Automotive History: Jack Brabham – You Make Your Own Luck


(first posted 9/4/2016) 

Since 1950, 754 drivers have started in a Formula One Championship Grand Prix.
Of those, there have been 106 different race winners.
Of those, 32 have won the World Drivers’ Championship.
Of those, only one has won a championship driving a car of his construction.

On this day 50 years ago, that singular distinction became Jack Brabham’s.


In July 1966, spectators at the Dutch Grand Prix were witness to a curious sight. An elderly man dressed in racing overalls with a long flowing beard and jack handle for a walking stick was limping along the racetrack. By now Jack Brabham was the old man of the Formula One racing scene.

brabham child

He was born forty years earlier in Hurstville, about 10 km south of the centre of Sydney. An only child, Jack was prone to shenanigans. One time his parents took the handlebars and seat off his tricycle to teach him a lesson. He figured out how to steer it with the pedals while sitting on the bar ahead of the vacant seat pole.

Penshurst workshop

Before Jack was a race car driver, he was a race car constructor.

He left school at fifteen, and learned fitting and turning skills on the job. When he came of age, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force hoping for a fly during the war. By then, however, the Air Force didn’t need anymore pilots so instead Jack was trained as a flight mechanic. After hostilities ended he set up business in a workshop built for him by his uncle in his grandfather’s backyard.


He soon met Johnny Schonberg, recently discharged from the US Navy. Johnny was a weekend midget car racer. Midget racing was just about the crudest version of oval track racing around. If you wanted to avoid the gravel and dirt spray from these almost-constantly-sideways cars, you needed to get to the head of the pack and stay there.

In 1946 Jack made Johnny a very durable midget racer, building a 1,350cc engine and placing it on a custom-fabricated chassis.

brabham midget2

Johnny’s wife convinced him to give up racing, and within a year the car was Jack’s. In his first season, Jack won the New South Wales state championship. He took up hill-climbing in his midget racer, and he was so quick on his first try the organisers decided his midget was not eligible because it didn’t have four-wheel brakes.

Jack took the midget back to his workshop, fitted brakes all round and entered the Australian Hill Climbing Championship. And won it.

redex special

Eventually Jack found himself in Coopers. After driving the smaller mid-rear engined Mark IV and Mark V models, he set his sights on a more substantial racer, this one with a 2 litre Bristol engine. He found it at a deceased estate, unused and quite expensive. After organising sponsorship with Redex, Jack and his father were able to buy the Cooper-Bristol.

He christened it the ‘Redex Special’ which just brought more problems. Entered in the 1953 Australian Grand Prix, it was promptly banned by the Confederation of Australian Motorsport for its bodyside advertising. Fed up with CAMS’ conservatism, in 1954 Jack took to New Zealand with its own vibrant racing scene.


By 1955, Jack was in England. The Big League. And the little league.

The Big League was the Formula One championship. Although racing in Australia had been recorded as far back as 1904 (at Sandown Park, above), and we had run our first Grand Prix in 1927 or 1928 (depending on who you believe), it was not until 1985 that our Grand Prix was actually a part of the World Championship.


By 1934 there were 18 Grands Prix across the globe, but with the after-effects of the war a rationalisation of this spread took place.

In 1950, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile instigated the World Drivers’ Championship. For the first time, points accrued from seven official Formula One races would contribute to an overall winner for the season – awarded that year to Dr. Nino Farina in an Alfa 158. Over the 1950s and 1960s the number of eligible races grew to about 10.

For 1950 and 1951, the cars running under this formula were allowed engines of 4.5 litre naturally aspirated, or 1.5 litre supercharged.

The start of the race at Silverstone, 1953

Alfa and Ferrari dominated the championship’s first two years. For 1952 and 1953, the FIA changed the rules to try and even the field. Cars running under the previous Formula Two classification of 2 litres un-supercharged were allowed, and these made up most of the entrants.

1955 Monaco Grand Prix.

1954 and 1955 saw a return to Formula One classification, with un-supercharged 2.5 litre engines the maximum allowed limit.


Meanwhile a new type of racing class has sprouted. Known as the 500cc class, these little league motorcycle-engined racers were created to suit the lower budget of the majority of enthusiasts.

One marque that came to prominence was Cooper, run by Charles (standing) and his son John (seated). Though John was an aspiring driver the Coopers found greater success as a manufacturer, with many buyers for their little cars. Their racers had the engine situated behind the driver – a configuration that allowed for a shorter chain-drive.


The mid-rear engine was nothing new; the pre-war GP Auto Union racers designed by Ferdinand Porsche (and driven here by the great Tazio Nuvolari) being the most notable antecedents.


After the war, efforts were made to reintroduce mid-rear back into racing’s top level. However, even during the 1952 and 1953 reduced displacement years, attempts such as Ernst Klodwig’s Heck-BMW made no real inroads into the big league and the idea was generally viewed as a gimmick.


Cooper’s larger front-engined cars had run to middling F1 success during the 2 litre years – Mike Hawthorn’s 3rd at the 1952 British GP was its best championship result. But these cars were not competitive at the 2.5 litre level and Cooper showed no interest in re-entering Formula One, let alone developing the mid-rear configuration for the formula.


Upon Jack Brabham’s 1955 arrival in Britain, he had purchased a second-hand Cooper. Unlike his ‘as new’ Redex Special, this one was a tired example. It was initially powered by an Alta engine and he soon replaced this with a Bristol unit. Jack entered it in non-championship races, but earned no podiums.

RG 638 - Jack Brabham (winner), John Cooper and Bruce McLaren

Jack got on with very well with John Cooper if not so much with his father Charles; it was John who came up with the nickname ‘Black Jack’ on account of his jet-black hair, five o’clock shadow and somewhat taciturn nature. Despite his lack of competition success, the Coopers started to notice Jack’s mechanical capabilities.

In the middle of the 1955, Jack had a proposal for the Coopers.


In 1951, the Coventry Climax FW (Feather Weight) 1,020cc 4 cylinder motor was introduced. Though it was the work of engineers with significant automotive experience – Harry Mundy and Walter Hassan – it was produced for an entirely different purpose. This was a fire pump engine; a portable unit designed to the British Government’s new specification of pumping twice the water from a unit half the weight of the previous specification.

However, by 1953 the British manufacturers of small racers had discovered its potential.


Manufacturer Kieft was first to put the Coventry Climax into one of their small racers, and before long Cooper did so too. For 1955, their designer Owen Maddock had developed the ‘bob-tail’ T39; a monoplace sports racer with a 1,089cc version of the engine mounted mid-rear.


Jack convinced the Coopers to let him build a T39 with a 2 litre Bristol engine, and in return he would work on their other cars for nothing.

The T40 was rushed to completion and entered in the British Grand Prix at Aintree where Jack diced with the best drivers of the era, as above with Hawthorn in his Ferrari. The Cooper retired with a broken clutch.


Jack fettled the T40 and took it back home to run in the 1955 Australian Grand Prix, held at Port Wakefield and run under Formula Libre (open formula) classification. He won the race and sold the car to help pay for his next European campaign.


Having driven both front and mid-rear engined Coopers, Jack had gained a first-hand understanding of the benefits of the latter’s configuration and had a (not unique) intuition that it could work in Formula One.

With the engine behind the driver, the main principles in play were a better weight distribution and improved inertia characteristics. The Auto Union cars were conceived to these principles, but were still enormous machines. A compact engine would better concentrate the driver torso/engine mass, and allow for a much smaller (hence lighter) vehicle which in return would need less overall power. For comparison purposes, above centre is a 1956 Maserati 250F, said to be the best balanced front-engined car in the estimation of many drivers.

With the mid-rear mounted Climax engine, 1956 saw success for the Cooper in Formula Two, a category recently dominated by Colin Chapman’s front-engined Lotuses.


By 1957 Jack was employed by Cooper as a works driver. The Formula Two cars would occasionally run in the same races as their senior brethren, but the Formula One wins were still not there.

Despite this Jack was becoming a popular driver with the crowds and it wasn’t just his sideways driving that caught their attention.


After an all-too-rare shunt at Monaco that year in his works Cooper during practice, Brabham’s engine was transferred into gentleman privateer Rob Walker’s T43. With Jack driving, it was running third when the fuel pump broke.

He got out and pushed the car out of the tunnel to the finish line for sixth place.


In 1958, a Cooper won its first championship Formula One race at the Argentinian Grand Prix. It was the same Rob Walker T43 from Monaco but with an enlarged 2.2 litre engine. The driver was Stirling Moss.

‘It was a bit annoying,’ Jack admitted. ‘But I made up for it later.’


The 1958 Monaco Grand Prix was won by Maurice Trintignant in a Rob Walker Cooper T45.

This car was very much like the T43, but with one significant difference.

Ron RALT 1949

Since arriving in England, Jack had been writing letters to a colleague back in Sydney.

Ron Tauranac had met Jack through the Australian racing scene and had even beaten Brabham once in a hill climbing championship, driving a car in the Cooper idiom of his own construction known as a Ralt. He had come to appreciate Jack’s broader capabilities when giving him some machining work through his fulltime job at CSR Chemicals, and their friendship continued when Jack left for overseas.

autocar cutawayT39

Jack had sent Ron an Autocar illustration of the T39, showing the Cooper racing chassis married to the Coventry Climax engine, with a few of his own notes scribbled on the sheet. Ron took those suggestions, and fashioned a set of step-down gear patterns for the Cooper-Climax racers. On one of his visits to Australia, Jack picked up Ron’s work and had it applied to a T43 Cooper in England.

The resulting T45 driven by Trintignant to Monaco victory had an engine sitting 3 inches lower than its predecessor, lowering its centre of gravity and significantly improving its cornering ability.


It’s important that I don’t understate the role of Owen Maddock (second from right) in this story. For the entirety of Brabham’s time at Cooper, Maddock was the chief engineer and primary designer of the vehicles Jack drove. He and Brabham didn’t get on personally; Jack considered him too conservative, but neither let this affect their professional relationship.

In truth, though, Jack was the impetus for the team. As Cooper mechanic ‘Ginger’ Devlin would later relate; ‘Jack was worth ten men and he kept the team together. Say we were still working at two in the morning and Jack said “Why don’t we try this?” we’d do it willingly because Jack would have worked everything out and we knew it would make a difference.’


In late 1958, Jack journeyed to Paris. Cooper was using the ERSA gearbox also found in the Citroen Traction Avant, and it was having trouble handling the power from the more powerful Climax engines. Jack showed them where to add ribbing to the casings for greater strength, and they had 25 gearboxes ready within 3 weeks. Those gearboxes would last the next three seasons.


In 1959, Jack Brabham finally saw the Formula One chequered flag in the 2.5 litre T51 Cooper-Climax.

For all this talk of Brabham’s mechanical nous, he was also a top driver and fierce competitor. Stirling Moss – arguably the best driver of his generation – rated Brabham on the track; ‘I would say he was probably one of the toughest drivers I ever raced against. Most of the drivers, once you’d passed them, you can forget about them, but (with Brabham), you never knew. He was always there, hunting along. He was competitive, I mean, he wanted to win.’


Brabham’s first victory came at Monaco. Stirling Moss was also driving a T51, but one fitted with a Colotti gearbox that failed during the race.

After that it was wins for Jack at the French and British Grands Prix.

The 1959 season came down to the last race. Brabham was ahead in championship points, but Moss and Tony Brooks were still in the running.


It was a long wait. The US Grand Prix at Sebring was held in December, three months after Monza. The weekend before the stateside Grand Prix, Jack participated in a race at Nassau during which a stone had flown into his goggles filling one eye with shards of glass.

Despite the discomfort Jack had a good race at Sebring and found himself leading.


A mile from the finish line the car ran out of fuel. It coasted for 500 yards then stopped.

As he had done two years before at Monaco, Jack got out and started pushing.

Brabham after race

He coaxed his T51 up the track’s slight gradient and watched the other cars flash by. Brabham knew Moss was already out of the race and saw Brooks coming in third. He reached the finish line and collapsed to the ground, utterly exhausted.


The officials led him to a caravan, and for a short while he regained himself. Inside, away from everyone, he did a mental tally of points and realised that he had won the 1959 World Drivers’ Championship.


In 1958, the FIA added another championship alongside the drivers’ title for the team that accrued the most points. Cooper won the World Constructors’ Championship in 1959.


1960 saw Brabham win his second World Drivers’ Championship in the ‘lowline’ Cooper-Climax T59.

It featured a suspension arrangement conceived in Sydney, sketches of which had been sent to England via airmail.

By Ron Tauranac.

brabham ad

With his newfound fame, Jack embraced the opportunities that arose; product endorsements for the Rootes Group and various other products, as well as ghost-written pieces for the press. Though not as media-hungry as Stirling Moss, he still had a deep appreciation of the money that could be earned via this route. It has to be remembered that though the top Grand Prix drivers were well paid, their remuneration was nothing near what is earned today.


Between championships Jack Brabham set up a garage and dealership in Chessington, Surrey, selling Rootes, Standard Triumph and eventually BMC cars.


He used his reputation to market tuning kits and Q-cars for various models, the most potent of which was the Triumph Herald fitted with a 1,220 cc Coventry-Climax engine.


Jack asked Ron Tauranac to join him in England. Ron was reluctant; he had a good job and a family to consider. Jack sent him a return ticket; if Ron decided he didn’t want to stay he could just get on the plane back to Australia. Instead, Ron exchanged it for a one-way flight and used the rest of the money to bring his family over.

Ostensibly, the move was to help Jack at his garage dealership.

Secretly, they planned to start producing their own Formula Junior cars.


By 1961, Formula One racing had been changed forever. The starting grid was now filled with mid-rear engined cars.


Even that recalcitrant late-adopter, Enzo Ferrari – who had scorned these British garagisti – finally followed suit. And did so with a vengeance. He owned the 1961 season with Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips in his sharknose Ferrari 156. Things ended tragically with von Trips and 14 spectators dying in a racing accident and the driver’s title went to the classical-music-loving American.


1961 had seen Jack beat another new path – to Indianapolis.

A special 2,750 cc offset version of the Cooper-Climax was prepared and sent to the US for the 500. Before the race, AJ Foyt took a look at the car and called it ‘a bunch of pipes lashed up with chicken wire.’ It qualified 2 mph slower than the pole sitter, and started the race in thirteenth spot. Despite his car chewing through inadequate tyres Brabham finished ninth, and the clock had started ticking for the front-engined Offys.

coopers and jack

But Jack didn’t win a Formula One race all year during the 1961 season. And he had grown tired of Charles Cooper’s negativity and resistance to change.

‘Charlie Cooper didn’t like spending money and I had the feeling that we were just not going to go on winning races like we did in 1959 and ‘60. He kept saying to me, “Why change it when you’re winning?”’

At the end of the 1961, Jack left the Cooper team.


The business Jack had set up with Ron Tauranac was named Motor Racing Developments, a 50/50 arrangement between the two men. It would manufacture race cars and run a Formula Two team. Whilst in Switzerland, journalist Jabby Crombac told Jack his company’s initials were somewhat reminiscent of the French word ‘emmerder’ (to give someone the shits). Jack got on the phone to Ron and they agreed to rename the business Brabham Racing Developments.


Ron Tauranac was the designer of the BRD cars. His first was a Formula Junior for Australian driver Gavin Youl. It was another journalist, Alan Brinton, who later suggested the cars be coded BT for Brabham Tauranac, and this first car was retrospectively named the BT1. Jack was actively involved in its construction, doing the most difficult machining for Ron.


Jack formed another company, the Brabham Racing Organisation. This would be the Formula One team, and a customer of Brabham Racing Developments.

Although it all seems pre-ordained now, Jack’s decision to leave Cooper caught Ron Tauranac on the hop and he didn’t have a car ready for the start of the 1962 season. Jack ran an outdated Lotus 24 until late July when the BT3 was ready. It debuted in its attractive turquoise and gold livery at the Nurburgring, and scored its first championship points later that season at the US Grand Prix.


However, even a change in livery to Australia’s informal national colours of green and gold for 1963 brought no victories for Jack.

French GP, Rouen 28 June 1964 Winner Dan Gurney, Brabham BT7 takes the flag

In 1964, the Brabham Racing Organisation earned its first championship victory, with Dan Gurney’s BT7 winning in France. Gurney followed that with another win in Mexico the same year.

1965 would not prove so fruitful.


1961 to 1965 were known as the 1.5 litre years in Grand Prix, for the maximum engine displacement (un-supercharged) allowed by the FIA during this period. As had Phil Hill in 1961, John Surtees won in a Ferrari in 1964, and Graham Hill won with a BRM in 1962, but these years were dominated by two other men.

Colin Chapman had taken the mid-rear engine idea and developed its next tangible improvements. He made his cars monocoque-bodied and used the new V8 Coventry Climax engine as a stressed member, significantly reducing the weight of these frame-less racers.

He also changed the driver’s position, resetting him almost prone with a seat-back angle of 55 degrees, thereby reducing the frontal area of the car even further. His 1962 Lotus 25 is shown above in comparison to the 1959 Cooper T51.


Chapman’s number one driver was Jim Clark. Clark initially had difficulty adjusting to the new seating, but as he put it himself; ‘Once I had mastered the new position, I wondered how I had ever driven a racing car any other way.’

Jim Clark won the 1963 and 1965 Formula One World Drivers’ Championships, and with Colin Chapman set the benchmark for the 1.5 litre years.


While Formula One wins were proving sporadic, Jack and Ron were doing better in Formula Two. After a successful 1964 season, they were approached by Honda for 1965. This following extract from a 1990s article by Mike Lawrence in Classic and Sports Car is a vivid illustration of Jack the driver, leader, team player and businessman.

‘When Honda bought a Cooper prior to its entry in F1, the Weber carburettors baffled its engineers. Jack interrupted one of his trips home to show them how it should be done. The fledgling Honda team was knocked out by the fact that the World Champion made the effort and, after they had seen him at work, they were devotees for life. When Honda decided to enter car racing, it approached Lotus to build an F1 car and Jack to run an F2 team. Colin Chapman received a mock-up of the Honda F1 engine and sat on it, to delay Honda’s entry to F1 and to wind up Coventry Climax. Chapman was crossed off Honda’s Christmas card list but, to this day, Brabham and Tauranac are consultants to Honda.’


‘Jack ran an F2 Honda engine in 1965 and, for the first race, he qualified nine seconds off the pace. Instead of throwing his toys out of the pram, he taught the small band of of engineers how to go motor racing. These men included two future presidents of Honda, Tadashi Kume and Nobuhiko Kawamoto. At the last race, he took pole and finished second, just 0.6 seconds behind Clark’s Lotus. Brabham and Tauranac then told Honda precisely what sort of engine to build – the first had been peaky, and its shape made it impossible to install harmoniously. Honda responded and delivered an entirely new unit within a few months. Tadashi Kume says: ‘Jack and Ron taught us how to win races.”


‘It was not luck, it was Jack’s integrity and engineering input that turned Honda from a makeweight into a winner. In fact, it could have been 11 wins [instead of ten for the 1966 F2 season] because he spun out of the lead at Rouen. All the race reports say the gearlever came off in his hand, but Nobuhiko Kawamoto knows the true story.

‘“Before the race I received a call from Mr Honda who was concerned that the engines were lasting so long that we were not learning anything. He wanted us to run an engine until it broke so I built one with a used crankshaft and bearings. Jack-san did not finish the race, the engine seized five laps from the end and he spun. He walked back to the pits and we were apprehensive, thinking that he would be angry. Jack-san, however, smiled and pulled the gear lever out of his pocket so everyone, including the journalists, thought he had retired because of the lever. He did it to protect Honda. He was a demanding man, a hard man to work for, but he had a great heart.”’

Portrait Tauranac Brabham

Despite the cameraderie and respect between them, Ron Tauranac wanted out of BRD. Though he never sought the limelight, he had some regrets about working under the Brabham moniker.

In 1965 he told Jack he wanted the build the cars himself, and then sell them to Jack without engine for £3000.


Jack thought about it for a while and returned with a counter proposal. He would combine the manufacturing business and Formula One race team into a single entity, with a 50/50 partnership between the two men covering this reconstituted Brabham Racing Organisation. As a final kicker, he offered to double Ron salary. Ron accepted.


Tauranac’s misgivings about continuing with BRD might have had something to do with the new 3 litre limit for Formula One to commence in 1966. He had been designing a car, the BT19, to accommodate the upcoming 1.5 litre Coventry Climax flat-16 engine, which was made instantly redundant with the announcement of the new engine parameters.


Preparations were made in earnest for the 1966 season by all the manufacturers. Enzo Ferrari had Mauro Forghieri design a new V12 that was capable of 360hp. For Cooper, Maserati built a V12 with a similar output. British Racing Motors’ plans were the most ambitious, an H16 layout (as seen above) with a nominal output of 400 hp. The BRM and Lotus teams were to use the H16, and Brabham was offered it as well.


But Jack had another idea.

Back in 1962, Lance Reventlow had taken a Scarab to Australia and Jack had been able to get a first hand look at its powerplant. It was a version of the small aluminium 215 cu. in. V8 Buick engine that would later find its way across the Atlantic into the Rover cars. GM had abandoned these engines for production cars after 400,000 units had been produced due to excessive wastage from miscast blocks, but the bespoke nature of motorsport could overcome this issue.


Jack had already persuaded Australian company Repco to build some 2.5 litre versions of this small GM engine for the local Tasman racing series. A business called Repco-Brabham Engines was established and run by Frank Hallam (second from right) in Maidstone, Victoria to produce the engines. Though Brabham had no equity in this business, he was sure to receive preferential treatment.

The RB620 was designed by Australian Phil Irving (left), the creator of the Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle engine. Irving’s modifications to the Oldsmobile block (with its extra stud per cylinder compared with the Buick version) were so comprehensive, Repco-Brabham was to claim it as their own design.


In September 1965, Jack Brabham asked Repco-Brabham to prepare a 3 litre version of the RB620 for Formula One. With an output of around 310hp it would be down on power relative to most of his competitors’ units, but Jack’s thinking was pristine.

With the change in formula, Jack suspected that there would be teething troubles with all these new and complicated engines. He reasoned that a basic, robust and lightweight unit might be the answer to successful season of racing. Simplicity was key to Irving’s design; budgetary contraints had limited the engine to an sohc valve arrangement, but he had deliberately designed the chaindrives and head as a combined demountable unit for ease and rapidity of repair without disturbing the engine’s timing.

For all its deficiencies in outright power, the RB620 had a superb torque range suited to the twistier circuits.


The RB620 3 litre was placed into Tauranac’s BT19 car, with only minor modifications to the rear of the frame. Despite the advances in monocoque construction, Ron had opted to maintain a spaceframe arrangement for ease of repairability. As Jack put it in his autobiography;

‘My whole aim was to make the car a finisher. If it won races, all to the good, but in order to win you must finish.’

Monaco GP, 22 May 1966Lap one

Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco. May 24, 1966.

The opening race of the 1966 Grand Prix season. Starting 11th on the grid, Brabham was soon out with a stuck transmission. The race was won by Jackie Stewart in a BRM. The H16 had been driven during practice, but was not raced and Stewart’s engine was instead a 2 litre V8. Lorenzo Bandini came second in a 3 litre Ferrari.


Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps. June 12, 1966.

Seven cars were out on the first lap after Jo Bonnier connected with Mike Spence in heavy rain, resulting in a cascade of accidents. Jack Brabham finished in fourth, but it was John Surtees in first and Bandini in third that told of Ferrari’s genuine threat for the season.


French Grand Prix, Riems. July 3, 1966.

Brabham started in fourth position, but moved to second on the first lap and slipstreamed behind Bandini’s Ferrari. By his own admission that tow was the only thing that kept him so close to the more powerful prancing horse. Bandini led for 31 laps before a broken throttle cable thwarted his race. Brabham took the lead and won.

It was the first ever F1 championship victory for a driver/constructor. The press were ecstatic.


British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch. July 16, 1966.

Brabham took pole and led from start to chequered flag. Teammate Denny Hulme came second in a slightly longer wheelbase BT20. Jack was thrilled with his team’s one-two finish.


Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort. July 24, 1966.

Jack had turned 40 a month back, and was copping stick from the press for being the oldest driver in the Formula One field. Not one to take this lying down, he donned a fake beard and hobbled to his car. As he later recounted; ‘I just had to win after that.’


He did.


German Grand Prix, Nurburgring. August 7, 1966.

The Nurburgring was – and still is – the most daunting track in Formula One. 17 miles of endlessly undulating curves and twists making it hard to sustain a consistent driving line.

‘The German Grand Prix was extremely wet. It was a shocking race, actually, and a very dangerous one; I guarantee we drove every lap under a different set of circumstances, because of rain showers on different parts of the circuit. I got a lot of satisfaction out of winning that race, because it was the first Grand Prix I had won at the ‘Ring. I look back on that as more satisfying for me personally than perhaps any other race. John Surtees was second and Jochen (Rindt) third.’


Italian Grand Prix, Monza. September 4, 1966.

Another victory for Ferrari, but it was not Surtees driving. He had fallen out spectacularly with team manager Dragoni after the Ford GT40s wiped the floor at Le Mans, and resigned from Ferrari mid-season to race a Cooper-Maserati. Monza was instead won by Ludovico Scarfiotti.


With four victories under his belt and two races to go, no other driver was going to be able to top Black Jack’s points tally.

On September 4, 1966, Jack Brabham was officially the winner the 1966 Formula One World Drivers’ Championship.

In a car of his construction.


To put this accomplishment in perspective, only two other men have won a Formula One championship race as both driver and constructor. One was Dan Gurney.

‘In 1963 (Jack) hired me as his team mate for his newly established Brabham F1 team and during the next three years we really got to know each other. We discovered we shared similar traits. We were not only interested in driving racing cars but in building them, improving them, searching for every tiny bit of technical advantage we could find. In 1966 we went our separate ways and I followed the trail he had blazed by trying to build, race and win with my own F1 cars.’


As a driver, Gurney made his mark on the international scene. His entered Formula One in 1959 and, as well as giving the Brabham team their first Formula One championship victory he did the same for Porsche in 1962.

With AJ Foyt he won the 1967 Le Mans 24Hrs in a Ford GT40 Mark IV, but his record as a driver is perhaps overshadowed by a 1971 victory piloting a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona in an informal road race held on US soil and run from sea to shining sea.


As a constructor, Gurney found most success at home. With Carroll Shelby, he formed All-American Racers and the cars created by this team were known as Eagles. In 1968, Gurney piloted an AAR Eagle in the Indy 500, coming second to Bobby Unser who was also driving an Eagle. This was the first of three Eagle victories in the 500, though none had Gurney behind the wheel.

Since its inception AAR has run with success in multiple domestic series and continues to astound with the 2012 DeltaWing racer.

flying eagle

In 1966, Dan Gurney entered Formula One with the slightly renamed Anglo American Racers team. The cars he produced in conjunction with Len Terry were some of the most beautiful monoplace racers ever. With its distinctive beak, an Eagle could be recognised at a glance. The first F1 Eagle was powered by a Coventry Climax engine, but midway through the season it received a V12 designed by Aubrey Woods and built by Harry Weslake, who gave the Eagle-Weslake half its name.


In 1967, Gurney drove an Eagle-Weslake to victory in the season-opening Race of Champions at Brands Hatch – although this Formula One race was not part of the championship.

That year Gurney won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in his number 36 racer. It was the only championship victory he would take in one of his own cars, before bowing out as an F1 constructor in 1968.


The other driver/constructor to win a Grand Prix was Bruce McLaren.

Jack had met Bruce back in New Zealand. Bruce’s father Len was active in motorsport and had accommodated Jack at his house during his trans-Tasman jaunts. Bruce was a talented driver, and won a ticket to England to try his hand at the big league. At Jack’s suggestion, Cooper had taken McLaren on as a Formula Two driver for the 1958 season. In 1959 he was promoted to the top series and in 1960, McLaren came second to Brabham in the drivers’ championship.


When Jack left Cooper Bruce became their number one driver, but by the end of 1965 he too had left the much diminished team.

In 1966, he entered Formula One with the McLaren team in a car designed with Robin Herd. It was painted white with a green stripe, chosen so it could be filmed during genuine races to double that of James Garner’s Pete Aron in the fictional John Frankenheimer film ‘Grand Prix’. In 1968, McLaren settled on a vibrant orange hue for his Formula One cars that is still synonymous with his name.

can am posters

Bruce had also entered the emerging and lucrative Can-Am series for large, relatively unrestricted sports racers. This short-lived but prominent series is where he made his greatest mark; his distinctive orange creations winning 5 out of 6 races in 1967, 4 out of 6 races in 1968 and an extraordinary 11 out of 11 races in 1969 – most of which had come from his own driving.


His sole driver/constructor Grand Prix victory came at Spa, the year after Dan Gurney had done the same. In 1969, McLaren came third in the drivers’ championship, though he had no victories that season.


Perhaps, of the three successful driver/constructors, Bruce McLaren was the most complete package. He was studying for a degree in engineering at Auckland University when he won his driver’s scholarship to England. Being 11 years younger than Brabham, his accomplishments seemed only just starting to accumulate. But he died in June 1970 while test-driving one of his Can-Am cars.


Could it happen again? Maybe; these days it would take someone with the acumen and financials of an Elon Musk and the driving ability of an Alonso or a Verstappen, so I’m not holding my breath.


Behind the 1966 Brabham victory there was, of course, a racing team; (left to right) Bob Illich, Roy Billington, (un-named), John Muller, Cary Taylor, Denny Hulme, Jack, Ron, John Judd, (un-named, possibly Geoff Murdoch from Esso).

At Repco-Brabham; Frank Hallam, Phil Irving, Michael Gasking, Bob Brown, Nigel Tait, Peter Holinger, Kevin Davies, David Nash, Stan Johnson, John Mepstead and Rodway Wolfe.

And most likely others as well.

Along with as Jack’s 1996 driving title, Brabham Racing Organisation won the World Constructors’ Championship as well.


For 1967 it was the RB740 engine with exhausts running up and over. The season came down to the last race again, but Jack had to win for a chance and he only came second. He wasn’t too perturbed, though, with Denny Hulme winning the drivers’ title and his own consolation prize of another World Constructors’ Championship.


1968 was a disaster, with 10 retirements and one DNS out of 12 races. At Spa, however, was more evidence of the Jack of old and new.

Old-school Jack:

On the day before the race, a stripped-down engine had shown that a sub-contractor had used the wrong material for the valve-seats. Jack got on to John Judd in England and arranged to have some new seats made. Jack then flew over in his Piper Twin Comanche with two cylinder heads on board.

At three in the morning, Betty Brabham was woken in her family home by the smell of burning. Jack was in the kitchen with the heads in the oven, shrinking the seats into place. He flew back to Belgium and was ready at the start of the race, the cylinder heads having been fitted while he was able to grab some sleep.

New-school Jack:

Ron had fitted some little wings to the nose of Jack’s car. Jack took it out for a lap and decided he wanted some similar downforce on the rear. Taking an idea from the Chaparral Can-Am racers, a separate wing was fabricated and mounted on rods attached to the chassis.

Ferrari had produced a similar appendage but the Brabham was out in practice before them, making BRO the first constructor to practice, qualify and race a Formula One car with a rear wing by a margin of one hour.


1969 was not much better for Jack, though team driver Jacky Ickx came second in the drivers’ championship, winning the German and Canadian Grands Prix.

jack-and-betty final

As far back as 1965, Jack had been mulling retirement as a driver. But he also knew that if he were to continue in a technical capacity, it would by necessity involve him driving at the limit for testing – in some ways even more dangerous than racing.

And there was also Betty, who wanted to stop worrying about whether Jack might not come home from work one day, and was eager to give their three boys – especially the two younger ones – an Australian childhood.


In late 1969, Jack Brabham took the decision to retire from Formula One. He quietly sold his share in Motor Racing Developments Ltd to Ron Tauranac. (Despite its pardon-the-French acronym, the official name for the company had always been MRD, with BRD and 1966-onwards BRO serving in some sort of ‘trading as’ capacity.)

Jack on Ron; ‘He was the only bloke with whom I’d have gone into partnership. He was conscientious to a fault and peerlessly straight.’


But in 1970, the year he turned 44, Jack was behind the wheel again.

The team had secured Jochen Rindt as number one driver for the season, but at the last minute Colin Chapman made Rindt an offer significant enough to have him stay at Lotus.

Partly out of loyalty to his mate, and partly of his own misgivings about stepping away while he still felt at the top of his game, Jack had a long and awkward conversation with Betty over the phone – and found himself driving for Ron Tauranac.


By his own (never overstated) estimation, Jack had a chance at the title in 1970. He got off to a great start by winning the South African Grand Prix, but the rest of the season was beset by the sort of niggles that turn a winner into an also-ran.

At the end of the year, he left Formula One for good.


With Jack gone, things weren’t the same for Ron.

‘Jack and I would stay with the mechanics until 10 o’clock at night, and then we’d have dinner. But when Jack was no longer driving, there was no one with whom to eat dinner or, indeed, socialise at all. I didn’t like that very much.’

In late 1971, Tauranac sold the Brabham team to Bernie Ecclestone, a mismatched pairing to say the least. Though Ron stayed on, it didn’t last long. He left to take a long vacation before reviving the Ralt brand in 1974, building cars for Formula 2, 3 and Junior to much success.

With nearly 600 Brabham Tauranacs and over 1,000 Ralts to his credit, Ron Tauranac AO is the most prolific builder of open-wheeled racers in the history of motorsport.


Despite a tantalising 1970, Jack’s regrets in leaving Formula One were tempered by the deaths of Jochen Rindt, Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage that season. He settled comfortably back into Australia; keeping his hand in motor racing as a manufacturer of VW racing engines as well as enjoying the occasional drive, attending to other business interests including an aviation company and a car dealership, and taking his boys out though the Botany Bay heads for a spot of fishing.

In 1979, Jack became the first racing driver to be honoured with a knighthood.

Sir John Arthur Brabham, AO, OBE passed away in May 2014.


He didn’t invent the mid-rear engined racer, but he was one of the most influential figures in its final propulsion towards a new norm in Formula One.

Nor did he build his 1966 championship-winning car by himself, but he was the hands-on, strategically-prescient and inspirational leader of the team that carried his name.


And on top of all this, Jack Brabham was a bloody good racing driver as well.

Further Reading: is a superb website run by Mark Bissett
focusing on motorsports much in the same way

CC covers curbside classics. For anyone interested in the subject,
I strongly recommend
wandering through its various blogs,
but I will highlight two in particular:

Rodway Wolfe’s first-hand account of his time at Repco-Brabham
working on the RB620 engine

Rodway’s overview of the 1966 Formula One season
including a closer look at the competitive set

Other Sites:

Mattijs Diepraam writing at 8W on the various attempts
at a post-war mid-rear engined race car – the official website detailing his output – a great fansite endorsed by Sir Jack himself