Jack Brabham

Sir Jack Brabham

John Arthur Brabham was born in April, 1926 at Hurtsville near Sidney, a second generation Australian, his grandfather came from the East End of London. His father was a keen motorist who taught Jack to drive at the age of 12. At 15, he left school and got a job in a local garage while spending his evenings studying engineering at college. In 1946, after two years duty as a mechanic in the RAAF, Brabham opened a small workshop business at the back of his grandfathers' home. He met Johnny Schonberg who raced midget cars. Brabham prepared a car for the American but Johnny’s wife persuaded him to quit racing so it was left to Jack to try his luck. The natural talent was clear and in his first season he won the New South Wales Championship.

Crucially, he became friends and informal partners with Ron Tauranac, one of the first to build a 500cc car in Australia. Jack bought a Cooper Mk IV, the "Donland Special" from John Crouch, the Australian Cooper agent to which he fitted a hybrid JAP BSA engine and then a Cooper Mk V with a Vincent HRD engine, again highly modified.

Jack poses with his Cooper Mk IV

Both cars were used for hill climbs, sprints and circuit races. Jack acquired a Cooper Bristol which he named the Redex Special, after the commercial backers but sponsorship was forbidden at that time and this bought him into conflict with CAMS, the governing body of motor sport in Australia. They forced him to remove the name from the car and, not surprisingly, Redex pulled out of the deal. Brabham was very bitter about the incident but continued to race and took the car to New Zealand where he was introduced to various personalities from the Northern Hemisphere including Dean Delamont, from the RAC in London, who regaled Jack with stories of racing in Europe and in 1955 he took the boat to England.

He had a number of unsuccessful outings but Brabham talked himself into a role at Cooper Cars, essentially as a mechanic. There was no pay but he could build his own car to race which he did and, with the funds, bought a Maserati 250F for the 1956 season. The Maserati wasn’t a success but his mechanical skills had been appreciated by Charlie and John Cooper we took Jack on as a driver for 1957.


Jack with the outstanding Jayne Mansfield. Charlie Cooper pretends not to notice


Jack’s talents as an engineer driver played a key part in developing the Coopers of the late 50s and 1959 saw the Cooper with a proper 2 1/2 litre Coventry Climax engine with which Brabham won the Formula 1 World Championship. In 1960 he repeated this feat with a new low line model, which included a streak of five straight victories.

Sir Jack poses at Monterey 2006, photo courtesy Kyle Burt  www.kyleburtphoto.com

Jack eventually became frustrated with the conservative approach of Charlie Cooper, compared to the more aggressive development of Colin Chapman, so he left and went into partnership with Ron Tauranac, who he had encouraged to move to England, and they formed Motor Racing Developments, more commonly know as the Brabham Team. The new 1 1/2 litre engine limit, Formula One found the British teams scrambling for motive power. The small engined cars seemed made for Jim Clark and Lotus but Brabham's aggressive style seemed unsuited and he would not win a race during the 1,500 cc era. It was left to American Dan Gurney to take the team's maiden victory at Rouen. MRD did, however build a successful business out of racing car construction.

For 1966 a new 3 litre formula was introduced and Brabham found a suitable engine from the Australian Repco Company. The Repco-Brabham would provide Brabham a car with which he won the French, British, Dutch and German Grand Prix and that years World Championship. 1967 saw another championship for the team, this time the title went to Jack’s team-mate Deny Hulme.

By 1970 Jack was ready to retire but, finding all the top drivers unavailable, he continued driving for one last year. Rather than going through the motions he won the season opener at the South African Grand Prix and led the Monaco Grand Prix until the final corner of the last lap while under pressure from Jochen Rindt.

After retiring from driving he sold his interest in the team to his partner, Ron, and returned to Australia. Bernie Ecclestone acquired the Brabham Team in 1972 and took it to further Formula 1 Championships. Jack Brabham was knighted in 1979 and still competes in occasional historic races.

"Black" Jack passed away peacefully on 18th May 2014

Sir Jack at the VHRR Christmas bash Photo Graeme Noonan