Motor Racing Developments Ltd., commonly referred to as Brabham, was founded in 1960 by two Australians, designer Ron Tauranac and driver Jack Brabham. The company focused on producing racers for Formula One competition. Tauranac and Brabham met in Australia in 1951 as they both were in the business of building racing cars. Brabham went to the United Kingdom in 1955 and later signed to driver for the Cooper Car Company works team in 1958. The Cooper Cars had revolutionized the open-wheel racing sport by placing their engines mid-ship; this greatly improved the handling and performance of the vehicles. In 1959 Brabham won the Formula One word championship with a Cooper car; he repeated this victory in 1960.
In 1959 Brabham invited Tauranac to the UK work for him at his dealership, Jack Brabham Motors. Initial duties included producing upgrade kits for the Triumph Herald and Sunbeam Rapier but the ultimate goal was to have him produce racing cars. The duo established the Motor Racing Developments Ltd and their first creation was an entry level Formula Junior racer. Since Brabham was still working for Cooper, the project was clandestine. The racer was introduced in 1961 and soon was nicknamed 'MRD'. The French saying of these initials sounded similar to 'merde', which is a crude word, so the vehicles became known as Brabham's. The naming scheme 'BT' was used in honor of both of the partners, Brabham and Tauranac.
During the 1961 season, the Brabham racer had little success, only amassing four points. Brabham left Cooper in 1962 to drive under for his own company, Brabham Racing Organization, in cars built by Motor Racing Developments.
The first Formula One car built by MRD was the BT3 and became available partway through the 1962 Formula One season. This was the same year that the Brabham Racing Organization entered the Formula One competition. The BT3 car made its inaugural race at the 1962 German Grand Prix. Its debut was less than stellar as it was forced to retire due to a throttle problem after only nine of the fifteen laps.
In 1963 Brabham partnered with Dan Gurney and the turquoise livery of the BT3 was replaced with colors of green and gold. Brabham was the first to score a victory in 1963 winning at the Solitude Grand Prix. This was a non-championship race but it was a great indicator for the cars potential. Dan Gurney scored a pair of world championship victories in 1964 at the Mexican and French Grand's Prix. There were no championship wins in the following season. In many cases the vehicles were running in strong positions and contention for podium finishes when mechanical problems forced them to retire prematurely.
In 1965 Brabham contracted with an Australian based engineering firm named Repco to produce engines for the cars since the engine capacity for Formula One competition had been raised to three-liters. The engines were all-aluminum V8's based from the Oldsmobile F85 road car project. The project was rushed and many had low expectations for the racing team. The engines proved to be light, nimble, reliable and powerful and carried Jack Brabham to a Formula One victory at the French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux. This was a historic win as it was the first time anyone had won a Formula One world championship race in a car that bore his name. With drivers Brabham, Gurney, Denny Hulme and Giancarlo Baghetti, the team scored 27 points and finished third in the Constructors Championship. The cars used were the BT7 and BT11.
For the 1966 season the Brabham BT19, BT20, and BT22 were raced. Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme earned 42 points and the Formula One World Championship. Brabham's team mate, Denny Hulme, would earn the honor in the following season.
The BT24 was created in 1967 and powered by a three-liter Repco engine with Lucas Fuel injection producing 330 horsepower. A Hewland DG300 five-speed manual gearbox was used. The BT24 proved to be a reliable racer and provided three 1 and 2 place finishes for drivers Brabham and Hulme. Hulme finished the season in excellent fashion, being declared the Driver's Championship. Brabham came in second. The team won the Constructor's Championship for the second season in a row.
In 1968 Hulme left Brabham to race for Mclaren. Jochen Rindt became his replacement. The BT24 and BT26 were raced during the 1968 season.
The BT26 was designed by Ron Tauranac and only five were ever created between 1968 and 1969. The vehicles were powered by a Ford/Cosworth V8 in 3-liter capacity that produced around 440 horsepower. It was a quad-cam version of the Repco engine. That power was sent to the rear wheels through a Hewland five-speed manual gearbox. Weighing just 560 pounds, the vehicle produced nearly 150 horsepower per liter of displacement. Since Brabham preferred the tried-and-true spaceframe chassis, the engine was installed in a subframe rather than as a fully stressed member. There was a noticeable gap between the engine and the firewall which is testament to the compact design of the DFV engine.
A total of 10 points were scored as the Repco V8 engine had been modified to match the new Ford/Cosworth DFV engines. The engines were powerful and often gave the Brabham cars pole position but the reliability issues often forced them to retire prematurely. Only three races were finished by Brabham and Rindt and the team finished in eight place.
For 1969 the Brabham cars were outfitted with Ford/Cosworth DFV engines. Jacky Ickx came to race for Brabham as Rindt left to race for Lotus. Ickx finished second in the drivers' championship; Brabham had raced well during the first half of the season until an accident during testing crippled his potential for the season. Overall, the team was second in the constructors' championship for 1969.
Rule changes at the close of the season left the spaceframe chassis obsolete.
1970 was the final year Brabham competed. He won the opening race of the 1970 season and raced strongly throughout the rest of the season. He car often ran at the front of the pack for most of the races but was often sidelined due to mechanical problems. With help from driver Rolf Stommelen, the team came in fourth in the constructors' championship. At the close of the season, Brabham sold his share in the team to Tauranac.
For the 1971 season, Ron Tauranac signed Graham Hill and Tim Schenker as drivers. Tauranac had high expectations for Hill as he had won the World Championship twice. The BT33 and BT34 were used both powered by Cosworth DFV engines. The BT34 had dual radiator mounts located in front of the wheel which gave the appearance of a lobster's claw. There was only one example ever created. Hill was able to driver the BT34 to a Formula One victory at Silverstone which was the team's highlight of the season. The team finished the season in ninth place.
At the close of the 1971 season, Tauranac sold the business to British businessman Bernie Ecclestone. Tauranc stayed with the company as designer but only for a short while. Ecclestone and Tauranc decided to part ways. For the 1972 season the BT33 and BT34 were still in use. The BT37 was the newest addition to the team. Graham Hill, Carlos Reutemann and Wilson Fittipaldi were the team drivers. Only seven points were scored during the season which left them in ninth place.
With Tauranc leaving the company, Ecclestone promoted Gordon Murray to the chief designer position. For 1973 the Brabham BT37 and BT42 were raced. The BT42 was created by Murray and was quick enough to score Reutemann two podium finishes. A total of 49 points meant that the Motor Racing Developments team finished fourth in the Constructors Championship.
The Brabham team finished the 1974 season fifth in the constructors' championship. Reutemann scored his first thee victories of his Formula One career. The Murray designed Brabham BT44 was an updated version of the BT42 of 1973. It incorporated the minimalist design that Brabham vehicles had come to be known for and powered by a standard Ford DFV engine with Hewland gearbox. The design was aerodynamic with clean lines and well place air-dams and side skirts.
For 1975 the BT44 received mild updates and in the hands of Carlos Pace was driven to a Grand Prix victory at Brazil. This was Pace's first and only GP victory. Reutemann won Nürburgring. Reutemann finished the season third in the drivers' championship and the Brabham team finished fifth in the constructors' championship. The Ferrari 312T and McLaren M23 were providing extremely stiff competition for the BT44 and for 1976 the Brabham team introduced the BT45 to help battle the competition. Unfortunately, these Alfa Romeo flat-12 powered vehicles did little to help the team. Part of their problem was that they were overweight and unreliable. For the 1976 season the Brabham Team continued to loose positions to the competition.
The team introduced carbon-carbon composite brake pads to Formula One during the close of the 1970's which reduced weight and provided better stopping power. At first the technology was unreliable. The heat generated from heavy braking boiled the brake fluid and there was no way of stopping. Within a few years the technology was perfected and within a few years carbon brakes were being used by all of the competition.
Reutemann left the team before the close of the 1976 and signed with Ferrari. John Watson took his place at Brabham. Early into the 1977 season another set back was experienced by the Brabham Team as Pace was killed in an aircraft accident. Twenty-seven points were scored by the Brabham cars which left them in fifth place.
To compensate for the heavy Alfa Romeo engines, the BT46 was introduced for 1978 which brought many new aerodynamic features and technological advancements. One of the more obvious departures from conventional practices was the flat panel heat exchanger on the bodywork which replaced the water and oil radiators. The design never made it past the testing stage and was later removed from the car. A modified nose-mounted radiator was fitted instead.
Niki Lauda was signed to race for the team and scored two race victories in the BT46. Lotus's large Type 79 wing car dominated the season but the Brabham (Parmalat Racing Team) finished in third place in the Constructors Championship.
The 'B' variant, commonly known as the Fan Car, was introduced at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix. Following in the footsteps of the highly successful Lotus 79, the BT46B used down-force and aerodynamic techniques. A fan was used to extract air from beneath the car and create additional downforce for the vehicle. The fan was allowed because it was explained that it provided extra cooling for the vehicles components. The car saw competition in this configuration only once as it was declared illegal by the FIA. Its only race scored Niki Lauda a victory at the Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp. The two chassis were converted back to the standard BT46 configuration. The victory remained as the car had been considered legal when it raced.
The partnership between Alfa Romeo and the Brabham team dissolved during the 1979 season as Alfa Romeo began prepping their own F1 car. Ecclestone went back to using Cosworth DFV engines which made many happy as the engines were lighter. The BT49 was introduced near the close fo the 1979 season and would stay in use for over four seasons racking up a total of seven wins, six poles, and 135 points.
Again, the BT49 followed the minimalist practices of the Brabham team. It used an aluminum alloy monocoque tub with ground effect tunnels built into the underside of the car. Carbon-carbon brakes were used, a technology that had since proven itself. Sliding skirts were used to seal the underside of the vehicle. By 1981 the FIA banned the use of the sliding skirt and introduced a 6cm minimum ground clearance for the cars. This limited the downforce the vehicles were able to create and slowed them through the corners. Murray devised a solution around the rules which they called the hydropneumatic suspension system. The system was used on the BT49C. The hydropneumatic suspension system used compressed air to act as springs which allowed the vehicle to clear tech-inspection. When the vehicle was at speed where the vehicle could not be measured, the downforce would compress the suspension and the car would sit much lower to the track and created more downforce.
For 1980 the BT49/B was driven by Nelson Piquet, Ricardo Zunino and Hector Rebaque. They scored 55 points and finished third in the Constructors Championship. The following year they acquired 61 points and finished in 2nd. Piquet won the drivers' title with three wins.
During the 1981 season Brabham signed with BMW as their supplier of turbo engines for the 1982 season. A BT49 racer was used to test the technology which produced an very impressive and astonishing 1500 horsepower. The new car was dubbed the BT50 and ran along the tried-and-true BT49D until reliability issues were resolved in the BT50. The first victory for the BT50 came at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix. After accumulating 76 points, the team finished second in the Constructors Championship.
For the following season, Picquet became the first to win a the F1 drivers' world championship in a car powered with forced induction. The team finished in third place after scoring 72 points. Picquet would stay with the team until the close of the 1985 season when he left to race with Williams.
For 1984 seaon the BT53 was raced. Thirty eight points were scored and the team finished in fourth. Twenty six points were scored in 1985 and by 1986 the team only scored two points. The BT54 and BT55 were used during this year. The BT55 was powered by the BMW four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It was Brabham's first fully composite monocoque, as Murray had been reluctant to design a car until he understood what would happen in a crash. The design of the vehicle was long and the car sat very low to the ground. The BMW engine was mounted at an angle to allow airflow to the rear wing. In this configuration the engine did not perform to its potential and the gearbox plagued the team with reliability issues.
The next few years the Brabham introduced the BT58, BT59, and BT60. Only a few points were scored during the rest of the seasons. Murray had since left Brabham to work with McLaren. Turbocharged engines were banned by the FIA in 1989 and as a result BMW withdrew their support from Formula One competition after the 1987 season. Ecclestone was unable to find a supplier of engines and was forced to withdrawal from competition at the beginning of 1988.By Daniel Vaughan | Jul 2012