Forgotten Racing Heroes: Sir Jack Brabham

By Natasha Colah

October 21, 2010

(Photo Credit: Lothar Spurzem)

The name Sir Jack Brabham is very well known among Formula 1 fans, but lately Sir Jack has been fading into the background and we thought we would refresh everyone’s memories with his mind-boggling accomplishments.

One of the first drivers to be knighted for his service to motorsports, Brabham won the Formula 1 drivers’ championship three times. Born in April 1926, Sir Jack was a flight mechanic for the Royal Australian Air force and then ran a small engineering workshop. In 1948, he started midget car racing and moved, in 1955, to Europe to join the Cooper Car Company’s racing team. He helped to develop the design for the mid-engine Cooper, which he raced in F1 and at the Indianapolis 500. Brabham then went on to win the F1 World Championship in 1959, where he pushed his car (literally) across the finish line at the last race of the season, the United States Grand Prix at Sebring, after running out of fuel. In 1960, he won the title again, and decided to try the car at the Indianapolis 500 where he, with the only mid-engine car on track, came in ninth. This led to the gradual change of engine design for all the Indianapolis 500 contenders in the years to come.

In 1962, Sir Jack started his own manufacturing company, Motor Racing Developments, with Ron Tauranac, an Australian designer. That year saw the production of the first of the Brabham marques; the B-3, which debuted in the German Grand Prix. In 1966, Brabham was the first and only man to win a Formula 1 World Championship in a car of his own construction, the BT19. The Brabham team won the championship the following year as well, with driver Denny Hulme behind the wheel. Motor Racing Developments also introduced Honda to motorsport by using its engine to power the Brabham manufactured car that competed in Formula 2.

Sir Jack retired from Formula 1 at the age of 44 after the 1970 Grand Prix season and sold his share of the company to Ron Tauranac. He moved back to Australia and persisted with endeavors that allowed him to help with engine developments for racing car manufacturers. He also continued to compete in smaller racing events.

Sir Jack Brabham’s interest in racing was sparked by a friend, Johnny Schonberg, who introduced him to midget racing, and convinced him to build a car, that Johnny could race with. The first car they raced was a homemade machine powered by a JAP motorcycle engine modified and built in Jack’s workshop. In 1948, Schonberg retired and convinced Brabham to take his place, which lead to him winning the Australian Speedway Championship and to the start of his racing career. Sir Jack then went on to win the Australian Championship for the next three consecutive years. After this, he took a try at road racing, for which he bought a series of cars from the Cooper Company, and modified them himself; winning several races until he moved to Europe and to the Cooper Company’s racing team. 

Hence we see that Sir Jack Brabham developed, changed, and improved race engineering not only in the Formula 1 circles but in several different motorsport events. His engineering brilliance and perseverance brought the mid-engine racecar to the forefront and improved the sport immensely.

Stop by next week to read about Frenchmen Jean-Pierre Beltoise's racing career.