The God­fa­ther

He was as hard as they came. He cre­ated a dy­nasty and set the mould for the F1 owner-constructor. No­body got one over on Jack Brab­ham


They’d talk about him back then with colo­nial, Pathé-news­reel tones in the sports bul­letin on Ra­dio 2GB Syd­ney: “Aus­tralia’s Jack Brab­ham is a conrmed en­try for next Sun­day’s Aus­tralian Grand Prix at Warwick Farm. Brab­ham will drive a new car of his own de­sign and man­u­fac­ture and will face tough op­po­si­tion from the reign­ing world cham­pion, Gra­ham Hill, as well as from Bri­tain’s John Sur­tees and the 1962 AGP win­ner, Bruce McLaren from New Zealand…”

I was there, sit­ting in the Leger Grand­stand with my dad, Mum’s pic­nic lunch in a cloth­cov­ered bas­ket. It was one of those daz­zling Syd­ney days: 90° in the shade, deep-blue sky, bril­liant sun. They pushed the cars onto the grid be­low us, brightly-seg­mented um­brel­las shad­ing the cock­pits. I perched our old binoc­u­lars on my knees. There’s Gra­ham Hill! Stand­ing by the strange-look­ing Fer­gu­son. And there’s Bruce McLaren, kneel­ing by his low-line Cooper. Sil­ver hel­met, gog­gles around his neck. Looks as though they’re pour­ing wa­ter, or ice, down the back of John Sur­tees. And there’s Jack Brab­ham, walk­ing up from the back of the grid, hel­met in hand. Blue over­alls, with a di­ag­o­nal zip run­ning right across his chest. Shiny black hair, parted down the mid­dle. Jack Brab­ham. The words slipped eas­ily from my ten-year-old lips. He had to be some­one great.

The flag dropped. They left us in an ex­plo­sion of noise, colour and move­ment. I couldn’t tell one car from the next.

By the end, though, it was clear: Jack had driven through the field in his oil-smeared turquoise-and-gold Brab­ham. I watched, mes­merised, as he un­strapped his hel­met and climbed from the car, his over­alls now dark with sweat. I stood and clapped as they placed a gar­land around his neck, and a bearded Stir­ling Moss pre­sented him with the Dowi­dat Span­ner Tro­phy. Aus­tralia’s very own! With a car he’d built him­self!

Later that year, drag­ging my dad back to the Farm and then also to a lovely lit­tle cir­cuit called Catalina Park, I was as­ton­ished to see other driv­ers in Brab­hams. Gavin Youl, David Walker and Frank Gard­ner all raced For­mula Ju­nior Brab­hams; all were de­li­ciously quick – and each car, in its own way, was a work of art. In that slop­ing, dusty pad­dock at Catalina, I drooled un­til my dad dragged me away, for there was some­thing about a Brab­ham that summed up my per­cep­tion of what a ‘rac­ing car’ should be. I loved the lit­tle black bucket seats. I loved the lit­tle steer­ing wheels with the black rims. I loved the ‘Mo­tor Rac­ing De­vel­op­ments’ badge on the nose. I smelled the brake fluid and the Redex clean­ing liq­uid.

There would be many more such cars. Even­tu­ally, with that epic 1966 world cham­pi­onship be­hind him, Jack would race at the Farm in Fe­bru­ary 1967, with the two-car team to end all two-car teams – he driv­ing the new, dark-green BT24, with those Repco ex­hausts chromed out from on top of the vee; Denny Hulme in the 1966 car, ex­hausts out the side. Both wear­ing Goodyear-striped Nomex. Both in the Farm pad­dock area, on the grass, en­gines rip­ping up and down the rev range as Roy Billing­ton and Tim Wall fi­icked the throt­tle slides, with Jack and Denny in the Esso tent, chat­ting away with friends and fam­ily. By 1967 it was as if Brab­hams were at the heart of all of mo­tor rac­ing; that the oth­ers were

“In the pad­dock at Catalina Park, there was some­thing about a Brab­ham that summed up my per­cep­tion of what a ‘rac­ing car’ should be”

des­tined al­ways to find a smaller space in the strato­sphere.

Also, in time, I be­gan to get to know Jack Brab­ham. Now work­ing as the Farm’s ju­nior press of­fi­cer, I’d si­dle up to him with note­book to ask how it was go­ing. “Not too bad,” he’d say in what they used to call a ‘cul­ti­vated’ Aus­tralian ac­cent. “Bit of a prob­lem with the fuel sys­tem this morn­ing, but she’ll be right.” And you knew it would be: Jack was ev­ery bit as good at solv­ing prob­lems as he was at win­ning races. The one en­gen­dered the other.

I chat­ted to Jack on many oc­ca­sions, long af­ter he’d re­tired. He’d in­vite me over to his garage on Hook Road in Chess­ing­ton, where we’d have

“Jack was ev­ery bit as good as solv­ing prob­lems as he was at win­ning races. The one en­gen­dered the other”

a few cups of tea and then maybe a beer or two. My over­rid­ing mem­ory was of how he felt he’d been “strong-armed” (his words!) by the fam­ily (in the nicest pos­si­ble way!) into re­tir­ing too soon – in 1970. Given that Jack was al­ready 44 by that point, you may strug­gle to­day to see his logic. Re­mem­ber, though, that Jack in 1970 was at least as quick – if not oc­ca­sion­ally quicker – than the mer­cu­rial Jochen Rindt. Given slightly dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances – a lit­tle more fuel at Brands Hatch, no back­marker to lap on the last cor­ner at Monaco – Jack would have been world cham­pion for the fourth time. He de­cided to re­tire, though, so that he could raise his fam­ily in Aus­tralia.

The thing was, the fam­ily very quickly changed its mind. His son, Ge­off Brab­ham, de­cided he also wanted to race – as did Gary and David. Long be­fore he was truly re­set­tled in Aus­tralia, Jack was back in Eng­land, help­ing Ge­off with a light touch, never push­ing. And, by now – I sensed as we’d chat – it was too late. He’d sold out to Ron Tau­ranac and Ron had sold out to Ec­cle­stone. The an­chor that Jack de­served, and should have had for his later life, was gone.

I al­ways thought this to be im­mea­sur­ably sad, al­though Jack was never a guy to dwell on things. He loved his rac­ing. He worked hard. His mo­ti­va­tion as a constructor, at its core, was sim­ply to en­sure that he al­ways had a car to drive. Even so, he was a gen­er­ous and dignied team owner, hir­ing stars who

“To watch Jack drive was to watch a man with ex­tra­or­di­nary flair and talent for slid­ing a car to the very edge of what is hu­manly pos­si­ble”

could po­ten­tially beat him (Denny Hulme, Dan Gur­ney, Jochen Rindt, Jacky Ickx) and never wor­ry­ing about his ego. He there­fore al­ways ex­ceeded my per­cep­tion of how a rac­ing driver should be. He was so good at all the other things – the con­cep­tion of each car and its sub­se­quent de­vel­op­ment, the run­ning and fund­ing of his team, the sale of all those pro­duc­tion Brab­hams – that his mere driv­ing be­gan to take on an al­most per­func­tory role: you just took it for granted that he would ei­ther win the race or come very close. To watch Jack drive was to watch a man with ex­tra­or­di­nary flair and talent for slid­ing a car to the very edge of what is hu­manly pos­si­ble. But watch him do­ing that for lap af­ter iden­ti­cal lap, with dig­i­tal lev­els of con­sis­tency and, af­ter a while, it seemed un­be­liev­able that a man like Jack could achieve so much out of the car yet be so good in­side it.

If I think of Jack Brab­ham I think of that day at the Farm in 1963. I also think of the way he used to jump into Ford Gal­ax­ies, Ford Mus­tangs, Ma­tra sportscars, Indycars, As­ton Martin DBR1s, lit­tle Brab­ham two-seaters and, of course, all types of For­mula 1 and ev­ery type of Cooper car – and also to be as solid and as true to his world as any­one who has ever zipped up a race suit, strapped on a hel­met and said, “Beauty mate. Let’s go.”

Read Mur­ray Walker’s trib­ute to Sir Jack Brab­ham on p146

Stir­ling Moss (right) con­grat­u­lates Jack Brab­ham on his win at the 1963 Aus­tralian GP

On his way to be­com­ing the first driver to win a cham­pi­onship in a car of his own

con­struc­tion at the 1966 Ger­man GP

Stir­ling Moss and Jack Brab­ham do­ing bat­tle at Soli­tude in Ger­many in 1961

Vic­tory at Oul­ton Park: the sec­ond of Brab­ham’s four vic­to­ries in 1966 – his third cham­pi­onship-win­ning year

The Brab­ham rac­ing dy­nasty: Jack Brab­ham (far right) and his sons (left to right) David, Ge­off and Gary at Sil­ver­stone in 1988

Brab­ham tended to hire driv­ers like Rindt, who could po­ten­tially beat him

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