Born in 1925, the son of an architect, Owen Maddock studied engineering at Kingston Technical College at the same time as serving in the home guard during the latter stages of the Second World War.
By 1948 he had begun working for the newly formed Cooper Car Company nearby, starting out as a fitter. An all-encompassing position filling in as van driver and storekeeper, it became clear very quickly that here was a mind with much to offer, and his role increasingly began to utilise his training as a draughtsman. It wasn’t long before his skills in this area were formally recognised with a permanent role as Cooper’s chief designer, encompassing the design of a vast array of sports cars and single seaters.
Maddock’s talent for lateral thinking during the process of design was apparent from an early stage, and his first significant breakthrough came in 1954 when, with the encouragement of Charlie Cooper, he introduced bent chassis tubes throughout the car’s frame.
Going against the thinking of the time, the use of curved tubes throughout (as opposed to straight tubes, as was established engineering practice) allowed the chassis to better match the shape of the car’s body, removing the need for additional supports and resulting in a much smaller and lighter end product. Quite radical in thinking, it was tried to great effect in lower formula cars and quickly became the standard direction for Cooper, including their Formula 1 entries.
Come 1958 Maddock was well on his way to his next breakthrough, recognising the potential of mounting the engine in the rear of the car. Though not his invention, it was Maddock who was the first to truly harness the huge potential of rear-mounted engines, not only in terms of the resultant improved aerodynamics, but also through reduction in overall weight and greatly improved weight distribution. This was to prove a game-changer.
After much development, Stirling Moss took the first F1 victory in a rear-engined car in the Cooper T43, which featured another Maddock hallmark; the use of leaf-sprung suspension.
The following year, the mid-engined Cooper T51, in the hands of Jack Brabham, won both drivers’ and constructors’ championships and the writing was on the wall for Cooper’s competitors. The front-mounted engine, long established as the single seater standard, was set to be consigned to the F1 history books.
Further improvements kept the success coming. With Maddock’s super-reliable C5S racing gearbox addressing the previous car’s one major achilles heal, the 1960 championship also came Cooper’s way.
However a change of engine regulations the following season, and the departure of Brabham, with whom Maddock had formed a brilliant developmental partnership, pitched the Cooper team into a slow decline from which it would never recover. There were further wins, including Bruce McLaren’s Monaco win in 1962, but the rise to prominence of Lotus and Jim Clark meant that the Formula 1 spotlight was set to move on inexorably.
Feeling trapped within the confines of the drawing office, and excited by the development of hovercraft technology, Maddock left top flight motorsport, albeit he continued to freelance for Bruce McLaren’s fledgling new team in the 60s.
His visionary days were far from over though. He was to pioneer the use of aeronautical honeycomb in chassis design a full sixteen years before Frank Williams’ cars harnessed the concept fully to take the world title using the technique in their car construction. Though never raced, his thinking showed astonishing foresight.
Included here not just for his far sighted capacity for design, but also for being the driving force behind the rear-engined revolution, there can be no doubting Maddock’s importance to the development of Formula 1, or his contribution to the success of a once great British motor racing institution.
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