Ken ‘flathead’ Cooper is one of the true pioneers of British drag racing and hot rodding.
He bought his first car, a ’37 Ford coupe, in 1959 and soon turned it into a hot rod by fitting a ’41 Mercury flathead with dual exhausts, lowering the front suspension and painting it bright yellow.
Ken was one of the first members of the British Hot Rod Association and at the first AGM was elected as Midlands Division secretary. He also formed a local Hot Rod club known as the ‘Roadrunners’
Ken had been reading Hot Rod magazine during the 50s which inspired him to begin construction of a dragster in 1960. Things were starting to move forward for drag racing in Britain when Sydney Allard announced he was building a dragster but there was a problem in that the RAC didn’t have a separate class for them. Instead they grouped dragsters with circuit racing cars meaning front brakes and engine covers had to be fitted. If Ken was going to build a dragster he wanted it to be like what he had seen in Hot Rod Magazine so in 1962 he relegated the unfinished dragster chassis to the bottom of his garden and instead built another hot rod from a ’33 Ford Cabriolet, flathead powered of course, and much lighter.
With news in 1964 that the RAC now recognised dragsters as a separate class, Ken literally dragged his chassis out of the weeds in his garden and set about finishing it for the 1965 season debuting at the first practice meet at Graveley. Known as ‘Bazooka’ it was powered by another Mercury flathead topped off by three carbs on a Navarro manifold running methanol and with Edelbrock heads fitted it was looking every bit like an American dragster.
Ken replaced it with a new updated and longer ‘Bazooka Too’ in 1967, followed later by ‘Blast from the Past’ and continued racing, tuning and building more chassis up to 1981. His best times were 10.68 @ 132mph, not bad for a flathead even today.
In 1974 Ken and the late Tony Beadle formed the British Flathead Racers Association. Flatheads were relatively cheap then and the association was formed mainly as an inexpensive way to go racing. Ken built many of the cars in the BFRA and would always go out of his way to help fellow racers with flathead tuning and chassis construction advice.
Ken’s passion and enthusiasm for flathead drag racing is still as strong today as it ever was and when his son Bradley showed an interest to race in 2009, Ken at 72 years old set about building another new flathead dragster.
It debuted in 2012 with Bradley in the driver’s seat and Ken looking after the tuning. The period correct attention to detail is fantastic, looking once again like it’s jumped from the pages of a 50s Hot Rod Magazine and the ‘Back from the Past’ dragster has been a popular addition at nostalgia drag races ever since.
Profile by Nick Pettitt
Ken has been the subject of the excellent in-depth ‘Pioneer Stories’ courtesy of eurodragster.com, you can read Part 1 by clicking HERE, Part 2 by clicking HERE, Part 3 by clicking HERE, Part 4 by clicking HERE & Part 5 by clicking HERE