Mike Cook, icon of British car culture in America, dies at 85
With the passing of Michael L. Cook on November 27, I lost an old friend—and the North American British car world lost a living, breathing treasure. He succumbed to pneumonia at age 85. I didn’t see or talk to Mike often, but when we did connect, it was like slipping on a favorite pair of old shoes.
I first met him 26 years ago. He had just retired from his PR position at Jaguar and started his own freelance business. He looked after the Jaguar-Rover-Land Rover archives, which also included Austin-Healey, MG, and Triumph. We converged at the Jaguar headquarters in Mahwah, New Jersey, and he took me into a warehouse, past the now-filthy white Go Go boots used on the British Leyland stand at the New York International Auto Show. Mike helped me find scores of photos for my book project and we became instant friends.
He had fantastic stories to tell and write, becoming an occasional contributor to Automobile Quarterly, where I was the editor. When we did get together, we’d try to build it around lunch or dinner because Mike had the uncanny ability to sniff out truly fantastic restaurants.
From the first time he saw a Triumph TR2 in 1955, Cook was smitten. It took him until spring 1957 to pick up a used steel-wheel TR, which he left behind in Ohio when he first went to New York to work at a small ad agency. After five months, he joined Standard-Triumph as the assistant advertising manager, and he was also manager of the Triumph Sports Owners Association. He gradually worked his way up the ladder at Standard-Triumph during one of the most exciting periods for British cars in America. When he left in 1967, he joined Mobil Oil for several years before moving to British Leyland, where he held a variety of marketing, sales, and advertising positions for all the BL marques, including Jaguar, MG, and Triumph.
When Jaguar was privatized in 1984, Cook remained with the company until 1991, when he founded Plain English Archive, offering editorial and photo archive services to the British car community. He also edited and published The Vintage Triumph and Jaguar Journal, as well as accepting various freelance assignments. Cook was also in demand as a speaker at many British car club functions, as much for his memory of events as for his dry and humorous delivery.
I’ll miss Mike tremendously, as will thousands of Triumph and Jaguar enthusiast throughout North America. As automotive journalist Jamie Kitman wrote in Automotive News, “His passing is like a library burning down.” Cook is survived by sons Geoff, Tim, and Drew, and daughter Jennifer.