Jack Brabham was not just a three-time World Champion and a driving master, he was also an engineering genius. He helped develop rear-engined Coopers, which led to his first two championships and also proved that front-engine Formula One cars were obsolete.
John Arthur ‘Jack’ Brabham was the son of a greengrocer and from an extremely early age, he was less interested in the fruits and vegetables at his father’s shop than the delivery vehicles which carried them till there. Before he could apply for a license, he was driving the delivery vehicles around and, very ably, maintaining their road worthiness as well. He easily got into a technical college and studied practical engineering. At 18, he was now part of the Royal Australian Air Force. Although his wish was to fly but he mainly stayed back on the ground and trained to fill the huge shortage of mechanics during the Second World War.
In 1946, Brabham was discharged and with the help of an uncle, he set up a engineering workshop in Sydney. Jack got married and had three sons, each of whom would go onto race like their father although none of them would ever be able to attain the heights that Jack would. His affair with motorsports began as a builder. He built a midget car for a friend who raced regularly on dirt tracks. Once the friend stopped driving, Jack decided that he would give it a shot and he did. Slowly, he became a regular winner at it. Making his own midgets, Jack won the Australian Championships an incredible four consecutive times. He was also the 1953 HillClimb champion where he drove a Cooper-Bristol. In 1955, Jack came to England to expand his experience in the sport.
In England, Jack met the owner of Cooper automobiles, Charles Cooper. This friendship was soon to launch Cooper into the history books of Formula One and “Black-Jack” Brabham was to become one of the greatest ever to grace the sport.
Brabham persuaded Cooper to adopt the rear-end technique in their Formula One cars and personally built the first chassis in the Cooper Workshop. Brabham’s team, with their rear-engine tiny monsters, began to upstage the big, front-engine Italian and German cars. In 1958, Stirling Moss got the first win for Cooper in Rob Walker’s private entry to the Argentine Grand Prix. The debut of the car had been a success and in 1959, things became even better as Moss won twice and so did Brabham. But Brabham was higher in rankings in the other races and that was enough to ensure that he had his first World Formula One title.
Jack was always quiet and undemonstrative to extreme lengths. He always maintained a eerie silence until he got behind the wheel. Once on the tracks, Jack was menacing, forceful and anything but shy. He was constantly pushing his car as well as his opponents to the edge and even when to the extent of deliberately pushing gravel into a close follower’s eyes. He wanted to stay away from the limelight but his consistent performances were making it more and more difficult for him to get away from it. His second title in 1960 saw a period of dominance where he won consecutively at Holland, Belgium, France, Britain and Portugal to take 5 out of the 9 races and win the title. In 1961, Ferrari was back and took the title with Brabham leaving Cooper to make his own racing team.
Along with Ron Tauranac, Brabham designed and built the MRD Brabhams, a car that got immediate success in many racing levels. The Formula One car was to come in later in 1962 and Brabham himself drove the car, ironing out flaws with each drive. In 1964, team mate Dan Gurney won in Monaco and Mexico for the first wins for the Brabham team. In 1966, the Formula One cars got a 3-litre limit and Repco, an Australian manufacturer of motorparts, made their engine. In 1966, a 40 year old Brabham became the first ever driver to win a championship while driving his own car to become the first, and still the only, driver to do so.
Brabham was known to be a fine teacher who helped his team mates to go on and become wonderful race drivers. The likes of Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt, Dan Gurney and Jacky Ickx benefited from the huge amounts of racing wisdom possessed by the Aussie. Brabham won his last race in 1970, at the ripe age of 44. He decided that it was time to retire from the sport and he sold his team to Bernie Ecclestone and decided to return back home to Australia.
In 1985, his contribution to British sport was recognized and he was awarded knighthood by the Queen. Brabham runs a farm back home along with a car dealership and an aviation company.