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Vale Sir Jack Brabham.

Brabham_67_france_01_bcThe words “household name” get thrown around loosely at times, however in the late 1950s through help me with my homework to the 1960s it was hard to not know of Jack Brabham. Knighted in 1979, Sir Jack Brabham passed away at home on the morning of May 19, at the Gold Coast in Queensland, aged 88.
Born in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, April 2nd 1926, John Arthur “Jack” Brabham was exposed to the automotive field very early; at the age of 12 he’d learnt to drive the family car and trucks of the grocery business his father had. He studied metalwork and technical drawing, before moving into a duopoly of study (evening course in mechanical engineering) and daytime work at a garage. On the 19th of May, 1944, he enlisted into the Royal Australian Air Force, becoming a flight mechanic, contrary to his wish to become a pilot however there was already a surplus amount of aircrew.

An American colleague, Jonny Schonberg, persuaded him to watch a category of racing known as midgets. Popular at the time, it was enough to have Jack interested and he built a car and engine which Schonberg raced. After Schonberg’s wife stepped in, Brabham took over and won on just his third night of racing. He won the 1948 Australian Speedcar Championship, repeated the feat a year later and also added the South Australian Championship plus the 1950 and ’51 silverware. From here, Brabham became interested in road racing, buying and modifying cars from the Cooper Car Company. He raced in Australia and New Zealand until 1955, picking up the nickname Black Jack along the way. After competing in the 1955 New Zealand GP, Jack went to the UK to try his luck there. He drove an ailing car in the 1955 Grand Prix, retiring with a broken clutch. It was also around this time that the Brabham and Cooper name became intertwined, with Brabham working with the Cooper factory and racing their cars, including the Formula 2 category.

1959 saw the Cooper cars receive a power boost with the addition of 2.5L engines to the company’s team, with immediate results for Jack, winning the 1959 Monaco GP and the British GP after a tyre conservation drive saw him win ahead of rival and friend Stirling Moss. It came down to a close championship fight between Brabham, Moss and Ferrari’s Tony Brooks, with Brabham running out of fuel and pushing the car across the line for fourth. It was, though, still enough to get the required points. Brabham, being as competitive as always, though teh cars and he could do better; he asked his friend (another soon to be Aussie legend) Ron Tauranac, to come and work with him in the UK. Brabham and Tauranac worked side by side in upgrading and selling cars via Brabham’s car dealership but it was in racing that their future lay. With advice from Ron, Brabham took a Cooper car, helping to designthe Cooper T53 and took the car to five successive Grands Prix victories, including the Belgian Grand Prix, where Stirling Moss was injured retiring for two months to recuperate) and two others were killed.

Tauranac and Brabham formed Motor Racing Developments, racing a Cooper before moving to a team he created in 1962 and racing cars powered by the FIA’s choice, a 1.5L powerplant. There was no success that year and little at all before 1966 saw a change to 3.0L engines. The other teams had unwieldy and unreliable 12 cylinder engines; Jack persuaded Australian company to help develop a V8, based on the American Oldsmobile alloy block. It was a proven engine which would give better reliablity, allowing them the advantage and the other teams catchup as they struggled to make their engines reliable. This would end up creating a piece of history that still stands; with Ron Tauranac and Brabham building the BT-19 car, powered by the Repco 3.0L V8, Brabham won the French Grand Prix, becoming the first ever driver to win in a car of his own construction. He’d win four races straight, becoming the first and only driver to win a championship in a car bearing his name. Jack was 40 in 1966; stung by media questioning his ability, he’d uncharacteristically recated by appearing in a beard and hobbling to his car with a cane at the Dutch Grand Prix. To rub it in, Brabham won the race.Brabham race car

1968 was the beginning of the end for Brabham’s racing career; retirements in the first seven races, minor points in the German GP and then four more retirements. In 1969 Jack suffered injuries to a foot in atesting accident and told his wife he’d retire at season’s end, selling his share of the team to Tauranac. Having found no decent enough drivers to race in his team in 1970, Jack postponed retirement, winning in his first race. After some good finishes he did retire at the end of the season.

Jack stayed busy in retirement; running his cars at events such as the Goodwood Revival, saying racing kept him young. His first wife, Betty and he had three sons; David, Geoff and Gary.In 1994 Betty and Jack divorced, with Brabham remarrying in 1995, to Margaret. But by the mid 2000s, health issues started to creep in. He was almost completely deaf thanks to the years of racing without the protection today’s drivers take for granted, there was kidney dialysis and macular degeneration in the eyes. Brabham’s achievements though were being acknowledged, with a suburb in Perth being named Brabham and an extension to the Sydney Motorsport Park (formerly Eastern Creek Raceway) taking the full length to 4.5km and being called the Brabham Circuit and an automotive training facility was opened in Queensland in 2012, being named the Sir Jack Brabham Automotive Centre of Excellence. Sir Jack Brabham made his last public appearance just one day before his passing, with one of the cars he had built.

Vale Sir Jack Brabham.Brabham