Commonly referred to as “Jack”, John Arthur Brabham was an out-and-out Australian motor head. Jack was born in Hurstville, a small town on the outskirts of Sydney, on April 2, 1926 to his Australian parents who ran a grocery business. Innately inclined towards machines, he started driving his father’s truck and the family car when he was just 12. Later, he attended technical college and progressed in seeking more knowledge about technical drawing, basic metal work and carpentry. Aged 15 he left college and started working in a local garage that laid the foundation of his mechanical knowledge. Continuing in a part-time mechanical engineering course just added some more to his technical attributes. Brabham soon parted ways with the garage to start his own business of selling motorbikes, which he ran in his parents’ veranda.
In 1946 he was running a workshop that his uncle set up behind his grandfather’s house when an American friend Johnny Schonberg took him to watch a midget car race, which was very famous in Australia and drew huge crowds. Initially terming the drivers as “lunatics”, Brabham did not know that he was suppressing his own basic instinct and that he would go on to become a three-time Formula One World Champion.
After seeing him race in 1955 in Australia and New Zealand, Dean Delamont, competitions manager of the Royal Automobile Club invited Brabham to try a racing season in Europe. Based in the UK,Brabham built a Cooper Bobtail mid-engined sportscar fitted with a Bristol engine intending to drive it in the Formula One championship. He debuted in the 1955 British Grand Prix but his car being half a liter underpowered did not manage a finish.
What convinced Jack of his ability to race was his competition with Stirling Moss at Snetterton when they battled for third position in a non-championship F1 race. Although Moss finished ahead in his 2.5L Maserati 250F, Brabham in his underpowered car vindicated his talent and was sure that he was in the right place. In 1956, he sold his Bobtail and bought the Maserati 250F, but just featured in the British Grand Prix, as he was racing in Formula Two and for Cooper sportscar races. In an attention-grabbing incident during the Monaco Grand Prix in 1957, Brabham pushed his Cooper to the finish line after a component had failed him and he lost his third position. He finished sixth, just missing out on points. In the subsequent season of 1958, he did not see much success with his Cooper and finished 18th in the drivers’ competition.
A fantastic drive in the opening race of the 1959 season of the F1 championship in Monaco, guaranteed him his first Grand Prix victory and four podium finishes in the following eight races and propelled him to his very first World Champion title with Cooper Car Company. In an excellent display of superlative driving, Brabham dished out five straight wins from eight Grands Prix he raced in during the 1960 season. What was more inspiring about this feat was that Jack had largely contributed to the developments of the Cooper T53 which took him to victory.
By 1961, the Ferrari and the Lotus had established themselves perfectly in terms of engine set-up in the F1 circuit and it was bad news for Cooper as Jack was not very successful that season with just a scanty four points. Despite winning two championships in the Cooper, Brabham decided to take over the reign of his career and in 1962 started his own racing team, the Brabham Racing Organisation. Powered by 1500 cc engines developed by the Motor Racing Developments Ltd, Brabham’s and close friend Ron Tauranac’s baby (tea team), could not do very well from 1962 through 1965. But the last two seasons had seen Brabham thrice on podium and this just induced confidence in the team that they could build from strength to strength in the future.
The Oldsmobile’s aluminium engine head and Australian company Repco’s development on it worked Jack’s way, who had insisted this inexperienced company to do the job for him. With the three-litre Brabham engine thus developed, Jack roared past the chequered flag to be on podium five times, with four back-to-back victories and 42 points to take home the Championship title.
In the following season of 1967, Brabham finished second in the drivers’ run but had to be satisfied with the fact that teammate Denny Hulme took the Championship title. Jack had tried the new parts on the car before his teammate, just to be sure of their worth and had no complaints when the title went to Hulme. During the 1968 season, Jochen Rindt had replaced Hulme and the two drivers could not make much of the Repco V8 engine. A little into the 1969 season of Formula One, Jack met with an accident and suffered a foot injury in a practice session. He promised his wife that he would retire after the season and was on podium in the Canadian and the Mexican Grands Prix towards the end of the year.
Finding no replacement for himself, he had to break the promise he had made and came back to racing in the 1970 edition of the Formula One Championship. A good start in the South African GP saw him win the first race of the season. In Monaco too, he was leading, till the last curve of the first lap when Jochen Rindt came in from behind to steal his thunder. Rindt won the championship (posthumously) and Jack was fifth with 25 points in the Drivers’ Championship.
To go back to where he belonged, Australia, with much more than what he set out with and earning a reputation of a fierce competitor and a self made sportsman, Jack Brabham has reinstated the definition of a true champion.