Dan Gur­ney’s fly­ing Brab­ham

One F1 car at the Re­vival should be more fa­mous. Dan Gur­ney’s Brab­ham BT7 had the pace to be a world-beater, but luck was al­ways elu­sive

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - MATT KEW

The BT3 was gen­e­sis, Brab­ham’s first For­mula 1 car. But a de­layed birth was com­pounded by un­steady first steps. Af­ter the team was sup­plied with the wrong ex­haust, Ron Tau­ranac’s de­sign wouldn’t re­place the stop­gap Lo­tus 24 as Jack Brab­ham’s steer un­til the 1962 Ger­man Grand Prix. En­gine fail­ure dur­ing prac­tice at the Nur­bur­gring forced the team to fit a make-do-and-mend throt­tle link­age us­ing bor­rowed parts from the 24 for the race. The im­pro­vised ef­fort was in­suf­fi­cient, and Brab­ham re­tired the car from its first out­ing. A po­ten­tial dream de­but lay in tat­ters.

Brab­ham was ab­sent for the next race at Monza, os­ten­si­bly due to a dis­agree­ment over start money. But in the fi­nal two rounds at Watkins Glen and South Africa’s East Lon­don cir­cuit, the BT3 racked up a brace of fourth places. The up­turn in for­tune was fol­lowed by Dan Gur­ney sign­ing with the team for 1963 as it ush­ered in a new car – the BT7.

A del­i­cate, pre­cise and re­spon­sive chas­sis had to be mated with a more de­pend­able en­gine. Coven­try Cli­max took the BT3’S 1.5-litre V8 and stripped off the We­ber car­bu­ret­tors. Mated to a five-speed Hew­land gear­box, the re­vised fuel-in­jected unit was ca­pa­ble of 190bhp. With just 475kg to pro­pel, the BT7 had in­nate pace. Gur­ney and Brab­ham tak­ing fifth and sev­enth re­spec­tively in the 1963 stand­ings was proof, de­liv­er­ing the team third place in the con­struc­tors’ points.

On pa­per, the duo looked to have re­gressed the fol­low­ing sea­son – sixth for Gur­ney, Brab­ham ty­ing with Peter Arun­dell for eighth, and fourth spot for the team over­all. But num­bers and head­lines rarely tell the full story. The 1964 sea­son is most notable for John Sur­tees be­com­ing the first, and so far only, per­son to win world ti­tles on both two and four wheels. It also marked Fer­rari’s re­turn to form hav­ing lan­guished in the dol­drums since ’61.

Dig a lit­tle deeper, though, and you find that Gur­ney’s sixth be­lies a cred­i­ble claim that he should – or at least could – have taken the crown. With the ex­cep­tion of the United States Grand Prix, he ei­ther won, led or qual­i­fied on the front row for ev­ery one of the 10 rounds.

Gur­ney’s con­tem­po­raries, Sur­tees, Gra­ham Hill, Jim Clark, Richie Ginther and Lorenzo Ban­dini, were by no means im­mune to un­re­li­a­bil­ity. But through fault af­ter fault with his Brab­ham BT7, rather than driver er­ror, 1964 is a story of how Gur­ney

“HE WON, LED OR QUAL­I­FIED ON THE FRONT ROW IN ALL BUT ONE RACE”

lost out on mo­tor­sport’s great­est prize.

Gur­ney failed to score points in seven grands prix that sea­son, de­spite some stand­out per­for­mances.

The world cham­pi­onship sea­son kicked off with 100 laps around Monaco. Clark and Brab­ham had the front row, but

Gur­ney could only qual­ify fifth, be­hind Sur­tees and Hill. An un­der­whelm­ing per­for­mance was soon over­turned in the race. Gur­ney passed Hill, while Sur­tees was at the mercy of gear­box trou­bles. Clark’s lead would be wiped out as he pit­ted to re­move a dam­aged anti-roll bar. He emerged be­hind Gur­ney and Hill, who were en­gaged in “real nose-to-tail stuff that had the crowds shout­ing with ex­cite­ment”, as Gre­gor Grant wrote in the Au­tosport re­port. Hav­ing prof­ited from the re­li­a­bil­ity woes of oth­ers, it looked as though the tall Amer­i­can would start the new sea­son with a max­i­mum re­turn. But as a sign of the sea­son to come, he re­tired on lap 62 with gear­box fail­ure and had to be treated for hot-oil burns on his leg af­ter a pipe frac­ture.

Two weeks later F1 rolled into Zand­voort, with Gur­ney on pole from Clark, Hill and Sur­tees. Clark was faster away and passed for the lead. That first points haul of the sea­son would con­tinue to elude Gur­ney, his steer­ing wheel break­ing to force an early bath fol­low­ing a fierce bat­tle with Sur­tees and Hill.

Af­ter the Dutch GP, the screen over the fuel in­jec­tors was re­moved from the BT7’S en­gine and that freed up an­other 250rpm at the top end. This ex­tra fire­power showed. At Spa, as Grant put it, “no-one looked like touch­ing” Gur­ney, “who had made the lap record look silly” in his most dom­i­nant per­for­mance of the year.

He qual­i­fied on pole by a scarcely be­liev­able 1.8 sec­onds and led Sur­tees at the start be­fore the Fer­rari 158’s en­gine let go, leav­ing the BT7 half a minute clear of the field. But the in­creased en­gine power led to a mis­cal­cu­la­tion with the car’s fuel con­sump­tion. Gur­ney was forced to make a splash-and-dash, but at the pit­stop there was no more juice avail­able. He de­cided to re­join re­gard­less, but splut­tered to a halt at Stavelot on the very last tour. All he could do was watch Clark fly by as he passed an out-of-fuel Bruce Mclaren within sight of the flag to win.

Gur­ney’s luck with the BT7 needed to change at the next round, the French Grand Prix at Rouen. Pole­sit­ter Clark was hounded down by sec­ond­start­ing Gur­ney, be­fore Clark’s Lo­tus 25 dropped a valve. Grant opened his re­port: “At last a world cham­pi­onship race has been won by a Brab­ham Coven­try-cli­max” as Gur­ney scored his first vic­tory of the sea­son, his sec­ond French GP win and Brab­ham’s first of 35 F1 tri­umphs.

Brands Hatch for the Euro­pean Grand Prix spelled busi­ness as usual. Gur­ney started on the front row, but was forced to pit due to an over­heat­ing ig­ni­tion box. Come the Ger­man GP at the Nur­bur­gring, even­tual cham­pion Sur­tees had yet to win. Gur­ney took the lead on lap four, beat­ing his ri­vals at the driv­ers’ cir­cuit. And yet, in what was rapidly be­com­ing the norm, re­li­a­bil­ity trou­ble ru­ined his race as de­bris blocked the BT7’S ra­di­a­tor. The car over­heated and, al­though me­chan­ics threw cold wa­ter over the en­gine in the pits to bring the tem­per­a­ture back down, it dropped

“HE MADE THE SPA LAP RECORD LOOK SILLY”

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