Ivan Glasby - Cooper S

Although it took 30 years, the rebuilding of this Cooper S is symbolic of the rebuilding of Ivan Glasby’s life in Australia.

The Mini holds a special place in Ivan’s life, most notably because he won the 1969 Rhodesian Touring Car Championship in it. It is also because it was the first Mini he raced as part of a family team including his father Eric and brother Bruce.

Eric did an apprenticeship with a Morris dealership in the 1930s, before working as an engine fitter in the Rhodesian Air Force during the War – his squadron leader was the future Prime Minister, Ian Smith. Returning from the War, Eric set up a Morris sub-dealership, also handling Riley, Wolseley and Morris commercials.

He was avidly involved in racing and during the 1950s raced a Cooper Bristol and Morris Minor. Around this time, BMC set up a factory at Umtali in Southern Rhodesia, assembling various models from CKD packs. Minis, including Cooper, were locally assembled from about 1960, but Cooper S models were always fully-imported.

Eric was good friends with John Love, and they traveled together to race on a regular basis. “John was like a surrogate uncle to me”, Ivan recalls. John Love went on to win the British Saloon Car Championship in 1962, driving a Cooper Mini, and Ivan was, not surprisingly, always interested in Minis.

Ivan began his apprenticeship at the family dealership in that same year, and was soon racing a Cooper Formula Junior in local events. Unfortunately, in the December 1962 Natal GP, racing with the likes of Brabham, Hill and Moss, he was involved in a bad crash, when his car hit oil. Ivan ended up in hospital, and it was a few years before he was able to race again.

Although he had also taken the local Alfa dealership in 1960, Eric began racing a 997 Cooper Mini in about 1963. A couple of years later he bought a crashed 1275 Cooper S that had been written-off, and rebuilt that for racing.

In November 1965 Prime Minister Ian Smith announced Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain. Britain in return declared Rhodesia a rogue state and immediately banned all exports to the country. This made things very difficult for many businesses that had previously dealt with British companies, including the Glasby family business.

“The wall just came down, you couldn’t get anything English”, Ivan explains. “BMC had enough kits, of all sorts of cars, not just Minis, to last until I think the end of 1966, and maybe into 1967. After that they were impossible to get.”

However, having taken on the Alfa dealership helped Eric at this time, as Italy, France, Japan and others still dealt with the country.

UDI meant that getting Minis for racing was a lot more difficult, too. In 1968 Ivan bought a 970cc Cooper S that had been written-off. “The engine had ended up in a Cooper and a chap named Tom Kenyan had nothing but bad luck trying to get it going”, Ivan recalls. “So I ended up buying it, I got all these bits, and I built a new shell for it.”

Even getting good second-hand cars at the time was difficult, so Ivan had to make do with what was available, as he continues. “I got two Minis, one with a good front and one with a good back. I cut-and-shut this thing, as a very young person, and made it all work, and put all the 970 bits in it.”

“It ultimately came from South Africa, but I never did get the full history from Tom Kenyan”, Ivan continues. “I had to get a new set of pistons and rods, because on the rods even the press fit had gone, and it wasn’t even that old. The crank was cracked. It had one hell of a beating, this engine.”

His first race was a real family affair, and was reported in the Bulawayo Sunday News, with Eric and Bruce also competing in Cooper S. “Ivan has not raced since he was seriously injured in a crash about six years ago”, the paper reported, “and this will be Bruce’s first major event.”

As usual, Eric was driving his 1275cc Cooper S, while Bruce drove the Cooper S that had taken Derek Purnell to the Rhodesian Saloon Car Championship in 1966. According to the paper, “it is popularly believed to be the fastest Cooper in the country.”

Ivan spent the rest of the season coming to grips with his home-built 970 Cooper, and in 1969 won the Saloon Car Championship with it. However, he credits much of the success of the car to Bruce, as he details. “The Championship was largely about consistency, [but] the 970 at that point was actually a pretty quick motor car. I really put in a lot of effort, but I’ve got to say Bruce needs to take a lot of credit for our tuning, cam developments, dyno and head work, because he was a very clever boy when it came to that sort of thing.”

“On our dyno, Bruce was getting 105bhp out of the 970. I used to hang onto, if not pass, the slower 1275s. Obviously a good quick 1275 I couldn’t live with, because at that time I think Bruce was getting 130bhp out of the 1275.”

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 29 of The Mini Experience.

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