rally cars, on the beautiful Lino floors.”
“Every car that was in any competition or any promotional run, went through Competition Department, and they were fully built by us...
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 26 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>45</plumshop> <plumshop>46</plumshop>