Humble pie is best served cold…

Posted: April 4, 2022 in Who,What,Where & When...?
Tags: , ,
Note ‘bi-hi’ wings mounted to the rear uprights, and front top suspension inner mounting point. Hewland FT200 gearbox (P Strauss Collection)

“A photograph is everything!” Doug Nye told a group of us several months ago when we were arguing the toss about some knotty identification problem...

My Repco Brabham Engines buddy, Rodway Wolfe and I wrote the ‘definitive article’ on Jack’s Brabham BT31 Repco, his 1969 Tasman mount years ago. You’d think that would be easy enough given it only raced twice in-period, see here for the masterpiece; Brabham BT31 Repco: Jacks ’69 Tasman Car…by Rodway Wolfe | primotipo…

We thought the car was assembled and run for the first time in Australia a couple of days after Rodway helped Jack unpack the wooden MRD box in which BT31-1 was shipped to Port Melbourne, and put it together at RBE’s Melbourne factory between February 12-14, 1969.

But no!

Photographs from Peter Strauss’ collection, custodian of BT31 for 15 years or so, clearly show that the car was tested (by Jack) at Goodwood in late 1968 before being pulled apart, packed into the wooden box then shipped far-far away for Jack and Rodway to open at Maidstone on February 12, 1969.

(S Dalton Collection)

This short UK BT31 chapter was covered by Autosport in their January 3, 1969 issue, found by my friend, ace researcher/writer Stephen Dalton.

“The Brabham BT31, MRD’s (Motor Racing Developments – Brabham) new Tasman car, is based on the BT28 F3 design but with 1.75 ins more wheelbase, larger brake discs and calipers, a different engine bay to accommodate the four-cam (actually SOHC, two-valve) 85mm x 55mm Repco RB830 V8 engine, and twin side fuel tanks. The RB830 develops 290bhp at 9000rpm and uses twin Mallory distributors.”

“The engine top bay tubes detach to facilitate engine removal, and side radiator outlets are included. Wheels are 13-ins diameter with 9-ins front rims and 14-ins rears. The car has been tested at Goodwood, and a full kit of suspension, chassis, gearbox and body components has been sent to Australia to be built up locally for Jack Brabham to drive at the Warwick Farm and Sandown rounds of the Tasman Series.”

Over the years Peter told various people his car had run in the UK. Those-in-the-know, including yours truly, thought Strauss had his-hand-on-it (a colloquial Australian expression suggestive of the telling of a porky-pie).

“When I bought the car off the previous American owner a lot of photographs came with it including those two. I was told the pit-shots may have been Snetterton, it will be interesting to find out where they are.” A learned group of British historians confirm the circuit as Goodwood.

I’ve got to know Peter quite well during Covid, it’s funny how many new-Covid-buddies I have. We dealt with the business of the day recently, then he showed me his BT31 photo album, he flicked through the first few pages, then paused on one particular spread…

“Fuck me dead!” I said, rather loudly. It’s another vulgar colloquial expression, of surprise actually. I might add that I wasn’t issuing an invitation to poor Peter.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but instantly knew what I was looking at! What was it that nice Mr Nye said about photographs as a source of fact rather than the written word?…

(P Strauss Collection)

Postscript…

Peter has three Brabhams, BT31, a BT11A Climax 2.5 FPF and an FJ BT6 Ford Cosworth 1100, lucky bugger. Along the way he met Messrs Brabham and Tauranac, individually and collectively quite a few times.

Brabham is on-the-record – a number of times in conversations with different individuals and groups of people – as saying that had they (MRD, BRO and Repco Brabham Engines) stuck with another simple SOHC, 3-litre V8 in 1968 rather than raced the under-developed, four-cam, 32-valve 3-litre 860 V8 powered BT26 they could have won another world title. That is three-on-the-trot, 1967-1968, rather than two in 1966-1967.

I don’t doubt that Jack said it but the notion doesn’t stack up. Ford Cosworth V8 engined Lotus, McLaren and Matras won every round of the 1968 World Championship with the exception of the French GP which went to Ickx’ Ferrari 312 V12.

In fact the Brabham Racing Organisation did race a simple SOHC BT24 740 (BT24-3) on several occasions in early ’68 while awaiting BT26 to come on stream. At Kyalami it was Q5 and DNF engine for Brabham, in Spain Q9 and DNF oil pressure for Rindt, Monaco Q5 and DNF accident for Rindt. At Zandvoort Dan Gurney returned to the Brabham fold for just that meeting. Dan popped the car 12th on the grid but DNF with throttle problems. For the sake of completeness, Jochen used it at Brands during British GP practice before Kurt Ahrens raced it at the Nurburgring to 12th place under the Caltex Racing Team banner.

So, to Jack’s point, the Brabham Racing Organisation raced a simple SOHC car in 1968 on five occasions, the best the circa 330bhp machine could do among seven or eight 400bhp Ford Cosworth V8 engined cars was a couple of fifths on the grid…

(P Strauss)

Strauss picks up that vein, relating a conversation he had with Ron Tauranac “At Eastern Creek about 2014. While Ron Tauranac (above) was trying to figure out how to make BT31 run cooler, he mentioned that he had built a few cars (sic!) but recalls that they (MRD) were building a car for the ’68 (F1) season, smaller than usual to save weight and make it more slippery. He found out that fuel cells were going to be mandatory which meant that the BT31 would not comply as the tanks were wrapped around chassis members and could not fit bladders.”

A 3-litre 830 engined BT31 is an interesting theory/coulda been but RBE mechanics/engineers have long said that no 3-litre 830 V8 was ever built by RBE in-period, they were all Tasman 2.5s. Some 3-litres (and larger) were built in the modern era by Don Halpin and perhaps others.

Further, the F1 bag-tank rules RT alluded to were mandated from the start of 1970, not 1968 or 1969. This FIA requirement effectively forced Tauranac to part with the spaceframes he had hitherto used to such good effect in F1. His 1970 monocoque BT33 was rather a good thing too, whilst noting his 1968-69 BT25 Indycar used an aluminium monocoque too.

Credits…

Peter Strauss, Autosport, Stephen Dalton

Tailpiece…

(P Strauss Collection)

Brabham at Bathurst during the Easter 1969 Gold Star round, won convincingly by Jack who practiced with various wing combinations and permutations but raced BT31 as above.

One of the various what-ifs about this car is whether, suitably updated, he could have won the 1970 Tasman Series with it? This ignores the fact that his Repco deal was over and Betty probably would have shot him if he had raced that summer rather than chilled with the kids at the beach…

It was quick enough to win the ’70 Tasman Cup mind you.

Maybe.

Finito…

Comments
  1. Terry Sullivan says:

    Mark

    Wasn’t there a reply earlier today that has now disappeared?

    Censorship?

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