Grand de­signer


The Syd­ney Morn­ing Herald’s Sir Jack Brab­ham obit­u­ary stated that the ‘BT’ model pre­fix in Brab­ham rac­ing cars stood for ‘Brab­ham Team’. Most fol­low­ers of mo­tor rac­ing would have spotted the er­ror (that ‘T’ is for Tau­ranc), but the sad fact is that plenty of the Herald’s read­ers likely re­main as obliv­i­ous as its obit­u­ary writer of the im­por­tance of Ron Tau­ranac in the ca­reer of Aus­tralia’s great­est rac­ing driver.

It is a shame that Tau­ranac isn’t more widely recog­nised in Aus­tralia. Not that the man him­self seems too both­ered about it. The quin­tes­sen­tial quiet achiever, Tau­ranac was the back room toiler re­spon­si­ble for all the Brab­ham sports and rac­ing car de­signs pre-1971, and fol­low­ing that the Ralt cars which dom­i­nated the ju­nior for­mula ranks for sig­nif­i­cant pe­ri­ods in the late ‘70s and ‘80s – but that’s a whole other story.

The Tau­ranac-Brab­ham as­so­ci­a­tion dates back al­most to the be­gin­ning of Brab­ham’s ca­reer. Back then, Tau­ranac was also a driver, and even then was build­ing his own rac­ing cars. Brab­ham and Tau­ranac were aware of one an­other as fel­low hill­climb com­peti­tors, but they only be­came prop­erly ac­quainted when Tau­ranac en­quired about a mo­tor­cy­cle en­gine Brab­ham had ad­ver­tised for sale. Out the back of Brab­ham’s home in Pen­shurst in south­ern Syd­ney, Tau­ranac saw that Jack was op­er­at­ing a small ma­chin­ing

work­shop. From there, he be­gan sub­con­tract­ing ma­chin­ing jobs to Brab­ham.

“This went on for quite a while,” Tau­ranac re­calls to­day. “When I was go­ing out to see him at his place, I started tak­ing some of my parts out there and I’d use his ma­chines to make things for my car dur­ing lunchtime. It went on from there.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tion didn’t be­gin prop­erly un­til some years later, af­ter Jack had re­lo­cated to Eng­land to race with Cooper. The tyranny of dis­tance was a real fac­tor in the late ‘50s: if Jack wanted to ask Ron’s ad­vice about how to im­prove his car, the only way to do it in the late 1950s was via letters in the mail.

Ini­tially Jack sent home for ideas about mod­i­fy­ing the Cooper’s rear sus­pen­sion. Later Brab­ham had Ron de­sign a new bell­hous­ing for the Low­line Cooper in or­der to take ad­van­tage of a new dry sump sys­tem and al­low the en­gine to be mounted lower in the chas­sis. This was the car in which Brab­ham would win his first world cham­pi­onship.

“I drew up a pat­tern for the bell­hous­ing and a pair of drop gears,” Tau­ranac says. “I had the pat­tern made in Aus­tralia; I gave Jack the pat­tern and the draw­ings for the gears, and he took them back to Eng­land.

“They (Cooper) didn’t have a de­signer. They only had a drafts­man, so he couldn’t come up with de­signs, he just drew what was what. So this (bell­hous­ing de­sign) got fed in, but Char­lie Cooper didn’t know – he thought they were do­ing their own thing. But John Cooper knew; he and Jack were good friends.”

Jack even­tu­ally per­suaded Tau­ranac to join him in the UK. Ron’s day job at Brab­ham’s new work­shop busi­ness was de­sign­ing the mod­i­fied Tri­umph Her­alds and Hill­mans which Brab­ham was sell­ing. By night he was draw­ing up an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent car which Brab­ham also hoped to sell. How­ever, since Jack was still driv­ing for Cooper, Tau­ranac’s For­mula Ju­nior had to be kept se­cret – ‘he didn’t want Coop­ers to know any­thing about it’, Ron says. So the de­sign and build were done largely af­ter dark, be­hind closed doors.

The first Brab­ham For­mula Ju­nior was named MRD to re­flect the new com­pany, Mo­tor Rac­ing De­vel­op­ments, al­though MRD would soon be dropped and re­placed with Brab­ham, on ac­count of the un­savoury pho­netic re­sem­blance it had when spo­ken in French… That first car was bought by Tas­ma­nian Gavin Youl. In a way, Brab­ham and Tau­ranac be­came vic­tims of their own (im­me­di­ate) suc­cess. So quick was the new MRD in a test day at Good­wood that Colin Chap­man packed up his works Lo­tus team in dis­gust had headed home to have new Keith Duck­worth en­gines fit­ted. A Lo­tus won on race day, but Youl was sec­ond –and ev­ery­one was talk­ing about this new MRD.

The first car was bought by Tas­ma­nian Gavin Youl. Char­lie Cooper then got to know about it, and that Jack was in­volved, and he de­cided that Jack was steal­ing their ideas. So Jack lost his drive for that year

Above: The first Brab­ham (or MRD as it was know). Gavin Youl pre­pares for a front-row start at Good­wood in 1961. Right: Jack and John Cooper in happy times. Be­low right: Brab­ham de­buts the first Brab­ham F1 car, the BT3 Cli­max, in Ger­many in 1962.

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