RALT (Tauranac)

Ralt was the name devised for a series of cars built in Sydney, Australia, in the 1940s and 1950s by brothers Ron and Austin Tauranac. The name took advantage of the initial of Austin’s second Christian name, Lewis – which was appropriate, because he was an essential part in the construction of those early cars.

Ron Tauranac was born in Gillingham, in Kent, in 1925. He came to Australia with his parents in 1928, and the family was living in Fassifern, near Newcastle, NSW, when Austin was born in 1929. Ron joined Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Sydney as a junior draftsman in 1939, was accepted by the Royal Australian Air Force in 1943, and trained as a pilot; the war ended before he could fly in combat. He was an early post-war member of the Sydney-based Australian Sporting Car Club and one of the first committee-members of the 500cc Car Club, formed in 1947. Ron and Austin, who had served an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, started building their first car in a rented shed in Bondi.

This was in many ways a typical 1940s 500, with 19-inch wire wheels, a tubular ladder chassis, wishbone/leaf spring front suspension, swing-axle rear, and an engine and gearbox from a road-going motorcycle, in this case a pre-1938 pushrod ES2 Norton. On only its second appearance, at Hawkesbury hillclimb in September 1949, the car overturned and Ron was injured. They did not return to competition until late in 1950. Meantime Ron and Austin had been completing a Ford 10-powered two-seater which appeared in August 1950, for Austin to use for competition and daily transport. It used a ladder chassis with transverse-leaf and wishbone front suspension, and Morris 8 wheels, brakes and rear axle. It was styled like a scaled-down Healey Silverstone, and like the Norton-powered car was very well finished. A description of the car in the monthly Australian Motor Sports magazine showed Ron Tauranac was already knowledgeable on matters of suspension design.

After contesting ten events during 1951, the Norton-powered 500 appeared during 1952 with a series of significant chassis modifications. The first versions of what was to become a family of Tauranac-designed 15-inch cast aluminium-alloy wheels were used, and the rear suspension was completely revised into a semi-trailing arm system. Combined with extensive development of the Norton engine, which included casting a stronger drive-side crankcase and adaptation of a square-finned Manx Norton head to use the ES2 rocker gear, this version of the car was far more effective. The reprinted article, from Motor Manual’s Australian Motor Racing Annual no. 3, describes the car in late –‘52 or early-‘53 form.


Ron at the wheel. Photo courtesy Graham Howard

The pioneering Hooper 500, once the dominant NSW 500, was unable to match the revised version of the Tauranac 500, and was retired. A later owner fitted it with a single-cam Norton engine, and in this form it was bought by Austin. Its four-tube chassis and wishbone/leaf spring suspension was retained but beefed up, dampers were fitted, and a complete new body was built. The car re-appeared in mid-1954 and Austin ran it for just under a year, winning a number of handicap races at the outer-Sydney Mt Druitt track, although his lap times were never quite as fast as Ron’s.

The ES2-powered car was sold in late 1954 and raced vigorously, mostly by Merv Ward, until its engine blew up at Mt Panorama in 1957. Austin sold his Inter-powered car in 1955, and the next Tauranac-built car, driven by Ron, appeared in early 1957 (or possibly late 1956). This had a Vincent twin in a four-tube chassis which showed virtually no design similarity to any earlier Tauranac-built car. Its front suspension used Austin A30 wishbones and uprights, it rear suspension was Tauranac-built de Dion. The wheels, and the rack and pinion steering, were also Tauranac-built. Noel Hall bought the car in 1957 and in his hands, and with Reg Mulligan in the early 1960s, this car worked very well.

Austin started building another car, to use a Peugeot engine and de Dion rear suspension. This car was sold incomplete and was eventually scrapped.

From about 1958 Ron offered for sale multi-tube chassis, suspension components, wheels and racks. Many Sydney-built cars of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s used these components, and three chassis were eventually completed by private owners. These chassis had only detail similarity to previous Ralts. When Ron finally accepted Jack Brabham’s invitation to work with him in England in 1960, a number of chassis and components were unsold. They became the basis for early examples of Lynx cars, using a variety of engines.

Ron Tauranac’s association with Jack Brabham went back to at least 1950, when Brabham was making his first moves from speedway into road-racing. By 1953 they were sufficiently close to share a Holden in the first round-Australia Redex Trial, along with Brabham’s friend Bill Armstrong.

The name Ralt was not used until 1951. Initially, the Norton-powered car had been entered as the “RST,” and the Ford 10-powered car was entered as a “Ford special.” The brothers themselves did not apply consecutive numbers to their cars, and Austin never entered the Hooper-based 500 as a Ralt, only as a “Norton special.”

The first Ralt was written off after a racing accident in 1960, but some parts survive. The Ford 10 Ralt was sold in late 1951 or early 1952, and is said to have been written off in a road accident in the late 1950s. The former Hooper 500 was last known in South Australia in the early 1960s. The Ralt Vincent was converted to a water-cooled engine and independent rear suspension, and survives in this form. Two of the three completed kit Ralts, both of which had used Vincent engines, also survive.

The first RALT as reviewed in Iota.

When Jack Brabham returned to Australia, now as reigning 1959 World Champion with Cooper. Brabham invited Ron to England to work at his garage in Chessington, fitting Coventry Climax engines into Triumph Heralds. In 1961 he and Brabham decided to build their own cars and Tauranac designed the MRD (Motor Racing Development) Formula Junior car. The following year Brabham left Cooper to form his own marque and he and Tauranac began building cars for a variety of different formulae. The business was a big success and by the mid 1960s Brabhams were winning in all the major categories.

By the end of the decade, Brabham was struggling, although the customer business continued to be successful. Brabham retired from racing at the end of 1970 and went back to Australia, leaving Ron to run the business but he sold the Brabham  marque to Bernie Ecclestone shortly after. He stayed in England, designing the Trojan T101 Formula 5000 car and being involved with Frank Williams's F1 team.

Ron  retired to Australia but by 1974, he was back in England where he opened a small workshop in Woking and produced the Ralt RT1, which was designed to be raced in Formula 2 and 3 and Formula Atlantic. Victory came in 1975 when Larry Perkins won at Monza. The Australian went on to win the European Formula 3 Championship for Ralt. The following year Bertram Schafer won the German title in a Ralt-Toyota and in 1977 Anders Olofsson almost won Tauranac a second European F3 title while the only championship success was in Italy with Elio de Angelis.

The 1978 season was a great success with Jan Lammers winning the European series, Derek Warwick and Nelson Piquet each winning a British F3 title and Schafer winning a second German title. The F2 version of the RT1 finished second in the 1977 European Championship in the hands of Eddie Cheever.

In 1978 F1 team owner Teddy Yip asked Tauranac to design the Theodore F1 car, but the TR1 was not a great success although Keke Rosberg won the International Trophy in the wet. For 1979, Ron designed two new cars: the RT2 for F2 and the RT3 for F3. The first was supplied exclusively to Ted Toleman and Brian Henton won three times in the car. The RT3 became the dominant F3 design of the early 1980s, winning the 1983 European title for Pierluigi Martini, five consecutive British F3 titles in the hands of Stefan Johansson, Jonathan Palmer, Tommy Byrne, Ayrton Senna and Johnny Dumfries. It won the French title in 1982 with Pierre Petit and a string of German and Italian titles. An alliance with Honda in Formula 2 resulted in the RH6 Formula 2 car in 1980 and this was to proved enormously successful, Ralt Racing winning the European F2 title in 1981, 1984 and 1985. Ralt then entered Formula 3000 and enjoyed more success in the late 1980s although not with the dominance of the Ralt-Honda days.

In Formula 3 the RT3 was followed by the RT30 with which Mauricio Gugelmin won the 1985 British F3 title. Competition from Reynard meant that Ralt began to struggle in F3 and F3000 and in October 1988 Tauranac sold the company to March. Ron has now retired for a second time, back to Australia.

Our thanks to Graham Howard