DRIVERS: JACK BRABHAM

Name: Jack Brabham
Nationality: Australia
Date of birth: April 2, 1926 - Hurstville, nr Sydney

Jack Brabham, French GP 1967

Jack Brabham, French GP 1967 

 © The Cahier Archive

The grandson of a Londoner who emigrated to Australia in 1885 and opened a grocer's shop in Adelaide, Brabham was born in Sydney where his father worked as a dealer in flour. Brabham grew up fascinated by machinery. He was studying mechanical engineering when he was called up to work for the Royal Australian Air Force and worked as a mechanic on Beaufighters based in Australia. When the war ended he was demobilised and immediately began to build a midget racer which was raced by an American called Johnny Schonberg. When he decided to stop racing Brabham decided to try himself and he took part in his first race at the Paramattta Speedway in the suburbs of Sydney. He was soon winning races and in the years that followed became one of the stars of the midget racing scene in Australia until his original engine blew itself up.

Brabham very nearly quit the sport after that but a meeting with a young engineer called Ron Tauranac resulted in a switch to hillclimbing in 1951 and from there moving into road racing with a Cooper-Bristol which had been shipped out from Europe. He found sponsorship to run the car but the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport forced him to remove the name of his sponsor from the car and Brabham decided that he would go racing in New Zealand instead. This brought him into contact with a number of international drivers who raced each winter in New Zealand and in 1955, having seen that he could be competitive with some of the best international racers, Brabham went to England. He raced a Cooper-Alta but it was not very successful and so he switched to a Bristol engine and things then began to improve and he was soon working for the Cooper Car Company in Surbiton, Surrey. He was not paid but was instead allowed to build up a car which he raced and then sold, which enabled him to buy a Maserati 250F for the 1956 season. It was not a success and Brabham went back to Cooper, racing for the works team in Formula 2 and in sports car events.

In 1957 the Climax engine in his Cooper F2 car was stretched to 2.2-litres and Brabham went to Monaco for the Grand Prix. He crashed and a deal was struck with Rob Walker to put Brabham's engine into one of Walker's chassis and Brabham raced the car. He was running third with three laps to go when the engine failed although he pushed the car to the finish and was classified sixth. Brabham and Cooper continued to develop the car and the engine and in 1959 Brabhham began to win European F1 races, his first being the Daily Express Trophy. This was followed by wins in the British and Monaco Grands Prix, success which took him to the World Championship. The following year he did it again but Cooper's domination was ended by a change in the rules which saw Ferrari dominating in 1961. It was during that year that Jack and Tauranac established Motor Racing Developments Ltd and began building a Formula Junior car in a shed in Esher. The project was kept secret as Brabham was still a Cooper driver.

At the end of the year Brabham left Cooper and the Brabham company moved into new workshops in Surbiton and began to design a Formula 1 car. Brabham bought a Lotus with which to start the 1962 season and then in July 1962 the Brabham BT3 appeared at the German GP. Cars for other championships followed but success in F1 did not come until 1964 when Brabham driver Dan Gurney won the team's first Grand Prix at Rouen. Brabham himself did not win a race in one of his own cars until 1966. A new engine formula was introduced that year and in preparation for that Brabham convinced the Repco company in Australia to build an engine for his team, based on an aluminium Oldsmobile V8. This proved to be the most effective engine of 1966 and 1967 and enabled Brabham to win his third Drivers' Championship and the team's first Constructors' title. In 1966 he was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to motor racing.

In 1967 Brabham's number two driver Denny Hulme won the title but in 1968 a new Repco unit proved to be less effective and the arrival of the Cosworth DFV left all opposition standing. In 1969 Brabham joined the teams using the DFV and continued to win races. At the end of 1970 he announced that at 44 it was time for him to retire. He sold his half of the Brabham company to Tauranac and went back to Australia. He retained his shareholding in John Judd's Engine Developments Ltd, which was originally known as Jack Brabham Conversions.

His three sons Geoff, Gary and David have all enjoyed successful racing careers, David getting to Formula 1 in the early 1990s with the ill-fated Simtek team, in which Brabham was a shareholder.

Brabham was knighted in 1979.

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