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A rear-engined T51 of the type Brabham used to win his first world championship.

On arriving in Europe on his own in early 1955, Brabham based himself in the UK, where he bought another Cooper to race in national events. His crowd-pleasing driving style initially betrayed his dirt track origins: as he put it, he took corners "by using full [steering] lock and lots of throttle".[1] Visits to the Cooper factory for parts led to a friendship with Charlie and John Cooper, who told the story that after many requests for a drive with the factory team, Brabham was given the keys to the transporter taking the cars to a race.[2] Brabham soon "seemed to merge into Cooper Cars":[3] he was not an employee, but he started working at Cooper on a daily basis from the mid point of the 1955 season building a Bobtail mid-engined sports car, intended for Formula One, the top category of single seater racing.[4] He made his Grand Prix debut at the age of 29 driving the car at the 1955 British Grand Prix. It had an undersized engine and ran slowly with a broken clutch before retiring.[3][5] Later in the year Brabham, again driving the Bobtail, tussled with Stirling Moss for third place in a non-championship Formula One race at Snetterton. Although Moss finished ahead, Brabham sees the race as a turning point, proving that he could compete at this level. He shipped the Bobtail back to Australia, where he used it to win the 1955 Australian Grand Prix then sold it to help fund a permanent move to the UK the following year with his wife Betty and their son Geoff.[6]

Brabham briefly and unsuccessfully campaigned his own second hand Formula One Maserati 250F at the start of 1956 before his season was saved by drives for Cooper in sports cars and Formula Two, the junior category to Formula One.[7] Almost all racing cars had their engines mounted at the front. Cooper's cars were different, having the engine placed behind the driver, which improved their handling, but initially did not have an engine with the full 2.5 litre capacity permitted in Formula One. In 1957, Brabham drove the first mid-engined Cooper-Climax at the Monaco Grand Prix. He avoided a large crash at the first corner and was running third towards the end of the race when the fuel pump mount failed. The exhausted Brabham, who "hated to be beaten",[8] pushed the car to the line to finish sixth, to applause from the crowd.[9] The following year, he was Autocar Formula Two champion in a Cooper, while continuing to score minor pointscoring positions with the small-engined Coopers in the World Drivers Championship and driving for Aston Martin in Sportscars.[10] This meant a considerable amount of travel around Europe. A friendship with Ron Flockhart rekindled Brabham's interest in flying in late 1958. He bought his own plane and on gaining his licence began to make heavy use of it piloting himself, his family and members of his team around Europe to races.[11]

In 1959, Cooper obtained 2.5 litre engines for the first time and Brabham put the extra power to good use by winning his first world championship race at the season-opening Monaco Grand Prix after Jean Behra's BRM and Stirling Moss's Cooper failed.[12] More podium places were followed by a win in the British Grand Prix at Aintree after Brabham preserved his tyres to the end of the race, enabling him to finish ahead of Moss who had to pit to replace worn tyres.[13] This gave him a 13-point championship lead with four races to go. At the Portuguese Grand Prix at Monsanto Park, Brabham was chasing race leader Moss when a backmarker moved over on him and launched the Cooper into the air. The airborne car hit a telegraph pole, throwing Brabham onto the track, where he narrowly avoided being hit by one of his teammates but escaped with no serious injury.[14] With two wins each, Brabham, Moss and Ferrari's Tony Brooks were all capable of winning the championship, at the final event of the season, the United States Grand Prix at Sebring. Brabham was among those up until 1am the morning before the race working on the Cooper team cars. The next day, after pacing himself behind Moss, who soon retired with a broken gearbox, he led almost to the end of the race before running out of fuel on the last lap. He again pushed the car to the finish line to place fourth, although in the event this was unnecessary as his other title rival, Brooks, finished only third.[15] His championship-winning margin over Brooks was four points. According to Gerald Donaldson, "some thought [his title] owed more to stealth than skill, an opinion at least partly based on Brabham's low-key presence."[16]

Despite their lead in putting the engine behind the driver, the Coopers and their Chief Designer Owen Maddock were resistant to developing their cars. Brabham pushed for further advances, and played a significant role in developing Cooper's highly successful 1960 T53 'lowline' car.[17] Brabham won the championship again in 1960 driving the T53 achieving a run of five consecutive victories mid-season. The struggle to develop the car helped convince him that he could do a better job himself; he initially attempted to buy Cooper in partnership with another Cooper driver, Roy Salvadori, but this came to nothing.[18]

Brabham took the T53 to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a test following the 1960 season, then entered the famous 500-mile race in a modified version in 1961. The "funny" little mid-engined car from Europe was mocked by the Americans with their front-engined roadsters, but Brabham ran as high as third before finishing ninth after stopping for tyres more often than his rivals.[14] It was the start of a process that saw mid-engined European cars displace the roadsters and dominate Indycar racing. Cooper was not as competitive in Formula One this year, as the 1.5 litre engine rules were introduced and Ferrari dominated. Brabham won no races.


"He is in fact a natural delegator, and the Hosanna-to-Brabhamites would do him a better service if they acknowledged his knack for picking good people to delegate to and letting them get on with it.

his habitual 15-hour working day" Brabham The Organization p116 Unique

"Still finds it extremely difficult to delegate responsibility, still works on the principle that if anything is to be done properly, it is best done by himself"..."One of the reasons that he gets such fantastic loyalty from his workpeople is that they know he can do anything he asks them to...and probably better" Alan Brinton Deeds not words, p. 110 Unique

Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results[edit]

Year Result Team Car Class
1957 15 Cooper Car Company Cooper T39 S 1100
1958 Ret David Brown Racing Dept Aston Martin DBR1/300 P 3000
1970 Ret Equipe Matra-Simca Matra-Simca MS650 S 3.0


  1. ^ Unique p.58 "Jack Brabham" 1959
  2. ^ Dracket (1985) p.16
  3. ^ a b Lawrence (1989) p.80
  4. ^ Formula One rules did not at that time prevent the use of cars with enclosed wheels.
  5. ^ Brabham, Nye (2004) pp.54–56
  6. ^ Brabham, Nye (2004) pp.56–57
  7. ^ Brabham, Nye (2004) p.59
  8. ^ Brabham, Nye (2004) p.61
  9. ^ Unique Jack Brabham - Star from Down Under p.27 reproduced from Sports Car Illustrated 1959
  10. ^ Cite error: The named reference Unique30 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ Brabham (1971) pp.98—117
  12. ^ Rendall (2007) pp.215–216
  13. ^ Brabham, Nye (2004) p.85
  14. ^ a b Straw, Edd (7 May 2009 ) "Jack of All Trades" Autosport
  15. ^ Brabham, Nye (2004) pp.89–97
  16. ^ Cite error: The named reference Halloffame was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  17. ^ Lawrence (1999) pp. 18, 22 Brabham had consulted Tauranac by letter on technical matters since arriving in the UK. He used a gear cluster designed by Tauranac for several years and Tauranac also advised on the suspension geometry of the Cooper T53 'lowline' car.
  18. ^ Lawrence (1999) p. 22-4