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Mini Cooper Creator Dies

The creator of one of the coolest cars ever seen on the road, John Cooper, has died aged 77.

The former motor racing driver developed the Mini Cooper, the souped-up version of the Mini, in 1961 and it soon became a cult classic.

The cars were famously featured racing through the streets of Turin in the 1969 movie The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine.

Mr Cooper, who lived at Worthing, West Sussex, was awarded a CBE for services to the motor industry in the New Year's honours list last year.

Motor racing writer and family friend Doug Nye said Mr Cooper had been ill with cancer for some time before he died on Sunday morning.

"He was that great rarity in the motor racing world, a man with no enemies," he said.

"He was universally liked and respected. And of course his achievements in the sport were enormous."

The Cooper Car Company was the first British motor racing manufacturer to win the Formula One constructors' championship, which it achieved two years running.

"They were the first people successfully to put the engine behind the cockpit," said Mr Nye.

"All modern Formula One cars follow where Cooper led."

Cooper's classic

The success of the Mini Cooper as a Sixties icon was perhaps Mr Cooper's most impressive legacy.

"The Mini would not have lasted as long as it has without the Cooper version because it gave the car a hip image and motor racing pedigree," said Mr Nye. "Without that it would have been just another baby car, like the Fiat 500."

Mr Cooper persuaded the Mini's creator, Sir Alec Issigonis, to let him produce a high-performance version of the car even though Sir Alec did not believe it would sell.

But the car was an immediate success and the more powerful Cooper S, which followed in 1963, was an even bigger hit.

Even as production of the old shape Mini wound down this year, amid the uncertainty of Rover's future, sales of Mini Coopers still accounted for half of all Minis which left the forecourts - about 10,000 cars a year.

'Charming man'

Mr Cooper's son Michael said his father's invention and ideas in motor racing were phenomenal.

"He was so proud that the Cooper name was going to continue on to the new Mini, which is being launched by BMW next summer," he said.

"It meant a lot to him."

Motor racing legend Sir Stirling Moss also paid tribute to Mr Cooper's "tremendous contribution" to motor racing.

"We competed against each other and I drove the cars he built."

The voice of Formula One, television commentator Murray Walker, said:

"He was an extremely charming man, an ebullient personality."

As well as his son Michael, Mr Cooper also leaves a widow, Paula, and daughter Sally.