THE CHAMPIONS / Jack Brabham
The driver engineer
- Mattijs Diepraam
- December 5, 2006
- 1955 British GP - Brabham's Cooper debuting among the all-conquering Mercs, by Felix Muelas/Gerald Swan
- 1958 Argentinian GP - The first GP win by a rear-engined car, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
- 1959 French GP - The last "real" victory for a front-engined Ferrari, by David Fox
- Cooper - Rear-ending in and out of Grand Prix racing, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
- Denny Hulme - The bear that became World Champion, by Erwin van Delft
- Horses pushing the cart, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Swoosh and screech! The rise and fall of turbines and CVTs in motor racing, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Part 2, CVTs: The perfect gear
LII ACF GP/European GP (July 3, 1966)
Of all the technically minded drivers that Grand Prix racing has seen over the years Jack Brabham is no doubt the smartest.
No other triple champion can claim to have had as much influence on his title-winning mounts than Sir Jack has. Who else is allowed to say that he stamped his mark on the cars that gave him back-to-back titles – twice. Who was the driver that won the first Grand Prix in a car bearing his own name? And who was the first and only to win a World Championship in his own car?
Not just did he race the cars of his own name, he sold them too. By the dozens. Having set up Motor Racing Developments with his eternal associate Ron Tauranac he quickly built an empire designing and selling effective single-seaters and sportscars that satisfied their customers. It could even be argued that MRD was the racing car manufacturer that best managed to combine a works effort with an efficiently run production facility – a double-focused enterprise which needed skills that eluded most other respected manufacturers of the time.
To drive the point home for good: Jack Brabham matched a very practical outlook on engineering with a very bright mind that really thought things out, the product of which often led to sheer innovation. So how odd is it that the two Australian engineering wizards aren’t usually seen in the same light as their highly acclaimed rival from Hethel? Some might say very odd.
And to those inclined to think that Brabham’s technical and business savvy compensated for somewhat less than superior driving skills, it must be said that no other driver in that timeframe managed to hold on to his position at the very top of his league for almost fifteen years – and remain competitive until his final season, even having a shot at a fourth World Championship, hadn’t it been for a critical error and a bit of rotten luck.
His first own racing car
Just like Tauranac, John Arthur Brabham (April 2, 1926) had his roots in Britain, being the grandson of an East Londoner who emigrated to Australia in 1885. While Brabham Sr was a greengrocer in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, he was also a man with a passion for cars, teaching young Jack to drive at the age of 12 using the family Chevy. This perfectly matched with Jack’s interest in engineering, so when he left school at 15 and switched to an evening engineering course, it was no surprise that he took up a day-time job in a garage. This was while World War II had already started, and sure enough, in 1944, when Jack reached the age of 18 he joined the RAAF as a ground engineer.
After the war was over he got in touch with American native Johnny Schonberg, a midget racer in the Sydney area. Being the budding engineer that he was, Jack helped Schonberg build a new midget, using the modest machining business that he had set up as his workshop. Brabham not only made the chassis but did the engine as well. As it turned out, it was to be the first racing car of his own manufacture, pre-dating the Brabham BT series by some 15 years, and a car that would bring him national success until four years later.
His first racing car? Yes, because it was Schonberg’s wife who was responsible for the creation of Jack Brabham, racing driver, because after she managed to talk her husband out of his hobby, Jack was there to take over his mantle. Schonberg showed him the ropes on the Tempe mud flats before Jack made his debut at Paramatta Park. It took him precisely three days before winning his first feature race. The typical ‘Black Jack’ racing style that he developed on the speedways – hunched over his steering wheel, drifting the rear end – would for ever remain with him.
Having taken the New South Wales midget championship in his first attempt and going on to win three more dirt-track titles at state, regional and national levels, Brabham went on to find a new love – hill-climbing. This was sparked by meeting up with fellow ex-RAAF recruit Ron Tauranac. This draughtsman, who was working for the chemicals subsidiary of Colonial Sugar Refining, was attracted to a sales advertisement that Brabham had put up for a motorcycle engine – still a side attraction for the man who had used his income as a second-hand motorcycle dealer to open his engineering business in 1947. Jack thought that Ron had sought him out for some machining work on his racing cars, as Jack was now some sort of a racing celebrity through his dirt-car exploits, while Ron’s hill-climbing antics had become fairly well known since he built his first Ron and Austin Lewis Tauranac (or Ralt) Special the year before.
But in fact, Tauranac asked Brabham to do some subcontracting work for the chemical plant that Tauranac was building for CSR. Ron soon did the work himself: as Jack’s workshop was around the corner from Ron’s work, the latter would come over during lunchtime to do the machining. They quickly developed a relationship that crossed over to their common love of motor racing. An important factor was Brabham starting to use Tauranac’s brilliant cast alloy wheels. These were so unbreakable that they readily became en vogue in speedway circles.
It made Jack realise that Ron Tauranac was a man with a special gift. Ron and his brother Austin were highly competitive spirits and shared highly practical engineering skills with a passion for racing. In fact, the preceding sentence would be a perfect way to describe Jack Brabham as well, and so it was no surprise that the three got along. Although their characters were, in a way, so similar that they sometimes collided, Jack and Ron developed a rapport that would be at the core of a cooperation about to last for a couple of decades.
A major turning point in Brabham’s career came in 1951 when the Tauranacs beefed up the original 1947 midget to have Jack storm to the Australian Hill-Climb Championship. The Brabham name was put on the national map, albeit in the midst of controversy, as the rough machine from the cinder tracks wasn’t quite what the hill-climbing community had in mind when setting up the rules of their game.
Things moved very quickly after that. To silence his hill-climbing rivals once and for all, Brabham ordered a nimble Cooper-JAP 1100 from England, with which he duly trounced the opposition. Then he began showing the commercial nous that he later became known for by persuading fuel additive company RedeX to sponsor the purchase of a Cooper-Bristol F2 car. Not only that, he also brightly painted the company’s logo on the Cooper’s sides to create the RedeX Special. This led to even more turmoil with officialdom, this time with CAMS, Australia’s national MSA, objecting against this flagrant commercialism. It did not stop ‘Black Jack’ from taking the 1953 Queensland and New South Wales road racing titles before moving the car to New Zealand, away from the watchful eye of CAMS.
On top of his game in his native Australia, he suffered one major defeat that he would remember, though, when his Cooper-Bristol was beaten to the 1954 New South Wales Hill-Climb Championship by a certain Ron Tauranac and his trusty original Ralt…
Returning to New Zealand in early 1955 he met two boffins from Britain, coming over for the New Zealand Grand Prix. The encounter proved instrumental in his decision to move to England, as Dunlop’s Dick Jeffrey and RAC’s Dean Delamont managed to persuade the dark-tanned Aussie to develop his racing skills in motorsport’s mecca – Europe. Since he found that he could take on the European stars coming over to race in the winter series, he considered himself in with a chance.
Looking back, it is a mind-boggling fact that Brabham came over to Britain – leaving wife Betty and three-year old son Geoff behind in case things didn’t work out – to find himself a Grand Prix driver a mere handful of months later. Five years later, Ron Tauranac performed a similar act of faith by jumping on a ‘plane to Heathrow to secretly start on the Motor Racing Developments company that would turn Jack Brabham into the first and only Grand Prix driver to become World Champion in a car bearing his own name.
The rear-engined vision
Arriving in England as Australia’s latest hotshoe and a Cooper customer to start with, Brabham soon got in touch with other British F2 competitors such as Peter Whitehead. Not having brought his Cooper-Bristol over in the false idea that European engineering standards would be far superior to his own backyard developments, Jack bought Whitehead’s Cooper-Alta, only to find that it failed repetitively and that he had done a better job back home.
Meanwhile, he had met with his suppliers, son John and father Charles Cooper, and simply charmed his way into setting up camp in the Cooper premises at Surbiton. He won their trust by bringing Citroën's ERSA gearbox back from a trip to France. And soon, mid-way into 1955 in fact, he had developed the Cooper car that would be the first spark to ignite the rear-engined revolution.
The Coopers did not have any clue as to why their rear-engined 500s and sportscars were so quick, and had even reverted to traditional front-engined design for their early-fifties F2 racer. To John Cooper the rear-engined set-up simply meant practical plumbing, and to Charles Cooper – always sitting on his money, trying to survive – it meant low production costs and thus maximum value.
Jack Brabham did have a clue. Taking the centre-seat, streamlined ‘Bobtail’ T39 sportscar chassis as a baseline, he lengthened the engine bay to accommodate a Bristol straight-six and boldly entered it for the 1955 British GP. The Bristol being an F2 engine it was well under the 2.5-litre maximum capacity but Jack simply said it was 2.2-litre and used his relationship with Dean Delamont to great effect to have the T40 allowed onto the grid. The car failed to live up to its promise on its debut, Brabham having to deal with a broken clutch before retiring, but after further honing the design he was able to fight Moss’ 250F in the RedeX Trophy at Snetterton. Then, taking the car home in the winter, he simply drove off to win the Australian GP. He was now convinced that he could beat all comers on the international scene and that this new design direction was the right way to go. He sold the car and headed back to Britain – where he got off to a false start by buying the ex-Owen (BRM) Maserati 250F. He finished third in the Aintree 200 and the Vanwall Trophy at Snetterton, and retired from the British GP, turning his second F1 episode into another disappointment.
He soon recognized that the new Formula 2 would be a playing ground ideally suited to his burgeoning talent, and he boldly asked Charles Cooper for a works drive. What he got was the works transporter drive… Instead, he used much of the season racing Cooper’s 1500cc Bobtail-based sports racer while honing its derivative F2 design for works driver Roy Salvadori.
Towards the World Championship
He had another breakthrough idea in early 1957 when he was at Goodwood with Salvadori, testing Rob Walker’s new T43. How about enlarging the 1.5-litre Climax engine to 2 litres and entering the car in the Monaco GP? It was a tantalizing suggestion, and when Walker offered to furnish the bills Charles Cooper agreed. But who would drive? Salvadori had agreed to drive for BRM, so who else to turn to than the nut-brown lateral thinker himself? Brabham almost managed to destroy his chances by crashing the adapted car in practice but after the engine was installed in the back-up F2 chassis entered for Les Leston, Jack made it ‘third time lucky’ after all, as on race day he vindicated his belief in the nimble, rear-engined set-up by claiming third place – well, almost. It was heartbraking to see the little Cooper stall in the tunnel, in sight of the finish. But he wasn’t going to give up. Unbelievably, he climbed out of the car and pushed it all the way down to Tabac and up to the finish line, which in those days was still at the harbour front – where the swimming pool is situated now. The reward for his heroic efforts was sixth place, just outside of the Championship points.
Brabham was given the car again in the French GP, this time paired with Mike McDowell, but he crashed after four laps before taking over McDowell’s car to finish 7th and last, nine laps down. At Aintree, for the British GP, Brabham drove the Walker entry, with Salvadori getting a second works example with the enlarged 1960cc Climax. Roy soldiered on to 5th and two Championship points while Jack retired from 6th place. At the Nürburgring and Pescara the Walker and works cars drove in the F2 field and failed to impress. It was clear that the tight nature of the Monaco circuit had been very kind to the ‘F1’ T43 but that it needed much more power to compete with the pukka 2.5-litre cars. At home, however, in the local F2 events, the car was already up to it, Brabham taking heat wins and aggregate victories at Brands Hatch (twice), Crystal Palace and Oulton Park, while abroad he won at Montlhéry. The T43 also won in the hands of Salvadori and privateers George Wicken and Tony Marsh, to practically clean up the F2 season.
So for 1958 Coventry Climax’s Leonard Lee granted the manufacture of a 2.2-litre FPF, with plans on the table for a full 2.5-litre version in 1959. Ahead of this, and still in Walker’s 2-litre T43, Stirling Moss scored his famous Argentina victory against the odds to drive home the effectiveness of the rear-engined lightweight, with Maurice Trintignant repeating the feat at Monaco. Factory drivers Salvadori and Brabham shared the lone 2.2-litre T45 from Monaco on and turned into regular Grand Prix contenders, with the former being the more successful in terms of points finishes. In F2, the 1.5-litre T45 and its T43 predecessor swept the board, not just in terms of race wins but in sheer numbers as well. Cooper’s customer base was blossoming.
Salvadori wasn’t around to share in the Coopers’ 1959 success, however, making the mistake to switch to Aston Martin. While he helped the David Brown corporation to win the World Sportscar Championship, he was nowhere in F1, his DBR4 becoming the epitomy of the obsolete front-engined single-seater.
In contrast, Jack Brabham and new team mates Masten Gregory and Bruce McLaren had no such worries. In the hands of Brabham, and with Ron Tauranac offering his input through his letters from Sydney, the 2.5-litre T45 had become a formidable weapon against the Ferraris – the team’s only real opposition, given the withdrawal of Vanwall and Maserati. Jack’s victory in the International Trophy preluded his first Grand Prix win in the streets of Monaco. There, he took the lead when the transmission in the similar Walker entry of Stirling Moss failed on lap 81, paving the way for several strong finishes and a second win at Aintree. This left him with almost double the points of nearest challenger Tony Brooks halfway into the season, while Moss had ruled himself out of the equasion by a mid-season switch to the British Racing Partnership. Ferrari continued to set the pace on power circuits such as Reims, however, and when Moss headed back to Walker to take consecutive wins at Oporto and Monza, as Brabham floundered with a lack of reliability. This made for an end-of-season showdown at the US GP at Sebring, which ended in dramatic style, Jack pushing his car across the finish line to take fourth place. It didn’t really matter since Moss had retired as early as lap 5, but as he repeated his Monaco ’57 antics in front of an enthusiastic American crowed, the reward at the line was quite a bit larger this time around – a first World Championship.
It had been an amazing four years. From a virtual unknown from a former colony to a promising F2 contender and further on to World Champion in less than a handful of seasons, while in the process revolutionising the face of the sport – quite a turn-up. Jack wasn’t taking anything for granted, though. As his Kiwi protégé McLaren took his second Grand Prix victory in the space of two months, Brabham was already dreading the arrival of the Lotus 18. in it, Innes Ireland had led much of the distance in Argentina and set third fastest lap. On the flight back from Argentina Brabham persuaded John Cooper to use the next three months to effectively build an entirely new car. To further underline Jack’s fears, Ireland romped away to take wins in the Glover Trophy and International Trophy, and then Colin Chapman proceeded to sell a Lotus 18 chassis for Walker and Moss to replace their T51 with. What followed was a secretive operation to build the low-line T53 while keeping old Charles Cooper out of the loop. Amongst other things, this meant not telling him about the new gearbox designed by Owen Maddock at huge cost, as a replacement for the troublesome ERSA ‘box that had caused many T51 retirements in 1959. Although Cooper were heading for their most successful period in history, these three months probably sew the seeds for Brabham and Cooper growing apart.
At Monaco, Brabham had to give way to Monaco king Moss and his new Lotus 18, but Jack and his equally new T53 did take the lead from him on lap 33 before they were blackflagged on lap 40. But after that, there was no stopping the two. In true Ascari or Fangio style they rattled off the wins in the one of the most dominant summers in Grand Prix history. In all, ‘Black Jack’ took six wins in a row, including the Silver City Trophy at Brands. These were victories with one-minute leads, and the only reason why Brabham didn’t have the championship sown up before the boycotted banked-circuit event at Monza was that team mate Bruce McLaren used his early-season advantage and several points finishes to at least stay in touch. As Moss only returned to the World Championship in the season closer at Riverside, a stroll in the park for Brabham was good enough to clinch his second title in a row.
However, within a few months the complete spectre of Grand Prix racing would be set on its head, as the new Intercontinental regulations were set aside in favour of F2 effectively becoming F1. The British fight in favour of a status quo was thus lost, along with the energy that could have gone into the development of suitable engines. This left the British teams with the now down-on-power 4-cylinder Climax, with work on a new V8 only now starting. Ferrari, meanwhile, had developed its 1.5-litre V6 Dino engine to great effect in the interim 246P chassis and was about to take the British GP community by surprise with its low-line, rear-engined ‘Sharknose’ 156s. It moved ‘Blackie’ into writing an open invitation to his friend Ron Tauranac down under.
BRO and MRD
The 1961 season turned into a disaster for Cooper. Brabham and McLaren were left with the crumbs that Ferrari and, to a lesser extent, Lotus and BRM had left behind. In a season crammed with former F2 events now uprated to non-championship F1 events, Jack scored minor wins in the early-season Lombank Trophy, Brussels GP and Aintree 200 but his World Championsip summer campaign brought him no more than a meagre four points. His young Kiwi team mate did at least manage to bring home 11 Championship points in the T55 but Cooper was now consummately outclassed by the same rivals that the Surbiton team had led into the rear-engined revolution, and very recently so.
In fact, all through 1960 and especially after the airplane conversation back from Argentina, Jack had been working on his plans to go it alone. The man that allowed him to think that was a viable idea was his old mate Ron Tauranac. In the past five years Jack's correspondence with Tauranac had been a vital but virtually unknown factor in the development of several Coopers – from 'Bob Tail' to 'Low-Line'. On several occasions Ron gave his input on varied technical issues ranging from suspension geometries to gearbox bellhousings, all of which really improved the cars. Not only did he help Brabham through his letters but Jack's annual trips back home usually led to ready-made innovations being brought to Blighty in a suitcase.
Now, being a double World Champion, running his own garage in Chessington and personally sponsored by Esso, Brabham had the financial clout to offer Tauranac a fully paid-for job in the fledgling British motor racing industry. So Tauranac sold his latest Ralt design to Lynx Engineering and took the risk. He landed on Heathrow airport in April 1960 and was later joined by wife Norma and daughter Jann. The job he had taken as a works manager at Quality Castings – the subcontracting company that built his famous alloy wheels – was kept on for six months, as a contingency, but it would be another five years before he set foot on Australian ground again.
Officially, having moved in with Jack and Betty Brabham, Tauranac was working on Jack Brabham Motors garage projects. But at nights Ron laboured on a Formula Junior car designated MRD-1, the first racing car of their new joint company Motor Racing Developments. As he was working secretly, development took quite a bit longer, so it wasn't untilthe summer of 1961 that it was ready to race. While Brabham was still winning races for Cooper he downplayed the MRD-1 – retrospectively rechristened BT1 – as "a little project on which my old friend Ron Tauranac has been working". The car was entrusted – or rather, sold – to Gavin Youl, a Tasmanian touring car driver new to the world of single-seaters. But debuting in the FJ support race of the Goodwood TT, Youl set times that shocked the regulars.
Things moved quickly from there. Youl took the car to Australia and duly won the Australian F Junior Championship, stirring significant interest in the follow-up car, while MRD also laid down plans to enter the 1962 Indy 500 after Jack had caused an upset in 1961 by racing a 2.7-litre Climax-engined Cooper 'low-line' among the Offy roadsters. Charles Cooper went through the roof when it became clear that Brabham was going it alone. This was amplified by the fact that Jack wanted to call his cars 'Brabhams', a wish that was sparked by French journalist Jabby Crombac pointing to the fact that his countrymen would hesitate when offered a shitbox of a car – since this was what the French pronuncation of MRD would suggest. Brabham also rearranged MRD's co-ownership between himself and Tauranac to 60/40, since he was the company's prime financer.
Although the cars would get a BT designation ('Brabham-Tauranac'), this didn't sit well with Ron. Nor did the arrangement whereby MRD would supply their forthcoming F1 cars to a separate entity called Brabham Racing Organisation, instead of the F1 team becoming part of MRD. But Tauranac didn't follow up on his disappointment and concentrated on his task of creating a customer-car empire that would make its name very quickly.
Still, MRD and BRO moved into the same premises left behind by Australian spare parts company Repco, a mile down the road from Cooper, on Victoria Road in Surbiton. Jack had been a Repco dealer for some time while Repco used the World Champion's fame to sell their projects. The cars would be called Repco Brabhams in return for the Australian company giving up part of their factory space.
'Brabham' moves into F1
Early 1962, some months after Jack Brabham officially announced his solo effort, BT2 (the second Junior car) was launched from Victoria Road while BRO had acquired a Lotus 24 for Brabham's 1962 F1 campaign. BT2 was an instant success, with 'Black Jack' beating the Goodwood F1 lap record on its shakedown! He wasn't quite as successful with the Lotus 24 which he had to race well into 1962, as the Junior customer orders took precedent over the development of the BT3, Brabham's first F1 car. So while the soundly engineered BT2's were quickly becoming famous for their speed and reliability, their double World Champion manufacturer was tooling along in the Lotus, with former team mate Bruce McLaren in the Cooper usually having the better of him.
To prepare for the F1 assault and cope with the expanding customer base, MRD and BRO moved out of Victoria Road to Byfleet, and then BRO moved to its own premises in Guildford. While the company founders fought a battle over the first F1 car's design – which Tauranac won – another landmark meeting was about to take place. During a dinner with Tauranac's long-time subcontractor Mike Hewland, who was in the process of setting up his own business, Jack and Ron sat down with Hewland to design the gearbox that would transform the BT3 originally equipped with a Colotti 'box that contributed to a lousy debut in the 1962 German GP. Results would follow: third in the Gold Cup, fourth in the US GP and then second in the Mexican GP, having led a large part of the race.
MRD was bursting with activity in 1963. It built a sports racer (BT5, succeeded in 1964 by the BT8), a follow-up Junior (BT6), and the second F1 car (BT7), all again in the old-fashioned spaceframe construction for which Tauranac was later labelled as conservative, and undeservedly so. While Colin Chapman pioneered the monocoque, Tauranac kept faith in the spaceframe, or more specifically, his own very advanced version of the spaceframe. The designer was well aware of the structural strength that the monocoque offered but claimed that torsional rigidity was not quite as important on a softly sprung car. Moreover, Tauranac's spaceframes offered a different kind of stiffness, with the tubes directly leading from one load point to another. This caused the suspension loads to be led into the tubes and across the entire chassis. Finally, Tauranac argued that spaceframes were easier to set-up and maintain for the privateer customer, a fact that was proven by MRD's steady increase in customer sales while those of Lotus declined.
Two famous names joined BRO in 1963: Dan Gurney became the second F1 driver while young Kiwi Denny Hulme took the works Junior seat left behind by Frank Gardner leaving for Ian Walker's team and Gavin Youl retiring. Gurney's arrival prompted Brabham to take a back seat, as he gave the American first call on the new BT7. With Clark dominating the season and the post-Le Mans efforts of Ferrari offering the only serious competition, along with BRM, some of the attention focused on the question whether Brabham would be able to beat Cooper in their similarly powered machines. In the end, it was a close shave, as Gurney outscored McLaren, who in turn headed Brabham in the final championship standings. But while the Brabhams were getting faster towards the end of the season, Cooper was on a steady decline, as they made the fatal mistake of keeping McLaren out of the development loop. The Brabhams would probably have posted even better results if they hadn't been plagued by poor reliability. Although Brabham won at the Solitude and at Zeltweg, both non-championship races, Gurney and Brabham lost valuable places in the Italian and Mexican GPs. Nevertheless, by winning at the Solitude, Jack had won a Formula 1 race within a year of being a constructor.
The first real 'Grande Epreuve' win came the following year when Gurney was victorious at Rouen-les-Essarts, the scene were two years earlier he also brought Porsche their first and only Grand Prix success. A second win followed in the season-closer in Mexico. By this time Jack had very much taken a back seat and was easing himself out of racing and into BRO team management. This was underlined when Denny Hulme was brought in to be the second driver on several occasions in 1965. A one-off third car was entered for Giancarlo Baghetti at Monza.
Meanwhile, Brabham also welcomed its first F1 customers. Bob Anderson's DW Enterprises took delivery of a Climax-engined BT11 at the start of 1964 and was soon joined by Jo Siffert swapping his Lotus 24 for a BT11, equipping it with BRM power. Showing the prowess of the design, Siffert won the Mediterrenean GP at Enna by beating none other than Jim Clark. He did it again in 1965, in the same car.
A third BT11 was sold to Rob Walker for Jo Bonnier to drive, again with a BRM engine, while the original BT3 changed hands with Ian Raby, another to pick the BRM V8 as a power source. As Jack switched to a fourth BT11, his BT7 was sold on to Rob Walker, who took on sensational young Austrian Jochen Rindt to drive his second car. It wouldn't be the last time Rindt raced a Brabham – not only did he join the Brabham F1 team in 1968, the majority of his numerous F2 wins came in Brabhams.
Local heroes 'Geki' and Hap Sharp were offered the seat in the Italian, American and Mexican GPs before Jo Siffert became a regular in the Rob Walker team for 1965. The Brabham customer phalanx also grew with former works driver Frank Gardner occasionally entering his John Willment BT11 in 1965.
A Repco Brabham renaissance
With the 1965 season proving to be a small disaster, Brabham's lead driver began to contemplate doing a 'Brabham' himself. And indeed Dan Gurney would go into 1966 as the constructor of his own Eagle, leaving his team boss to revive his somewhat stagnant career as a racing driver and sign Denny Hulme as his full-time number two. This coincided with the new 3-litre regulations, the formula that would give Grand Prix racing back to 'real men'.
Although it must be said that Ferrari shot itself in the foot – again – by having its Le Mans focus anger the hell out of pre-season favourite John Surtees, it could also be argued that Brabham and Tauranac did everything right. It's true that they didn't have the fastest car, but they had the safest pair of hands in Brabham and Hulme, the most consistent reliability thanks to Tauranac's solid engineering, and the common sense to strike a deal with their old friends at Repco, instead of waiting for the British engine industry, which was once again late in adapting to the new regulations.
The Repco association was a significant step. To the uninitiated, it may have looked like it was a decision of a team with no other option. But whereas Lotus got stuck with the cumbersome BRM H16 and Cooper was almost forced into business with Maserati, the deal with Repco was in fact the result of careful preparation. As early as 1964, Jack had quietly worked away at moving Repco into the engine business. Knowing that Coventry Climax would leave F1 at the end of the 1.5-litre era, he bought the entire remaining stock of Climax FPF engines, thus controlling the supply of suitable powerplants for the Tasman series. Repco was already involved as an FPF parts manufacturer and servicer, so when Jack suggested that a 2.5-litre V8 Tasman follow-up was needed, Repco didn't laugh at the idea. Instead, Jack made it easier for them to agree when he came up with the lightweight Oldsmobile F85 production V8 as an existing block to build the new engine around. It would be cheap, strong, reliable and a calling card for Australian engineering. Repco was sold. It appointed its engineer Phil Irving to work with Jack and Ron on the engine while a certain John Judd – who was to become a respected Grand Prix and sportscar engine designer – was leased out from BRO to become Irving's assistant.
A year later, the first 2.5-litre engine ran. To no effect, as Brabham did not need it. What he had in mind all along was a bored-out 3-litre F1 engine… It was 1965, the other teams were getting desperate, but Jack was sitting pretty in the knowledge that he would start the 1966 season with a true 3-litre engine.
Meanwhile, Tauranac stuck with his spaceframe doctrine to create the simple but effective BT19, a one-off that led 'Black Jack' to four consecutive mid-season wins, a victory run that all but sealed Jack's third title. The BT19 had been designed to take the stillborn 1.5-litre flat-16 Climax engine, and so it profited from being fairly nimble compared to its 3-litre rivals. Denny Hulme used the BT20, a lighter and more rigid evolution of BT19, with a longer wheelbase, and although people were claiming that his 40-year-old team boss was over the hill, the Aussie simply had the better of the Kiwi. To upstage his critics, Jack appeared on the Zandvoort grid wearing a black beard and using a jack handle as a walking stick. Needless to say that he won the race.
In 1-litre F2, Brabham's link-up with the emerging Japanese force of Honda led to utter domination. Having cleaned up in the first four races, Brabham and Hulme decided to hold back in order not to destroy the championship. It's almost a miracle that the story of that season's title race wasn't nicknamed 'The Jack and Denny Show'…
And that wasn't all. BT12s still won in Indycars, BT11s won races against the might of John Love's powerful T79 in South Africa, and Formula 3 was another Brabham benefit, with Harry Stiller taking the marque's first championship. No other constructor has shown this kind of success in such a variety of categories in the same year as Brabham has in 1966.
Finishing on a high
Tauranac repeated his 1966 trick by taking his BT23 F2 car as the basis for the new BT24 F1 car, by enlarging the fuel tanks to cope with Grand Prix lengths and adapting the engine bay to carry Repco's new RB740 V8. Now faced with stiffer, more mature opposition and the advent of the DFV-powered Lotus 49, the team nonetheless managed to double up on the constructors championship while 'The Bear' took over Jack's mantle as World Champion, as he built on the team's early-season advantage to take the 1967 title. Meanwhile, the BT20 that gave Jack a Spring Trophy win at Oulton Park and Denny the Monaco GP continued its winning streak in South Africa, when John Love swapped his T79 to go one better over his new rival Dave Charlton and his BT11.
The next two years were less successful. Hulme left to join Bruce McLaren's new team – another one, significantly, with a DFV contract under its cambelt. Suddenly, BRO's Repco-powered BT24, later followed by the BT26, was hopelessly outclassed. And to make matters worse, they had become unreliable too, as Repco's new RB860 4-cam engine proved to be a dud, leaving Jack and his new team mate Jochen Rindt with no chance whatsoever. The troubles of Rindt's disaster season were somewhat compensated by his F2 wins – at Thruxton, Zolder, Crystal Palace, Hockenheim, Tulln-Langenlebern and Enna – in his Roy Winkelmann BT23C.
The team took the limelight in another way, however, as it pioneered the high aerofoil in practice for the Belgian GP in June. Ferrari quickly followed, but it showed that Jack and Ron were anything but conservative.
Jack joined the Cosworth camp for 1969, put the DFV in the back of an adapted BT26 – still tube-framed – and signed ex-Ferrari hotshoe Jacky Ickx, leaving Rindt to grab a big paycheck for joining Team Lotus. The Belgian, regarded as a future World Champion having won a Grand Prix in his debut season, came on the request of Ford, which wanted Ickx to join its sportscar team and 'placed' him at Brabham on the back of two free DFVs. Also, from this season on, BRO stopped being the team's entrant, as MRD took over the role that Tauranac had envisaged at the start of the company.
It all meant a reversal of the team's F1 fortunes. Jack started off with victory in the International Trophy while Ickx won the German and Canadian GPs to finish runner-up to Jackie Stewart in the drivers championship. Jack's season went belly-up, however, when he hurt his ankle in a serious testing crash at Silverstone, in between the Dutch and French GPs, when his throttle stuck open on the approach to Copse. Mechanic Ron Dennis vividly remembers Jack being in great pain when the rescuers cut him out while he was still sitting in a quickly growing pond of fuel that, miraculously, didn't find the time to explode.
This left MRD to run a solo car for Ickx, that is, apart from the private BT26A run for Piers Courage by Frank Williams. The association bore more fruit in the early seventies when Tauranac had sold Brabham to Bernie Ecclestone and was in limbo. To fill his time Ron completed the designs that Len Bailey and John Clark failed to finish before falling out with Frank Williams.
In an ironic turn the company's F2 and F3 success took a nosedive in 1969, as Winkelmann joined Rindt in his swap to Lotus, leaving Brabham without a proper 'works' team. Brabham cars won a mere four F2 races this year, of which only one counted towards the championship. And with production delays for the new BT28 F2 and BT30 F3 designs, the MRD production empire was crumbling. And with March Engineering in the process of foundation, that new company would soon take over the mantle of customer-car supplier par excellence, leaving Brabham, and McLaren, Lotus and Surtees as well, to focus on their F1 efforts.
That didn't stop Brabham from coming back with a vengeance in his 23rd season of racing. Tauranac designed MRD's first monocoque car – as required by the new F1 regulations – and the BT33 proved to be right on the money. Jack's swansong season is mostly remembered for his Monaco mistake and his British GP misfortune, Jochen Rindt profiting from those last-lap disasters on both occasions to score enough points for his posthumous championship. Instead, it should be remembered as the testimony of a 44-year-old driver showing that he was still at the top of his game.
Was it because he felt himself a free man? He had sold his share of MRD to Tauranac at the end of 1969 and had already decided that this would be his final showdown. Or was it that he had been ready to step down in favour of an Ecclestone-financed move by Jochen Rindt back to Brabham, which fell through when Chapman upped the ante and offered the Austrian his own F2 team and a pair of Lotus 69s? And which then made Jack step back into the BT33?
Whatever the psychology, the man opening his 1970 championship in the best possible way was one John Arthur Brabham. In Spain, a blown engine at two-thirds of the distance caused him to lose second place, right at the moment when he was about to overtake Jackie Stewart for the lead. Then came Monaco and the Gasometer gaffe, but he still finished second to reclaim first position in the championship. Everything changed in favour of Rindt when Lotus hit the jackpot with their coil-spring C version of the 72, as Jochen won four GPs in a row to lead the championship by a country mile when the circus reached Austria. Jack was still best of the rest, even including his second last-lap drama of the season when he ran out of fuel at Brands Hatch, but the races that followed saw a steep drop of form. Jack slumped to fifth in the final standings, although he shone for the final time in his 126th and last GP, qualifying fourth in Mexico and running a strong third before retiring with a blown engine.
Jack didn't leave for Australia before setting up Engine Developments Ltd for John Judd, and then from a distance saw Ron Tauranac struggle in his single year as Brabham team boss before selling out to B C Ecclestone. Under Bernie's guidance and with the help of Gordon Murray's genius the cars bearing Jack's name became cars of beauty and genius, instead of practicality and workmanship. Completely different they may have been to Brabham and Tauranac, the Ecclestone and Murray combo gave two more driver's titles to the Brabham name. But whereas the man Brabham quit while he still had his pride, the marque Brabham had to plummet into the murkiest depths of non-qualifications and criminal ownership.
Jack became Sir Jack in 1973, before the knighted triple World Champion went on to enjoy the arrival of sons Geoff, David and Gary as racing drivers on their own. In the nineties, he became a staunch supporter of the Festival of Speed and, when the Goodwood circuit was reopened in 1998, the Revival Meeting. Racing in the 3-litre Glover Trophy in 1999, he got sandwiched at the chicane before being nudged into a scary somersault.
Characteristically, the man pulled though without significant damage.