Stories from Ken Cooper and Rich Butcher

As told exclusively to

Ken Cooper met and talked to many American visitors over the years including Dean Moon and Roy Gammell who wrenched on the Mooneyes dragster in 1963. Also that year he had a chat with the legendary Mickey Thompson.

10 years later more Americans came over and Ken’s flathead digger got the attention of Tony Nancy who had started out in the ‘50s with a flathead roadster. Tony gave Ken some tips on getting more horses out of the flathead and at the same meeting Ken met Paula Murphy and found her to be an amazing lady.

In 1976 Ken had a chat with Don Garlits thanking him for replying to his letter back in 1963. Rich Butcher first saw a slingshot dragster in the ‘70s and thought “one day, I'll have one of them crazy things” but it wasn’t till 45 years later that he actually got one. Not only that but it was a Ken Cooper slingshot built in the 1970s and originally raced by Andy Swaffield...

Ken and Rich's stories were produced by John Hunt and Nick Pettitt, and published by editor Simon Groves.

Ken Cooper...

I have met one or two American celebrities. I was there in 1963 when Dean Moon came over with the Mooneyes at Silverstone Tuesday September the 12th 1963. I met Dean Moon just for a few words as there were a number of people there and one of the mechanics Roy Gammell and his son Dale, sort of a well-known Hot Rodder. He had a very famous 32 Coupe in Hot Rod Magazine and a few others. Roy wrenched on the Mooneyes dragster.

Like you do, I started talking and I managed to scrounge a Moon T-shirt which I’ve still got which was included in my story and much to my disgust at the time, it was made in Japan.

Ken Cooper at Silverstone on the left and Roy Phelps on the right.

Ken again centre of pic.

And again watching Bootsie in Mooneyes as Dean Moon talks him through the controls. Roy's there as well on the right.

Ken still has his Moon Equipped T-shirt.

Just after that they went to Church Lawford. So I went to that and out of the blue appeared Mickey Thompson. I got very close and I started talking to him asking dumb questions and much to my embarrassment, one of my lads who crewed for me said to Mickey, which was a dumb thing to say, as we were asking him about his land speed records, but he said how do you think the Summers brothers will do? which was his arch rival. He went quiet for a while. I’ve got a very good photograph of me talking to him.

Ken sneaks into this pic at Church Lawford.

Ken's pic of Mickey Thompson's AA/Fueler.

Ken took a pic and had a chat with Mickey.

The American visitor who gave me the most pleasure was Tony Nancy. Although he was a bit of a loner, he was a very outgoing guy, very genuine and I enjoyed spending time with him. Brian Gleadow was with me crewing at the time at the 1973 Internationals.

How I got to meet him was, in those days we had what was termed the Playpen, an area set aside which had a set of road rollers which you could use to start your car or motorcycle. We’d pushed the car onto the rollers start it then drive it off and do a bit of tuning the engine. We’d just pushed the car off and the next car on the rollers was Tony Nancy. We were looking, shaking like a leaf.

He drove the car off, ran the engine for a little bit, switched it off and killed the motor. Much to our surprise and amazement he strolled over to our car and said are you tossing exhaust valves out of this. That was the first thing he said, we said no, no and the next words he said were, shit you’re not even leaning on this, when you’ve got this running right, he said you should be burning exhaust valves every other run.

We were taken back a little bit by that and he walked away did a bit more to his car then strolled over again and made some more comments, looking at the fuel system, you need to get rid of this shit (sorry to keep saying that but that’s how he spoke) everything was S. H. I. T. the fuel system, the engine, everything, it was a word he used all the time. So yes, you want to get rid of all this, he said. Get a 1-inch fuel pipe that will hold about 2 pints of fuel and you won't have to pump it from the tank, it’s already there, you’ve only got to move it to the carburettors. Which was common sense really, ultimately, I did put bigger fuel pipes on it.

George Hall pic.

George Hall pic.

Pete Blake pic.

Pete Blake pic.

He went back to his car and was taking the plugs out which were pretty much burnt and throwing them in the grass. I thought I’ll have one of them as a souvenir, so I rummaged in the grass and found a plug and he said what are you doing? He said forget that and he went straight into his Chrysler engine and took a plug out, here have that one, which I’ve still got.

He kept coming back and I guess he’d been thinking about Flatheads as his first race car was a Flathead roadster. He said Tom Sparks is the man you want to meet. He knows everything about the Flathead engine. I’ll give you his address. You can contact him and he’ll sort you out, he’ll tell you how to modify the float needles so they can't flood with high fuel pressure. I thought wow, he said Tom’s in North Hollywood.

Pete Blake pic.

Pete Blake pic.

Pete Blake pic.

Auto Magazine pic.

Auto Magazine pic.

He came over again a bit later on. He said when I get back I’ll see Tom and see if he’ll send you some float needles and said it’ll be at least three or four weeks. I’m not going straight home. I’m going to Ireland to Connollys to sort out my leather supplies because Tony was an upholsterer. His trademark was a seahorse and he upholstered Dragsters.

He said I’m taking advantage while I’m over here, then gave me his business card which was a piece of leather and smelt like it, which I’ve still got somewhere. He said write to me when I get back. It was a lovely business card with his address of Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood.

I never did write. I thought it was beneath me to pester the bloke. He was such a busy and famous man I didn’t want to write about such trivial things. I spent at least an hour with him and he was an outgoing man just down to earth with his language. This was 1973 when he ran the rear engined Revell liner Dragster which was beautifully built.

To take out a plug out of his engine to give it to me for a souvenir. I mean can you see Lewis Hamilton taking a plug out of his engine to give it to you, you wouldn't even get near to him. So Tony Nancy was probably one of the big guns. I thought he was a lovely, outgoing man. I was absolutely surprised that a man of that calibre would spend so much time picking my brains to try and help me out.

Ken's flathead dragster in 1973. Tony Whitehouse pic.

Tony Whitehouse pic.

Tony Whitehouse pic.

Tony Whitehouse pic.

Then at the same meeting what happened was, it was about lunch time and in those days we camped by the pits. There was grass right by where we pitted. My wife wanted to go to this event and she said come on it’s lunch time. So I went back to our tent and sat down with my wife was Paula Murphy and Doreen Hill’s, Nobby Hills' first wife, a lovely lady. I was absolutely staggered that Paula Murphy was there and Doreen said Paula said she’d love to try an English cup of tea but she didn’t know where to get one from. Dorren said go and see Pam, Ken’s wife, she'll make you a cup of tea.

So I sat on the floor with my sandwiches and my tea and began to banter with Doreen and Paula. Having met Paula she’s a lovely lady. People don’t realize she was not just a Drag Racer, she raced high powered motorboats, drove circuit cars, did Pikes Peak, Bonneville and amazingly she flew airplanes. She is an amazing lady and fortunately I think she’s only had one bad accident. I can't think of a male counterpart.

Although Bradley did say a comparison had she been male would have been Mickey Thompson, he did everything except fly airplanes. She was a very modest and outgoing lady and has not had the recognition she deserves for all that she has done and so few people realize this. I think Bradley has just made contact with her on facebook recently.

Her mechanic was Fat Jack Bynum. He was a character and worked on her Funny Car for this particular meeting and knew just about everything about blown Chryslers. The thing I do remember was he walked onto the start line and put a can of beer down and picked up a fire extinguisher and sprayed the can of beer leaving a frost on it to cool it. Americans really like their chilled beer, don’t they?

National Drag Racer pic.

Phil Herrick pic.

Auto Magazine pic.

Auto Magazine pic.

Auto Magazine pic.

I had a brief meeting with Donald Garlits in 1976 when he came over to Santa Pod. His car didn’t run very well, he had a lot of problems because it was stored over here in not very good conditions and the worst thing you can do is leave a magneto in bad conditions and you need to keep turning them over every 3 or 4 weeks and you're ok. Due to the magnets in them. So he had magneto problems.

Anyway, I was waiting in the fire up road with ‘Blast from the Past’ with Brian Gleadow. All of a sudden a lot of people came to the fence, two, three and four deep, a lot of people. I thought they’re not looking at me. Then I turned around and right behind me was Garlits Swamp Rat. Then Garlits looks at me and walks towards us. I’m thinking what am I going to say? I was tongue tied. He came up and leaned on the roll cage and said to me you're running this thing on fuel naturally. I said no it’s just methanol.

I then said to him before you go any further I must thank you for replying to my letter in 1963 which was covered in my story. The handwritten letter with decals and photographs. He said because when I’m touring most of the time, away for six months then when I come back home there’s a pile of letters to deal with. Yours was a bit unique as it came from England and Pat said you ought to answer it. It's been here a long time. Then we started to move in the fire up road. I like to think there would be a photograph of us two talking as there were so many people looking on. I love to hear from anyone that might have one.

Don Garlits is being watched by his wife Pat as well as Dennis Priddle. Obscured by Big Daddy is Dave Lee Travis in the hat and blue shirt and the guy behind Garlit's with white shirt is crew member Ron Barrow. Phil Waters pic.

Jim Welch pic.

Colin Gill pic.

Rich Butcher...

I did paper rounds and a milk round when I was a kid. Our newsagent was a right mean old twat of a bloke and would never let us take any of the old magazines that were out of date, we had to pay some for them....and more than he got for returns, mean old twat, so I used to 'buy' Hot Rod mags from the US and Custom Car from him now and again. I guess that's what started it for me. One year in the early 70s,

I pursuaded me old dad to take me to a Custom Car show At Belle Vue in Manchester. God knows why he agreed as he had zero interest in cars let alone Rods, Customs and racing them, but boy, am I pleased he did. Well, we walked in through the doors under the shadow of the old wooden rollercoaster at Belle Vue to be greeted by that smell of oily stuff, popcorn and cig smoke and what seemed like, to a 10 year old at least, thousands of amazing cars.... I was hooked, I was so hooked. My memory is a little hazy but after maybe seeing a front engined dragster at Belle Vue, or maybe in the pages of hot rod magazine, that was it, I thought....'one day, I'll have one of them crazy things' ....little did I know it would take me near on 45 years to actually get one!!! And, if it wasn't for my car mad eldest son Loz, I probably still wouldn’t have one.

I've been into petrol all my life, raced bikes and built show bikes, a regular at York, Shakey and Pod, sprinting at Esholt, IOM etc but, although I've never straight lined a 4-wheeler, that damn FED itch has always been there. Then out of the blue Loz sent me a message and a pic one afternoon "BUY THIS" is all it said, I nearly didn't bother as I was busy building my first hot rod, but then I thought I've just retired and could do with some fun so called the guy selling a slingshot on Facebook. A reyt nice chap answered called Kurtus McEvoy and said he owned this old rail with his dad Roy but never got to doing owt with it, so thought they'd sell it on as they had another hot rod project each anyway.

Now I knew of Ken Cooper only thru reading about him and watching Bradley his son in 'Back from the Past' race at Santa Pod and Shakey over the years and from the pictures I had an idea it might be an old Cooper car, so, two hours later, me and three sons were at Kurtus's house looking at the car. As Kurtus lifted the garage door, I fell instantly head over heels for the thing!. It was a period perfect, front engine rail and in my mind I instantly went back 45 years to the first time I ever saw one of these crazy looking machines. That was it, I wasn't leaving without it.

Kurtus explained it's history as he knew it and showed me some paperwork including Gary Stocktons RAC Competition Car sign off certificate from 1997, owned then by Niall Davis of Redditch, and despite Kurtus's best efforts to get the car to start, an hour later, it was strapped to a trailer and we were flying back up the M1 to Sheffield. When we got home, the wife was back from work and I had the skilful task of breaking the news to her! I managed it that well, she didn't speak to me for a week.... result!

Anyway, never mind that, once I'd sat in it a million times making brum brum noises etc I began to wonder if in fact it was an old Ken Cooper car. I phoned around and found Bradley Cooper's number, another reyt nice fella it turns out and a while later I found myself down at his dad's house ! , pictures and videos with me.

When Ken and Bradley saw the photos and videos, they were sure this was in fact the last car Ken built called '4th Dimension', built for a chap called Andy Swaffield. I spent hours at Kens house and in the garage where the car was planned and built in the early 70's. What an amazing day that was, I met two fantastic drag racing blokes and took loads of info and stories away with me. Back in Sheffield, it was time to refresh the car so apart from the engine, almost everything else came off the car, got sorted, and went back together.

Andy Swaffield's dragster being built in Ken's workshop.

4th Dimension takes on Whistler.

'Hot Rod Drags' 2021 meet was fast approaching at Santa Pod and it was always my intention to race the car not have it as a museum piece. I spent the next weeks tooling up with race gear, built a new trailer and set off for Santa Pod. Friday morning dawned and, with emotions running high, over came Ken and Bradley Cooper to see the car. I was nervous to say the least. No need, Ken, like me instantly went back years and began recalling building the car and pointing out parts of it with stories about him and Andy. Thankfully, the car ran faultlessly over the weekend and as straight as an arrow. What a buzz it was too, I've sprinted and roundy raced two wheels but never four, so this was all a big learning curve for me. We pitted in the 'Wild Bunch' pits and couldn't have wished for a more friendly welcoming gang of folk, they are all just ace.

Into 2022 and with a rebuilt front end we were off to the Nostalgia Nats, Dragstalgia, Mopars and again finishing with HRD's. Using nothing more than pure luck through the season, we ended up 8th in the Wild Bunch series.....and a trophy!!! During the year, I went down to Ken's gaff a few times and on one visit, Andy Swaffield had lent Ken the original engine cowling which he'd kept when he sold the car and Ken had it there when I arrived! Plenty of pictures later and back home I was in contact with an ace bloke called Craig Ainge, a traditional signwriter who has sign written plenty of drag cars over the years. He recreated the '4th Dimension' name on the engine cowling, adding some more touches around the car including an acknowledgment to Senior Dragsters (SD) Ken and Andy. Over the moon with Craig's ace period work.

2023 rolled around and February saw us off down to see Ken and Brad at Ken's house to shoot the breeze with Loz my eldest along. Unbeknownst to me, Bradley and Loz had arranged for Andy Swaffield to pay a visit to Ken's place and sure enough, an hour in, who rocks up but Andy himself! Well, that was it, I was in bits, I couldn't quite believe I was stood there, all these years later with the builder and first owner of my little slingshot '4th Dimension'.... Amazing day out. Andy reckons he's gonna try to make it to Santa Pod this year (2023) and I sure hope he does.

February still and I was honoured to have the car on show next to the amazing 'Tudor Rose' Dragster at Elvington Straightliners show courtesy of Graham Sykes of 'Force of Nature' Steam powered bike fame and lovely Trevor Duckworth. What a great reception the car got. It was a freezing cold but ace weekend thanks to Graham. April will see the car in a couple more shows then we start to prep for the Nostalgia Nats.

Rich Butcher in 2022.

As we all know Ken Cooper is well known as 'Mr Flathead' and '4th dimension' originally ran a Flathead engine with Andy Swaffield. Sadly, over time the Flathead engine has gone and the car currently runs a 283 Chev engine, but the plan is to put a Flathead engine back in the car and to this end I've potentially lined up a suitable engine, fingers crossed.

I'm a lucky fella, the Wild Bunch (fantastically well run by Claire Meadows and the committee) is ace, the Coopers are ace, Swaff is ace, all the support I’ve had from other racers, Ian Marshall and the start crew at Santa Pod who are patient and top class, my sons Isaac, Vinny and Lawrence, Kurtus and Roy for the car and all their follow up support, Bryan Whitfield and Ian (won’t it go any f*****g faster than that) Tubb who make me laff so hard, all the outside support and interest we’ve had, and my long suffering wife, Emma....I’m a lucky fella.

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