Posts Tagged ‘Nigel Tait’

(M Williams)

Jack Brabham in his 1966 F1 Championship winning Brabham BT19 Repco during the Sandown Tasman weekend, 27 February 1966…

The pretty little poppet with the camera is far more attractive than the RBE crew from the factory in Richmond/Maidstone. I guess she has been dispatched from Repco HQ in St Kilda Road to catch all the action. Which rather begs the question, what became of the footage missy captured?

The car is powered by a new Repco Brabham Engines ‘620 Series’ 2.5 litre V8- the motor in 3 litre capacity made its race debut in South Africa on 1 January. BT19 was a very busy car in 1966 and well into 1967.

I’ve done this story to death of course, here on the engine; https://primotipo.com/2014/08/07/rb620-v8-building-the-1966-world-championship-winning-engine-rodways-repco-recollections-episode-2/

and here on Jack’s 1966 season; https://primotipo.com/2014/11/13/winning-the-1966-world-f1-championships-rodways-repco-recollections-episode-3/

but these two photos were too good not to share.

Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill created a BRM sandwich for Jim Clark that ‘Sandown Park Cup’ weekend- second in his Lotus 39 Coventry Climax FPF, the BRM lads were aboard 1.9 litre P60 V8 engined P261’s. Jack was out on lap 6 with a failed oil pump causing substantial engine destruction.

That is RBE620 ‘E2’ 2.5 in its engine bay. Over the next 12 months or so it would have no shortage of Repco RB620, 640 and 740 V8’s popped into and out of it (M Williams)

As is well known, the one and only Brabham BT19 ‘F1-1-65’ was built by Ron Tauranac in 1965 to suit the dimensions of the stillborn Coventry Climax FWMW 16 cylinder engine and lay unused until pressed into service as the first car into which the Repco RB620 V8, designed by Phil Irving, was installed.

Utterly conventional in design, Jack put the light, chuckable car to rather good use throughout 1966- see Werner Buhrer’s outline and drawing of the car below.

Etcetera…

I’d actually finished this piece and then cruised through my archive and noticed how many other photographs I had of this particular weekend.

Some are only of ‘proof quality’ recently posted by Repco-Brabham engineer/racer/historian Nigel Tait, but they are still valuable to share to document RBE history.

So here they are, in sort of chronological order…

(N Tait)

Mike Gasking giving an RBE620 2.5 a whirl in the Richmond test cells in late 1965- is it the engine in Jack’s car at Sandown?- more than likely it is ‘E2’ with those long inlet trumpets, yes.

Gasking was in on the ground floor- he was apprenticed at Repco and was involved in building and testing Jack’s Coventry Climax FPF engines and then throughout the Repco Brabham Engines period to its end.

Dyno is a Heenan & Froude GB4 which remained in Richmond for a while before being transported to RBE’s new digs at 87 Mitchell Street, Maidstone- this move took place in the early weeks of January 1966.

(N Tait)

Off she rolls from the truck, ‘Peters Corner’ and the start of the run up the back straight in the background.

BT19 has been a busy already. Fitted with a 3 litre RBE620 V8 the car was shipped to South Africa from the UK fitted with engine # ‘E3’ for the non-championship GP at Kyalami on 1 January.

Phil Irving describes the 3 litre engine as ‘…built up from scratch, with the cylinder heads as drawn for the original 2 1/2 litre, except that the inlet ports were enlarged and re-shaped to improve gas-flow and throttle-slides as developed for the 2 1/2 litre engine, were used. After assembly and short running-in, full power tests returned an output of 310 bhp (in his book Malcolm Preston quotes 280 bhp @ 7500 rpm with 310 bhp achieved several months later)…there was just time for an afternoon shake-down run (Goodwood) before the car was loaded onto the boat (to South Africa)…’

That SA GP was won by the works Lotus 33 Climax 2 litre FWMV of Mike Spence, Brabham retired when the fuel-injection pump seized having set pole and led for all but the last nine of the sixty laps.

BT19 was then air freighted to Melbourne’s Essendon Airport and trucked to Richmond where the 3 litre ‘E3’ was removed and the 2.5 litre ‘E2’  installed for the Sandown.

Many of you will recall Roy Billington, front and centre below, as a Brabham Racing Organisation mechanic for many years. All of Nigel Tait’s Christmases have come at once- he had just commenced at Repco as a graduate Cadet Engineer, his first assignment looking after Brabham’s new car- it does not get better than that at 22! Phil, leaning on the Lukey exhausts with ever-present fag in his mouth!

(N Tait)

Nigel Tait, Roy Billington and Phil Irving are fussing over ‘RBE620’ 2.5 ‘E2’ In the Sandown paddock on the Thursday or Friday prior to the meeting.

Plenty of pressure, it was the home teams first home race resulting in a massive crowd turnout of 55,000 people on raceday to see Brabham and his ‘all-Australian’ racing car make its local debut.

Irving quotes over 250 bhp was given by the 620 2.5 litre- not much greater than the FPF but the V8 had good mid-range torque and could be revved past it’s power-peak without self-destruction, unlike the short-stroke FPF’s which tended to be rather brittle if over-revved by even a smidge.

(N Tait)

Frank Hallam now joins in the fun between the exhausts- left to right Hallam, Billington, Tait, the very obscured Irving and Black Jack. On the pit counter beyond is lanky Norman Wilson, Peter Holinger, a nun identified fellow and Bob Brown, a Repco Ltd Director.

The sergent.com race report has it that the car was troublesome during practice, with 30 bhp being found overnight to put Jack right in amongst the front-running BRM’s of Stewart and Hill. Nigel recalls Phil getting cross with him on the race weekend , ‘We were working on the throttle slides on the BT19 the night before the Sandown meeting and it turned out to be a very long and late night. I went out to the all-night hamburger place and bought one for Phil but he spat it out. How was i to know he didnt like onions?- a great bloke and very clever’.

(I Nicholls)

Look at that crowd! Kidlets, Billington- who is the guy in the cap who always looked after Jack whilst he was in Oz and is in ‘all’ the shots?, Nigel Tait at right having cast aside his grotty lab-coat.

At Sandown Jack set a new lap record in his heat, the Exide Cup- the results of two heats determined grid positions.

The Tasman race engine seizure occurred in ‘…that the start of the race was delayed and everyone started with cold engines. The Repco V8’s oil-pump relief valve failed on the first lap (actually the sixth lap according to the various race reports) of the race the oil pressure went up to 160psi, the pump gears stripped and the engine locked up at about 7000 rpm’ according to Phil Irving.

Tait recalls ‘That night…I had the task of removing the pump and dismantling it. Frank Hallam and his wife Norma were there as was Phil’.

The oil pump gears were from a Fordson Major tractor out of an FM diesel model- they were amongst some components from proprietary vehicles used in RB620- which from that day were not sintered but machined from steel.

Rodway Wolfe noted that ‘I remember on the Monday after that Sandown race…when I arrived at the Maidstone factory at 8 am the drawing of the oil pump gear with new specifications was on Kevin Davies, the Admin Manager’s desk. Phil had made the modifications overnight. He (famously) didn’t keep the same hours as other management but he didn’t knock off at 5.30 pm like other management either!…’

‘Frank Hallam arranged for new steel gears to be made while Roy Billington helped me to remove and dismantle the engine. We found two crankpins were badly overheated and the crank was bent, so the crank and the main bearings were replaced, but fortunately the pistons, rings and cylinder liners were undamaged.

Although changing the crankshaft entailed almost completely dismantling the engine, the timing case and oil pump could be handled as units and we had the engine re-assembled with new pump gears and brake-tested by Tuesday afternoon. We stuck it in the car that night and it went off to Tasmania on the Wednesday (to Longford)…’ Phil wrote.

(T Brandt)

Jim Clark and Jack saunter through the Sandown paddock. Not the greatest of weekends for either!

In Jim’s case the 2.5 litre Coventry Climax FPF engine in his Lotus 39- which had been the motor of choice in the Tasman series since its inception in 1964 was now being found wanting by the V8’s of BRM and Repco.

Clark returned the following year with Lotus having taken a leaf out of BRM’s book- their 1967 weapon was a 1.5 litre F1 Lotus 33 fitted with a 2 litre Coventry Climax FWMV V8, with which Jim took the 1967 title convincingly from BRM and Repco Brabham.

(T Brandt)

And again above…meanwhile below the boys are about to pop the car into the truck for the drive back to Richmond and overnight checks before the start of official practice.

‘The start’ of a rather fruitful partnership wouldn’t you say…

Credits…

Max Williams & Nigel Tait Collections, Tony Brandt, Ian Nicholls, sergent.com, ‘Phil Irving: An Autobiography’

(N Tait)

Finito…

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(Dick Simpson/oldracephotos.com)

Frank Matich’s 5 litre, quad cam, 580bhp Repco V8 powered sports racer ‘SR4’ was one of Australia’s most powerful and the most successful sports-racer car ever built…

Here Frank charges the big bellowing racer across the top of Mount Panorama during the 1969 Easter Bathurst meeting. The circuit is wild now, it would have been staggering to guide this missile around the circuit then, its surface and safety features, note the proximity of eucalypts on the tracks edge, not quite what they are now!

My beautiful picture

Paddock shot of SR4, Calder 1969, some of the competition were more recent than this group! (Ian Pope)

Introduction…

Built for the 1968 CanAm series, both the chassis and engine were late so Matich didn’t ever follow up his exploratory 1967 CanAm part-season in his 4.4 litre Repco powered SR3, instead belting the local opposition into oblivion with the SR4 in 1969.

First raced at Warwick Farm on 1 December 1968, Matich won the 3 round 1969 Australian Sportscar Championship with a perfect score; wins at Warwick Farm, Surfers Paradise and Sandown, in 2nd place was West Australian Don O’Sullivan in Frank’s old SR3 Repco. In between he raced in front of thrilled crowds who were drawn to see the fastest car in Australia regardless of category.

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Matich leads the pack at Warwick Farm, date unknown 1969, SR4 Repco (Tait Collection)

‘The car was last raced about May 1970 at Warwick Farm, Frank was second to Niel Allen’s Elfin ME5 Chev, he drove the car gently as the engine had a vibration which a subsequent tear down at Repco revealed was the front of the crank cracking’ recalls Derek Kneller, an ex Matich engineer/mechanic from 1969-74. ‘The car was kept under a dust sheet in the Artarmon (Sydney) workshop until after the Tasman Series in 1971 when FM asked us to clean it up, it hadn’t been used for 8 months, we delivered it by trailer, still with the engine fitted, to Repco in Maidstone, Melbourne’.

SR4 was then used as a display piece, never to be raced again until the ‘modern era’ when it was restored by its owner, former Repco engineer Nigel Tait who has had a connection with the car since its construction. This bulk of this article is by Nigel, the photos are mainly from his vast archive of shots of this wonderful, very significant Australian racing car.

This piece is a biggie and comprises numerous parts;

.Historical context for the building of SR4; the earlier SR3 (3 chassis) in particular a summary of its 1967 CanAm program

.Biography of Nigel Tait

.Nigel’s story of the cars design, construction, specifications, race record and restoration

.SR4 specifications

.Etcetera; SR4 related snippets

.How competitive would SR4 have been in the ’68 CanAm had it crossed the Pacific as originally intended, this section designed to stimulate discussion amongst Australian enthusiasts of the period!

.Matich Cars; list of all cars built by FM’s business

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Early shot of SR4 when still fitted with a ZF ‘box, LG Hewland fitted later in the year, suspension and engine as per text (Repco)

Frank Matich and Matich Cars…

Matich was one of Australia’s drivers who was as quick as the best in the world during the early sixties Tasman 2.5 Formula when the locals went head to head with the internationals in near enough to identical cars.

Frank then focused on sportscars from 1966 to 1969, as we shall see.

In 1969 Matich returned to single-seaters, F5000 and again proved to be the equal of if not better than the best in the world winning races in Australasia and the US before retiring at the end of the ’74 Tasman Series.

In addition, his team designed and built world class sports and F5000 cars from late 1966 to early 1974. His cars won races after that, John Goss took an exciting 1976 Australian Grand Prix win at Sandown in an A51/3 Repco chassis for example.

A list of the cars Team Matich built is at the end of this article.

I have written some pieces about Frank before, rather than than provide background again click on these links, the best quick career summary is this one, sadly an obituary;

https://primotipo.com/2015/05/11/frank-matich-rip/

See this pictorial though;

https://primotipo.com/2015/05/27/jaguar-c-type-xkc037/

This monster piece is mainly about his F5000 racing but also includes earlier career material;

https://primotipo.com/2015/09/11/frank-matich-matich-f5000-cars-etcetera/

And this one is about his 1966 Elfin 400 Traco or the ‘Traco Oldsmobile’ as he named it;

https://primotipo.com/2015/05/28/elfin-400traco-olds-frank-matich-niel-allen-and-garrie-cooper/

The latter article about the Elfin 400 is the most important in the context of the Matich SR4, the 400 evolved into the Matich SR3, the SR3 to the SR4…

mayt pits

Matich awaits the start of practice, Road America, 3 September 1967. SR3 Repco (Friedman)

Matich SR3…

The first Matich SR3 Traco Olds was built in late 1966 to replace the Elfin 400 Traco Olds upon which it was based. According to some close observers, including at least one of FM’s mechanics the SR3 chassis was ‘tube for tube’ identical to the Elfin 400 albeit strengthened with the learnings of racing the car from the start of ’66 until it was sold to Niel Allen later that year.

The aerodynamics of the SR3 were entirely different to Garrie Cooper’s 400 design and are a function of the 400’s shortcomings and FM’s ongoing absorption of global design and aerodynamic/styling trends. The 400’s ‘aero’ deficiencies are examined in detail in my Elfin 400 article above.

can am 1967

FM a happy-chappy in the Road America paddock, 1967 (Friedman)

This section is not a detailed article about the 3 SR3’s FM’s team built but rather a summary to provide context about the SR4’s build.

The first CanAm Series was won by John Surtees in a Lola T70 Chev in 1966 but there had been professional sportscar races on America’s West Coast back into the 1950’s.

During the 1.5 litre F1 years (1961-65) big brutal ‘Group 7’ sportscars powered by ever increasing in size ‘stock block’ American V8’s thrilled crowds with their speed on both sides of the Atlantic. The best of the worlds drivers contested the races, rich prize money the reward for success in events of 200 miles, GP length, duration.

Frank Matich had ample opportunity to hear first hand during the Tasman Series about the US scene from Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Bruce Mclaren, Phil Hill and Jack Brabham all of whom contested CanAm races, not least Bruce who had also been building Cooper based cars and McLaren/Elvas to contest the races for years.

Matich determined to contest the 1967 CanAm to test his mettle against the best in the world knowing their was little point being ‘king of the kids’ in Oz. The reality is that whilst the domestic single-seater Gold Star competition had some depth, in sportscars their was little at all.

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Naked SR3 Repco in the Road America paddock, 1967. Spaceframe chassis RBE ‘620 Series’ 4.4 litre, SOHC, Lucas injected, 400bhp V8 (Friedman)

Repco were also finally selling their engines to customers (as against providing works engines to Brabham with which Jack had contested the ’66 Tasman and won the ’66 F1 World Title) so Frank figured the 4.4 litre, sohc, ‘620 Series’ 400bhp V8 would be a much more competitive proposition than the highly stressed aluminium, pushrod Olds V8 engines he used in the Elfin 400/Traco Olds and his first SR3.

It was a big ask.

McLaren had persevered with the lightweight aluminium Oldsmobile engines until 1966 when he fitted 6 litre cast-iron Chevs to his spaceframe McLaren M1B. His 1967 M6A, a joint design effort between Bruce and Robin Herd were stunning, simple, monocoque cars superbly driven by Bruce and Denny Hulme to 5 wins from 6 races with Bruce taking the drivers and McLaren the manufacturers titles. The ‘Bruce and Denny Show’ rolled on thru to the end of ’71 when Porsche finally ended the party.

Matich raced two SR3 chassis in a limited campaign in the ‘Non Works McLaren’ class!

As a warm-up Matich won the RAC Trophy at Warwick Farm on May 4 and the ‘Australian Tourist Trophy’ at Surfers Paradise on 21 May 1967 from Alan Hamilton’s Porsche 906 and Glynn Scott’s Lotus 23B Ford. The SR3 was Olds powered.

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Matich SR3 Repco leads a group of cars, John Cannon in a McLaren M1B Chev the car behind him, Road America 1967. FM retired with a stone thru his radiator on lap 15, Denny Hulme won in a McLaren M6A Chev (Friedman)

The 1967 CanAm started at Road America, Wisconsin on 3 September and finished with the sixth and last round at Las Vegas on 12 November, the well oiled McLaren Team crushed the opposition winning all but the final round which ’66 champion John Surtees took in a Lola T70 Chev.

McLaren deservedly won the title from Hulme despite Denny winning 3 rounds (Road America, Bridghampton, Mosport) and Bruce 2 (Laguna Seca, Riverside).

Matich and his small team contested the Road America, Bridghampton, Laguna Seca and Riverside rounds. Fundamentally the car, sweet handling as it was, was outgunned. Its 400bhp Repco having way too little grunt and lacked the reliability for these Grand Prix length sprints of 200 miles.

At Road America the SR3 qualified on 2:22, 18th  to McLarens pole of 2:12.6, retiring on lap 15 with a radiator holed by a stone. In the glorious Hamptons in New York on 17 September he qualified 15th 1:33.49 to Hulme’s 1:29.85, but again DNF this time with fuel starvation.

Frank’s team missed the Mosport, Canada round on 23 September which Hulme’s M6A won.

In California for a couple of races FM gridded 13th at Laguna Seca on 1:05.07 to McLarens blistering pole of 1:02.69, a race Bruce won. Interestingly the Ferrari P4/350 CanAm (a P4 lightened, modified and increased in capacity) did their first ’67 event, Amon finished 5th but qualified behind Matich in 16th on 1:05.77.

Matich and Amon, the latter in in David McKays Ferrari P4/350 CanAm had some sensational scraps that Australian summer in the sportscar races which supported the Tasman Series rounds with the Repco powered car demonstrably quicker than the exotic, long distance derived V12 powered Ferrari.

matich riverside

Matich, wife Joan his mechanics, Peter Mabey at left and Firestone technicians on the Riverside pit apron, CanAm 29 October 1967, John Surtees Lola T70 Mk3B Chev behind. Bruce won the race, Matich crashed and Surtees DNF with ‘rear end’ problems (unattributed)

Still in California, at Riverside on 29 October McLaren won, Hulme was on pole with 1:39.30, Matich 20th on 1:45 and Amon 15th on 1:44.40. Frank crashed out on lap 20. With that the team decamped back to Oz to prepare for the Tasman Series encounters with Amon, with Matich winning each of these battles. Click here for an article on the Ferrari P4/CanAm 350 ‘0858’ inclusive of the Matich/Amon battles;

https://primotipo.com/2015/04/02/ferrari-p4canam-350-0858/

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Jack Brabham, Brabham BT19 Repco and a very young Nigel Tait at the Sandown Tasman meeting, the second race outing for the first ‘RB620’ engine, 2.5 litres in Tasman spec, 27 February 1966. The young engineer had just graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and has ‘landed on his feet at Repco Brabham Engines. Tait maintains this car for Repco all these years later. One of a kind BT19 is Jack’s 1966 championship winning mount (Australian Post)

Nigel Tait…

Having qualified in Mechanical and Automotive Engineering at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Nigel commenced work at Repco in 1966 as an Engineering Cadet. His first placement, you can be lucky!, was in the engine laboratory in Richmond where the Repco Brabham engines were built and tested. He helped to plan and implement the move of the Repco Brabham project to another plant, in Maidstone, this involved manufacture of shadow boards for the new machine tools being installed for further manufacture of the racing engines.

He progressed to assist the head engine builder (Michael Gasking) with assembly, dynamometer running of the engines and worked on BT19 (Jack’s ’66 championship winning chassis) when it was being prepared for the ‘620 Series’ 2.5 litre Tasman V8 for Jack Brabham to use at the ’66 Sandown Tasman meeting. He also worked with other project engineers on test and development of the range of engine components being manufactured at the various engine parts manufacturing factories of the Repco empire for fitment to the race engines.

These project engineering tasks continued for some years and included a 4 month transfer to England to work in some of the companies to which Repco was licensed.

By the mid 70’s Nigel was running the engine laboratory in Richmond, which had become the Repco Engine Technical Centre. In conjunction with the University of Melbourne he supervised a major Federal Government contract for the testing and evaluation of diesel and petrol engines running on alcohol fuel mixtures. He also spent some years as chief engineer of the engine parts plant at Richmond before returning to the engine laboratory, which became his base as Chief Engineer of Repco’s Engine Parts Divison.

He was closely involved with original equipment product development and sales to local car companies and travelled throughout Australia and New Zealand extensively giving product knowledge lectures and writing technical articles. He made a significant contribution to the engine component design sections in the Repco Engine Service Manual (later to be reissued as the ACL Engine Manual).

The division was sold to a management buyout group in 1986 and became ACL (Automotive Components Limited). Nigel was one of the 9 in the buyout group and continued in the role of chief engineer until his retirement in 2005.

matcih sr4

The Matich SR4: One of Australia’s most famous and successful racing cars. Here Matich slices the car, with typical pinpoint accuracy into Warwick Farm’s Esses, 4 May 1969. Interesting in an historic context, hi-wings were banned during the Monaco GP weekend of 18 May…

Overview..

 Frank Matich had already won the Australian Sports Car Championship four times by the time he commenced work on the SR4; he won in a Lotus 19 in 1964, Elfin 400/Traco Olds in 1966 and in the Matich SR3 in 1967/8.

He had competed in the USA in 1967 as recounted earlier. His dominance of sports car racing in Australia was legendary and led to the catchphrase: ‘Doing a Matich’. (Pole position, winning, fastest lap time and lap record). Frank’s record with the SR4 is impressive.  He raced at Bathurst, Calder Park, Catalina Park, Sandown, Surfers Paradise and Warwick Farm.

SR4 took nineteen starts for 15 wins, one second with eight outright lap records and winner of the 1969 Sports car Championship.

SR4 Owners..

Rothmans Team Matich (1968-1970), Repco (1970-1986) Automotive Components Limited (1986-2005) and Nigel Tait (from 2005)

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SR4 in Repco’s Maidstone, Melbourne workshop in 1971, great shot of the nose/spoiler assy and carefully ducted, both ‘in and out’ of radiator, suspension as per text. Note front lights mandated by Oz rules (Jay Bondini)

Build, sponsorship and first ownership..

It’s not certain who actually owned the SR4 as built. It was constructed at Frank Matich’s workshop in Sydney and as far as I know largely funded with sponsorship from Rothmans (tobacco) and perhaps others. The engines belonged to Repco.

Some time after the first logbook was issued from CAMS it was mislaid and Frank wrote to apply for another, stating ownership as ‘Rothmans Team Matich’. In his book ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden wrote that ownership transferred to Rothmans while the car was still in competition, that’s the period from December 1968 to January 1970. It’s also known that Rothmans made a practice of owning the cars that Matich raced under their sponsorship.

The car was retired in early 1970 so that Frank could concentrate on F5000. Repco wanted the car to use as an advertising tool and in return, it is my understanding, that an arrangement was made for the car to be transferred to Repco’s ownership in return for ongoing supply of engines and sponsorship for F5000, these being made at the old Repco Brabham plant in Maidstone. (That’s where I started work for Repco in 1966 as a cadet engineer). This division was renamed Repco Engine Development Company (REDCo) under General Manager Malcolm Preston.

Frank Hallam, Repco Brabham’s General Manager, and incidentally my first boss, had by then been transferred to Repco Research, and one day acidly described to me his life out there as ‘a career careering between obstacles’. He wasn’t happy about being put out to pasture.

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Shot as above after delivery to Repco in Maidstone, Melbourne. Note wing spec then, it would be interesting to know which meetings it competer in this spec, noting changes were ongoing apart from those mandated by the FIA from the ’69 Monaco GP weekend, hi-wings banned from then (Jay Bondini)

Anyway, the car was sent down from Sydney to Repco in late 1970 (I was working for Repco in England at the time so can’t be sure of dates) and was first placed at the Repco Apprentice Centre in North Melbourne. Then it was sent to Maidstone to rest, for some years, in a room next to the REDC0 drawing office. It was in a forlorn state with an empty engine and at the time of little interest to Repco or anyone really.

Anyway once REDCo had closed down after F5000 had finished (at least for Repco) I had the car and all of the Repco Brabham/REDCo drawings and files and other hardware transferred to our Richmond engine laboratory that I supervised. Another division of Repco was to occupy the Maidstone building but not the two engine dynamometer cells, which I was to run, not very successfully as it turned out, on a commercial basis.

By that time Don Halpin had transferred from the Maidstone plant of Repco Engine Parts to our Richmond laboratory and he undertook a cosmetic restoration of the car so that Repco could use it for trade displays and shows etc. It was not a running vehicle at this stage since there was no engine, only a few parts to make it look OK.

Various divisions of Repco used the car for displays as intended and the car also spent quite some years on public display at the Birdwood Museum in the Adelaide Hills, and then the Auto Museum in Launceston, Tasmania.

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BP advertisement photo is pit straight, Sandown Park, Melbourne (BP)

From Repco to ACL..

During the early 80’s Repco underwent considerable change in its upper management and ownership. (You could read ‘corporate raiders’!). By about 1985 Repco had sold off some of its manufacturing divisions, Repco Research, the Brake and Clutch Division and the machinery manufacturing division and it became clear that manufacturing was of no interest to the Board. Clearly the factories manufacturing engine parts in Melbourne, Brisbane and Launceston were next to be offloaded. Indeed while the Repco Board instructed the Divisional General Manager of this division to advise his staff that it was not for sale, it on the other hand instructed him to find a buyer!

So in August 1986 a management buyout team comprising 8 of its senior staff (including myself), and our Divisional General Manager, purchased the whole division from Repco. At a price of $A28 million and with very little equity and huge borrowing, the team pulled off what was the largest management buyout of its type in the country’s history. There were almost 1,000 employees spread over 5 states. My role was to continue as chief engineer.

The new company adopted a name that was actually one of Repco’s 1960’s takeover targets, ACL, and the new company became ‘Automotive Components Limited’. (Repco had no need to use this name and allowed its use by us).

All of the assets of the then Repco Engine Division were transferred to the new company, these included the Repco Brabham BT19 and all associated drawings, items and trailer and also the Matich SR4 which was still in its cosmetically restored state. So the Matich became the property of ACL from August 1986.  ACL continued to display the car publicly including the museum in Launceston and other venues.

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SR4 in the Birdwood Museum, Adelaide Hills, at this stage the ‘cosmetic’ restoration had been done by Don Halpin as per text, car not ‘a runner’  (The Roaring Season)

allen and matich bathurst 1969

Niel Allen’s ex-Matich Elfin 400 Chev (named Traco Olds by Matich) ahead of FM’s SR4 and Bevan Gibson’s ill-fated Elfin 400 Repco, sadly Bevan died during this race, Easter, Bathurst 1969. This event is reported in full in the Elfin 400 article, a link for which is at this articles outset (Dick Simpson)

An engine was found..

Towards the mid to late 90’s with the growth of interest in historic racing there were numerous approaches made to ACL to buy it. These were made direct to the Board or sometimes to myself, and always we advised that the car was not for sale, but would be restored once an engine could be located.

Luckily that did happen. Aaron Lewis, who is prominent in historic racing circles and the owner of some magnificent cars, advised me that Les Wright of Sydney had a 4.2 litre Repco Brabham engine in his Brabham Buick. CAMS had advised that this was not the way the car was originally raced and that Les would need to remove the engine and obtain the correct Buick engine to obtain a CAMS permit to race the car. On behalf of ACL I bought the engine for $30,000. Les ran it on the floor and it worked pretty well so was transported to Melbourne. This was circa 2000.

At last we had an engine and I was able to have the car brought back to life. Jim Hardman (ex F3 racer, mechanic, engineer and builder of the superb Hardman F2 cars of 1980) undertook this restoration, which was essentially to make it mobile, look good and be safe for display and demonstration running.  This work was undertaken by Jim at his rented area within Heckrath Engineering in Cheltenham and paid for by ACL.

I sent the body to Richmond TAFE who had offered to spray it. It turned out to be a very poor job where even the colour was wrong and I had to engage a panel beater near us at Maidstone (Houdini) to do it again. More about the colour later.

Once in running condition at Heckraths Jim Hardman became the first person to drive the car for over 30 years. Albeit this was in Bricker Road, Cheltenham on a quiet weekend morning, a quick blast lest the local police took interest!  More ‘legal’ trials were held at Calder in outer Melbourne, with Jim doing most of the driving though I squeezed myself into it several times.

Subsequently the car was displayed many times from around 2002 to 2005, at Motorclassica, the Australian Grand Prix, various circuits and trade shows and even at a Repco function.

Jim made up a seat for me and I took it to several meetings at Eastern Creek, Winton, Phillip Island etc and we also used it as a display vehicle for our numerous company functions. When Jim drove it at Phillip Island it dropped valves in both heads (probably stones down the intakes) and we had to undertake a fairly extensive rebuild. (Not having wire screens on the inlet trumpets was a bad mistake, as others have also learned).

Assembling Repco Brabham engine

Repco engine assy area, Maidstone factory, Melbourne in early 1968, the engine towards the front is  a 3 litre ‘860’ F1 engine, behind are ‘760s’, capacities unknown (Repco)

Engines..

 The whereabouts of the original 5 litre ‘760 Series’ engine used when Frank Matich raced the car is unknown. I doubt that it came back to Repco. There is some suggestion that it resides somewhere as the base of a coffee table and I hold out hope that one day this engine might come to light, if only as an important part of the car’s history for the next generation.

4.2 litre: I’ve already explained how we came by the 4.2 litre engine ex Les Wright. The 4.2 litre ‘760 Series’ quad cam engines were made only for Indianapolis for Jack Brabham and for Peter Revson. I think there may only have been two or perhaps three, the records are not clear. The engine in the ex Revson BT25 of Aaron Lewis is undoubtedly the one from that car. Sir Jack Brabham told me that one of his engines used in his 1968 BT25 Indy car that he lent to Goodyear ‘disappeared’ and I have a feeling that the engine I have might be this one.

It is as original though as a result of the dropped valve at Phillip Island one of the bores had to be honed slightly oversize to remove some marking and hence the piston and rings in this cylinder are a little larger. Otherwise the engine is as run by Les and still has the same cams etc. It runs on Avgas. I use 50 cc of two stroke oil per 20 litres of Avgas for lubrication of the metering unit.

Its output would be around 550 BHP at about 8,000 RPM but I have never pushed it beyond 6,500 RPM. I have rebuilt it a second time just as a check and little work was needed.

Assembling valve train for quad cam Repco Brabham engine

Peter Reilly assembling an ‘860’ 3 litre F1 engine valve train assy, the engines problem area!, refer to the text, beautiful workmanship clear. ‘860’ the only gear driven cam engine, ’20 and 40′ Series driven by chain (Repco)

5 litre: Some years ago I discovered that I had enough parts from which to commence build of a 5 litre ‘760 Series’ engine. I had a block of the right type (to take the Cooper rings rather than head gaskets). Crankshaft Rebuilders made sleeves and a crankshaft, rods were made by Argo, pistons by Special Pistons Services and the heads that I had were completely rebuilt at Head Stud Developments. Luckily I had the gear casings all of the gears (the quad cam engines have gears, not chains) and a spare sump of the right type with integral oil pressure and scavenge pumps.

Build of this engine took me about 2 years including the time for manufacture of the parts by Crankshaft Rebuilders. A much larger than original torsional vibration damper was made for me by Tuffbond in Sydney.  Minimizing crankshaft torsional vibration protects the valve gear and camshafts etc. as well as being better for the crankshaft itself.

Actually the engines used by Frank were of 4.8 litre capacity, the bores being reduced slightly to overcome sleeve cracking due to being too thin. I have made my engine to true 5 litre capacity with the steel sleeves and was able this way to utilize off the shelf ring sizes. Also I had the rods made to 6” length which enabled the use of much shorter and lighter pistons in keeping with modern engine design practice.

The result is a very nice engine with noticeably more torque. Though I have not had it on a dyno it would no doubt see around 600 BHP, though as with the 4.2 I do not use any more than 6,500 at which point the cams are in and there is plenty for me!

The 5 litre encountered what I thought was a mild overheat at Geelong* in 2014 so I have rebuilt this over 2015/6. There was no bore damage but the crankshaft needed grinding and otherwise the engine is in good condition and ready now for further use.

*Note: I have learn’t that apart from needing a better bleed for the cooling system (now done) I have let the engine rev too slowly upon first start up. The water pump speed is only half engine revs so now I run the engine at 2,000 RPM from any cold start to make sure the coolant is flowing properly.

 Reverting to the 4.2 litre engine in Aaron Lewis’ BT25, it is currently in build and it would be nice to see it running. (at the time of uploading this article Aaron has run the car at Eastern Creek, Sydney) At this stage the two quad cam Repco Brabham engines (and now Aaron’s) that I have for the SR4 are the only Repco quad cams that run, anywhere.

I have nearly enough parts to commence a third engine build but this would have to be with a block that uses head gaskets and these would need to be re-torqued thus would need either a dynamometer run or engine removal from car after first run.  Or with luck I’ll find another Cooper ring type block.

Sale from ACL to Nigel Tait..

I was still hard at work as ACL’s Chief Engineer up until my retirement in July 2005. Consequently outings with the car and indeed also the BT19, were rare and had to fit in with my work rather than being at my will.

With retirement imminent it became obvious that with no one else at ACL interested in the two cars we’d have to consider their future. Repco had a first option to buy BT19 and it was decided to sell this back to them around June 2005, for $1.3M.  I had been looking after it since it was bought from Jack Brabham in 1970. Repco asked if I would continue to be its carer/minder, which I do to this day.

The Matich was to be sold and my bid was the highest, thus securing for me a car that i’d been looking after virtually since its acquisition by Repco. I paid my company $160,000 for it and the various spares and display material and engines, (including the 3 litre quad cam ‘850’ diagonal port engine). I also purchased the trailer that was made for us by MRT Trailers, for $10,000.

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Spaceframe chassis back at Jim Hardman’s shop after sand blasting and stove-enamelling (Tait)

As earlier mentioned the first restoration by Don Halpin was to allow the car to be on static display.The second, once we had the engine from Les Wright, was by Jim Hardman and resulted in the car’s first outing in 30 years.

Once I had purchased the car in 2005 Jim advised that we should undertake a complete bare frame restoration and rebuild. Jim still had the facility at Heckrath’s and i was able to devote some time to the menial tasks such dismantling, cleaning the frame ready for spraying and running around getting parts etc as needed.

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Chassis, big and butch to take the big Repco’s power and torque, quoted weights of ’68 McLaren M8A and Matich SR4 similar. Given the Repco engine was way lighter than the ally’ block Chevy of the M8A, the difference in weights is a bit of a mystery as Tait quotes the Matich bare frame at 38Kg (Tait)

 

 

Hardman replaced all of the aluminum skins, undertray, all firewalls etc and repaired and strengthened the frame as needed. In fact there was no real problem with the frame, one part of the outrigger on one side had partially cracked and the bar that was the top mounting for the seat belt upper harness was too small. Everything else was terrific. A great testament to its builder, Henry Nehrybecki.  I photographed all stages of the restoration and rebuild which took exactly 6 weeks from the May Winton meeting to being ready for Speed on Tweed later that year.

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Wishbone front suspension, coil spring/Armstrong damper and ventilated front discs, steering rack also in situ, Matich designed, CAC cast (Tait)

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Big radiator in place, 3 pot calipers are Girling (Tait)

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Front suspension, radiator and ducting detail, quality of workmanship clear (Tait)

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Heart of the matter in place as is Hewland LG600 ‘box, car first raced with a ZF. Rear suspension period typical; single upper link, lower inverted wishbone, coil spring/dampers (then Koni now Armstrong) and twin radius t rods for fore and aft location. Note big oil reservoir and beefy rear chassis diaphragm above ‘box (Tait)

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And now the body (Tait)

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Proud custodian Nigel Tait with SR4. Jim Hardman an outstanding race mechanic/engineer and car builder ‘in period’ and now a restorer of similar calibre (Tait)

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The view of FM’s SR4 derriere all the other drivers saw (Tait)

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Australian Champion driver John Bowe aboard SR4 at Calder (Tait)

Multiple Australian Champion John Bowe expressed interest in doing a track test for ‘Unique Cars’ magazine. This was shortly after our 2006 rebuild. He planned on a run at Calder for this but that day could not be scheduled as intended. Instead John’s first drive of the car ended up on the road circuit at Murwillumbah’s Speed on Tweed. Organised by Roger Ealand, who so sadly we have just lost, this event ran for several years and in fact culminated in its final event with a stage of the Repco Rally being held also on the same circuit, but at night.

John drove the car for its 4 or 5 runs but even after the first he requested some suspension changes, which had an immediate effect. Subsequently John’s planned track drive at Calder came off and he drove numerous laps following a camera car and some at speed. A successful day and John loved the car. His only request was for the height of front and rear to be changed to change the undertray height to be higher at the back to improve downforce.

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My Licence.

I have a level 2S licence. In my earlier days of racing it was the equivalent of a Level 1, but some 25 years ago I lost one eye resulting from an infection during a skiing holiday in New Zealand. That’s one reason why my driving is limited to display regularity and super sprint etc but the other reason is quite pragmatic; there are few drivers around, and I’m not one of them, who could handle this car to its full potential.  With over 600 BHP and a weight of just 625kg the car commands great respect.

elfin 400 bathurst

Start of the fateful race which took Bevan Gibson’s life, Easter, Bathurst 1969. Gibson in Bob Jane’s red #6 Elfin 400 Repco, Niel Allen #2 alongside in his Elfin 400 Chev and Matich to the right in the hi-winged SR4 (Wayne McKay)

Contact with Frank Matich..

 I took the car to Eastern Creek in Sydney on several occasions in the years before and after its bare frame restoration in 2006.

Frank was at some of these meetings and was delighted to see and hear it in action. He was full of praise for the standard of the restoration and for my efforts in bringing it back to life. We spent quite some time discussing technical aspects of the car and he noted that someone had replaced the Koni shock absorbers with Armstrongs, a pity he said because he set the Konis with very little bump and mostly rebound, something that I can’t do with the Armstrongs.  Frank was apologetic that somehow his people had done a cleanup in his factory and had discarded many spares including patterns and wheels etc that he would have given me. These were good conversations and it was fun also to meet his daughter Katrina and his granddaughter Paige and to have photos of all with the car. He said that he was glad the car was in good hands.

Unfortunately relations deteriorated somewhat in Frank’s latter years when he claimed that he had not sold the car to Repco and wanted it returned! This after a period of over 30 years since Repco’s acquisition during which there had been no communication from or to Frank and with the car having been through two changes of ownership.

Subsequently Frank’s attention was drawn to the reference in John Blanden’s book stating that ‘It initially ran with Rothmans signage and subsequently Rothmans acquired ownership of the car’.

 There was no further communication on this issue. It was disappointing but didn’t diminish my admiration for Frank as a brilliant driver and one of the great legends of Australian motor sport. To this day I can recall the car running at Sandown and steaming into Peter’s corner (I was an official there) with all brakes locked up, tyres smoking when the throttle had apparently stuck.  That was a great era.

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Matich ‘locks em up’, a stuck throttle the cause, on Sandown’s pit straight just before Peters/Torana corner in 1969 (Tait Collection)

Henry Nehrybecki..

Henry was the builder of the car, at least the chassis and suspension and no doubt he had a team of helpers. Indeed I’ve heard that some of the time during the build Henry was not well and Bobby Britton (of Rennmax Engineering) may also have been involved.

I had numerous discussions with Henry in the early days after we got the car going and took it to Eastern Creek. He was thrilled the car was back in action after being out of circulation for 30 years. A small coincidence is that Henry’s granddaughter Gabrielle lives in Melbourne and is in the same friendship group as my daughter and her friends.

Derek Kneller; ‘Henry drew and fabricated the chassis, the conceptual design of which was Frank’s and his, Bob Britton was also involved. The chassis was then transferred to Franks facility, the Castle Cove BP Garage in Eastern Valley Way, which comprised a ‘servo’, the race ‘shop and Firestone racing tyre warehouse. It was in late ’69 that FM switched from testing and selling Firestones to Goodyear’.

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John Mepstead and Matich ponder the SR4’s brakes in the Sandown paddock after its big brake lock-up. Mepstead an ex-Repco mechanic/engineer hired by FM to look after the car in ’69 (Tait Collection)

‘Peter Mabey assembled SR4 at Castle Cove, he had been with FM for some years including the SR3 race program in the ‘States. After that Peter looked after the Servo side of the business before returning to the race side of things on the F5000 program with me. SR4 was maintained and race prepared in 1969 by Tony Williams and John Mepstead on the chassis and engine respectively’.

Others to drive the Matich SR4..

Apart from Frank there have been no others to drive it in any competition except John Bowe and Laurie Bennett. We will not count my many demonstration drives, super sprints and regularity events and even in the Top Gear event at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

As earlier mentioned John drove it at Speed on Tweed just after its 3rd restoration. Laurie drove it at Mallala in one Super Sprint. His Elfin 600 had expired and I let him take it out. Effectively he won this having started last on the grid and passed all of the others by the last lap, while being stuck in 2nd gear.

Bill Hemming and David Hardman (Jim’s son) also enjoyed some practice laps at Mallala and Winton respectively. Also Brian Sampson who would have loved to own the car took it for a few laps at Winton after the third restoration. He really enjoyed it however we had a problem with a badly set up throttle mechanism which made it difficult to drive.

My beautiful picture

On the Calder dummy grid in 1969, #34 an Elfin Streamliner (Ian Pope)

The body was made in Sydney by JWF Fibreglass. It was not intended to be this way. The plan was for it to be made from aluminum and they went a long way towards completing this but the task became too hard and too slow. What had been made was used as a mould for the fiberglass body. This was one of the reasons the car didn’t go to the 1968/9 CanAm, the other was that Repco was late with the engine.

When we restored it at ACL it was strengthened with some extra layers internally as it was very flimsy and cracked in many areas. It’s a little heavier but still OK.

I’ve mentioned earlier the colour. After the debacle of the Richmond TAFE attempt we’d lost the original colour since every panel was by now the odd purple colour, so there was no colour match possible. Houdini Panels suggested an off the shelf colour common to a road car of the time and as it looked more vibrant and could be retouched more easily I chose this.

It appears there were two bodies, or at least two rear sections. When the car raced at the Easter Bathurst meeting Frank had the very high wing and it was attached to the rear hubs by uprights that went through holes in the body.  After Bathurst the car reverted to low wing, no wing and various iterations in-between, but always body mounted. The wing on the car now is about 300mm above the rear deck and I am not sure if the car competed in this way or if the wing was experimental in the latter stages of the car’s life with Frank.

Just last December (2015) I found another rear body section for the car. It came to light in an outer suburban junk yard along with the body from Colin Hyams’ T190 Lola F5000. How these came to be at this property is something we’ll never know. Anyway I bought the Matich rear body (for much more than it is worth), as it is definitely the one Frank used at Bathurst, with the holes for the wing supports and is the original dark blue. It still has the Repco and other stickers on it. I don’t intend to use this but it would fit straight on still having the original brackets.

Chassis number..

The chassis was number 07. When I decided to have a brass plate made I asked Henry if he knew what the chassis number was and he advised it was number 1 so I had the plate made this way. He was probably referring to the fact that it appears another chassis was made, very similar to mine, but never actually made into a car. So Henry was thinking about SR4 chassis of which mine was the first. I suppose I could re-engrave the plate on my car.

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SR4 in the Surfers Paradise paddock, note the car is now fitted with a Hewland LG500 ‘box rather than the ZF in the earlier rear shot (Tait Collection)

Gearbox..

 The car was made with a ZF. It seems the side plates of this gearbox were not strong enough and also the 4 speed Hewland LG500 that replaced it was more common at the time and ratio changes were easier. There is a reverse but to set up the adjustment to get this compromises engagement of the forward gears so it does not go into reverse at all. I don’t have any spare ratios. The only places 4th gear is used is at Eastern Creek, Calder, briefly, the back straight at Pukekohe, NZ and the Grand Prix circuit at Albert Park. Also Sandown and Phillip Island. Given a good straight the car would reach 200 mph.

Derek Kneller; ‘I helped fit the Hewland LG gearbox to SR4. We were converting Frank’s F5000 M10A McLaren to M10B spec, i built the first of these at McLaren’s before leaving the UK for Oz. A DG300 Hewland was fitted to the M10A, the LG was popped from the M10A into SR4. Henry Nehrbecki fabricated a new rear cross-frame with a bellhousing designed by us and cast by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Melbourne, we made a pattern which we could adapt for a Chev or the Repco. The change in ‘box was around November 1969’.

Tyres..

Very early in the piece Kris Matich (of Goodyear in Sydney) tried to find tyres of the original size as raced by Frank but these were no longer available. I have used Avons, supplied by Russell Stuckey and they are F5000 fronts (with treads cut by Russell) and a sports car category treaded tyre imported from Japan. The sizes are: Front: 10.5/23/15 Rear: 15/26/15

These are a little smaller in outer diameter than raced by Frank and we have set the suspension up to suit. Any difference in ratio is of no consequence.

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FM after winning the ASSC round at Surfers Paradise on 18 May 1969, time for a new set of raceboots Frank! Note air reliefs atop SR4 RHS guard (Tait Collection)

Roll bar..

The roll bar height is too low for me since my seat was made for me to sit further away from the pedals. It was marginal in height for Frank. For my purposes it is OK but will need to be rebuilt in accordance with CAMS standards in due course. I think this will require a bare frame exercise.

Brakes..

These are as raced but I have slightly softer pads for quicker warm up. John Bowe felt that these might be too soft for serious racing.

Fuel tank..

The car was raced with a large bladder tank in the left pod. This was not serviceable, Jim Hardman made an aluminium tank of about 30 litres capacity and foam filled it. The car uses about 1 litre per kilometre so a larger tank would be needed for any serious racing.

Ignition..

A Lucas Opus system was on the 4.2 engine ex Les Wright though most likely Frank raced with a Bosch twin point distributor.  The Opus modules are no longer serviceable. John Heckrath made up a special distributor so the Bosch module could be hidden inside the Opus unit and this worked well. There was some initial hilarity when it was discovered that the donor distributor from a V6 Holden had the wrong number of teeth for a V8! (The timing was only ever right for the first few degrees of engine rotation and had to be retimed numerous times until the oversight was discovered). More recently Performance Ignition made up a Scorcher system and this now works perfectly albeit is not as the car was raced.

Cam covers..

The car raced with cam covers designated ‘REPCO’.  I built my 5 litre engine accordingly but the 4.2 litre engine, being ex Jack Brabham Indy, had ‘REPCO BRABHAM’ cast onto the top. I’ve chosen to leave it this way, i have spares of both types. (An early photo shows the car with Repco Brabham cam covers and also shows the ZF gearbox).

CAMS Certificate of Description (Australias more rigorous equivalent of FIA historic racing certification)..

For what I do with the car a C.O.D. is not needed but I was persuaded that it would be a good idea to have this so the car could be documented as raced, for future reference. A C.O.D. was obtained in 2015. It is # 0.040.03.02.

New Zealand

 I have taken the car to New Zealand twice, both times to Hampton Downs, and on the first occasion to Pukekohe as well. I was included in the demonstration events on each occasion and had plenty of track time with F5000’s and other sports cars. This was especially so at the most recent of the visits to Hampton Downs where there were so few of the big sports cars entered they needed me to make up numbers, at least in the practice, qualifying and even on the warm up lap of every race! The two events were to celebrate Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme respectively.

Importantly the Matich ran very well and was popular with the locals.

 Future..

My plan is to continue with displays and demonstrations, regularity and Super Sprints as much as possible given my other passion, snow skiing. This sidelines me for most of the winter months in our small apartment at Mount Buller. I hold out hope that I can get the roll bar rebuilt soon, the 5 litre should go back in later this year and it would be nice to make another trip to New Zealand.

My longer term mission is to see the car in the hands of someone with the necessary technical ability, driving skill and passion to continue to present the car, whether racing or not, in the manner that reflects the great legacy for its terrific driver, Frank Matich and Repco for its amazing engines.

Nigel Tait June 2016

MatichSR4promocardtext

This card, and the shot just below was produced by Repco and handed out at race-meetings trade shows and the like in period (Tait)

Matich SR4 specifications…

Engine: Repco Brabham quad cam. Repco designed and manufactured ‘700 Series’ aluminium crankcase/block cast at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Fishermans Bend, Melbourne.

Four valve per cylinder, DOHC, gear driven,  ’60 Series’ aluminum heads designed by Repco and cast at Castalloy in Adelaide.

Lucas mechanical fuel injection system with metering unit driven from the same jackshaft which describes the distributor Port mounted Lucas injectors running at 100psi. Throttle slides for engine control.

Ignition: car was originally raced with a Bosch twin-point distributor, later Lucas Opus and now Scorcher with reluctor in the distributor

Lubrication: pressure and scavenge pumps in the sump interconnected with short shaft, driven from the crank. Oil tank external

Crankshaft made by Crankshaft Rebuilders, Forged pistons by Special Pistons Services, Connecting rods made by Argo, NSW.

Capacity: 4.2 litre ‘Indy’ version Bore: 96mm Stroke 71.9mm

Capacity: 4.8 litre as raced by Matich in 1969: Bore 96.5mm, Stroke 82mm

Capacity: 5 litre Nigel Tait built: Bore 96.5mm Stroke 86mm

Chassis: Tubular steel spaceframe: Weight 38 kilograms (bare frame)

Suspension: Front; Lower wishbone, upper camber arms with radius rod. Rear; Reversed lower wishbone with upper camber arm and upper and lower radius rods. Shock absorbers: now Armstrong but raced originally with double-adjustable Koni’s

Steering: Matich manufactured rack and pinion, cast by CAC. Uprights: Matich design and manufactured, steel fabrications

Brakes: Girling, 3 pots per wheel

Wheels: Matich design cast magnesium, front 10.5 by 15”, rear 17” by 15”

Tyres: Avon, front 10.5” by 23” by 15”. Rear 15” by 26” by 15”

Track: front 57”, rear 60”, wheelbase 90”

Body: Fibreglass, manufactured by JWF in Sydney.

Matich SR4 photo from Ian Pope

How competitive would the SR4 Repco have been in the 1968 Can Am Series?…

In ’67 the dominant McLaren M6A weighed 590Kg/1300lbs and was powered by a 6 litre 530bhp Chevy, the ’68 M8A by a 7 litre 620bhp alloy block Chev, the car weighed circa 1350lbs.

On the face of it FM’s ‘760 Series’ 5 litre, 4 valve, DOHC  Repco V8 toting about 580 bhp, the car quoted at 1361lbs would have been ‘in the hunt’. Certainly in relative terms SR4 would have been more competitive than the ‘620 Series’ 4.4 litre, 2 valve, SOHC 400bhp powered SR3 was in 1967.

Whilst the Repco V8 was giving away some power to the Chev, the car similar in weight to M8A, the Matich was potentially a better handling car than M8A given the distribution of the weight. The Repco alloy V8 weighed about 380lbs, the Chev lump circa 550lbs. There was no question about the handling of the Matich cars; ask Chris Amon who’s beautiful handling P4/CanAm 350 Fazz V12 was beaten by Matich in SR3 soundly on every occasion they met during the Australian Tasman rounds in the summer of ’68.

The engines had to last the 200 miles of a CanAm event of course, the Repco ‘860 Series’ F1 engines having major problems in 1968, mainly valve gear related. RBE Project Engineer Norman Wilson’s account of the engine problems in F1 in 1968 is as follows; ‘On a visit to Cosworth after the 860 engine problems Cosworth partner, Mike Costin, said that he realised what our problem was with the valve gear, that it was torsional vibration’.

‘This is where the project started to get unravelled. Frank (Hallam, GM of Repco Brabham Emgines) had sort of admitted the problem but at the time i think Frank had just about left, and Charlie Dean who replaced him wouldn’t understand that the problem was a torsional vibration problem. It was wrecking the cam followers. And the solution to the problem was fairly simple. All we had to do was modify the cam drive like the Cosworth Ford DFV engine and we could have fixed it’.

‘What happens is at certain speeds the front of the camshaft will tend to go a little bit like a tuning fork and as it rotates this front of the crankshaft oscillates back and forth and this oscillation is transferred up through the timing gears. It was making two of the camshafts do the same thing. So when the cam lobes were going around they were ruining the cam followers. The Cosworth has a little spring gizmo in the first timing gear to absorb this so it is not transmitted through the whole system. And Frank realised we needed something like this and we were working on doing that when Charlie Dean arrived on the scene and said it was a lubrication problem.’ This was after the end of the 1968 F1 season mind you, Hallam resigned after Deans arrival, after that disastrous season.

The ‘760 Series’ 4.2 litre, 4 valve, DOHC Repco V8 Indy variant with the same block and heads as the 5 litre finished the Indy 500 in 1969, Peter Revson’s Brabham BT25 finished 5th in the race won by Andretti’s Hawk Ford. Critically, Peter Revson took the only international win for a ’60 Series’ engine when we won the Indianapolis Raceway Park road event in his Brabham BT25 Repco on 27 July 1969.

None of these engines were fitted with the torsional vibration damper or spring gizmo to which Wilson refers. Its said the the bigger ‘760’ engines were simply not revved as hard as their F1 liddl’ ‘860’ brother thereby avoiding the oscillation rev range which was problematic.

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Denny Hulme, McLaren M8A Chev, Laguna Seca 1969 (unattributed)

For Australian enthusiasts a great ‘mighta been’ is how FM would have gone against the mighty papaya ‘Big Macs’ in 1968?…

Would the SR4 have been quick? You betcha, much faster than SR3. Would the ‘760 Series’ engine have finished 200 mile races? Yes again if the similar Indy variant results in ’69 are a guide. Could SR4 have achieved CanAm podiums in ’68?, probably yes.

Could he have won a race? Maybe, if the planets were aligned noting that year the ‘dynamic duo’ didn’t win two rounds; John Cannon took a great victory in the wet in an old M1B McLaren at Laguna and Mark Donohue at Bridghampton in the Penske M6B when both Bruce and Denny had major engine failures. Could FM have prevailed at these events? Sure, SR4 was quick enough to knock both car/driver combinations off.

‘If yer Aunty had balls she’d be yer Uncle’ of course, ifs, buts and maybes mean nothing in motor racing, as in life. The chassis was late. The engine was late. FM didn’t contest the ’68 CanAm and as a result we were all deprived of seeing Matich take on Bruce, Denny and the rest of the CanAm circus all of whom he knew and respected well.

So Frank raced the car in Oz in ’69, crushed the local opposition and then moved into F5000 supported by Repco…

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Rothmans brochure featuring both the old, SR4 Repco and the new, McLaren M10A Chev F5000 in 1969 (Tony Johns via Nigel Tait)

The obvious question is, having missed the ’68 series  why didn’t the car contest the 1969 CanAm instead of being ‘King of The Kids’ in Oz?..

The answer is simple, the Repco Brabham engine program was over, Jack raced a Cosworth DFV in F1 in 1969, the final races in that partnership the Indy races in 1969.

The Repco board decided to close down Repco Brabham Engines Pty. Ltd, there is no certainty Repco would have committed to F1 in 1969 even had Jack wanted them to. Cost was a big issue for Repco throughout 1968, the failure of the engines that year made it easier to withdraw, particularly given the sort of investment which would have been needed to match the reliability and power of the Ford Cosworth DFV. Its impotant to remember that Rindt put ‘860 Series’ F1 powered Brabhams on pole twice in ’68. The 3 litre ‘860’ Repco was potent! With further development there is no reason the ‘860’ F1 engine could not have won races, it proved its speed in Rindts hands in ’68 if not its reliabilty. And every Tom, Dick and Harry raced DFV’s in ’68; McLaren, Lotus and Ken Tyrrell’s Matra International team, pole amongst that lot was an achievement, the Ferrari’s also quick that year.

So, whilst Repco were happy to provide Matich with an engine, they would not back an assault in the US with the resources required. Matich employed ex-Repco engineer John Mepstead to look after SR4 during ’69, he wasn’t provided by Repco. Matich didn’t have the funds to race in the US and had already acquired an M10A Chev McLaren F5000 car in advance, well in advance of CAMS decision to agree the next ANF1 as F5000. 2 litre F2 was the alternative.

There was some ‘dogs bollocks’ from the Matich camp at the time about ‘multi-valve’ engines not being legal in the ’69 CanAm which is rubbish, obfuscation. Count the number of Ferrari’s alone which ran that year, the last time i looked they weren’t powered by pushrod OHV V8’s.

Repco’s commercial interests were best served, they quite rightly believed, by building an F5000 variant of the 5 litre Holden V8 to participate in this rapidly growing category. The engine was an immediate success, Matich won the 1970 Australian Grand Prix in a McLaren M10C Repco that November.

There was not the funds to race an SR4 ‘Stateside, customer F5000 engines were a better commercial proposition for Repco and so an interesting and immensely successful, Repco Brabham Engines Pty. Ltd. chapter of Repco history ended, with a big, quad cam 5 litre bang mind you!

As an aside the last championship won by an RBE engine was Henry Michell’s victory in the 1974 Australian Sportscar Championship aboard an Elfin 360 powered by an ex-Tasman RBE ‘730 Series’ 2.5 litre V8…

The SR4’s 1969 Australian Competitor Set…

The sinfully sexy, wedgy, state of the art, but oh-so-twitchy Elfin ME5 Chev of Niel Allen at Warwick Farm in 1969, below.

Garrie Cooper’s latest big car had a nice, stiff aluminium monocoque chassis but the short wheelbase device, even with Allen at the wheel, very much Matich’s equal in F5000 was never a winning car and with only 480bhp was ‘gutless’ compared to Matich’s 580! Never thought i would say that about a 5 litre injected Chev!

sr me5

(oldracephotos.com)

Bob Jane below in the sensational McLaren M6 Repco at Hume Weir in 1969, le patron at the wheel of the car raced mainly by John Harvey including the Australian Sportscar Championship in 1971/2. Also Repco powered but ‘only’ an SOHC 5 litre ‘740 Series’ V8, Harvey was very much an ace but the car not on the same page as Matich’s beastie. Its time would come…but only after SR4 was popped away as a museum piece within months of its championship win.

sr jane

(oldracephotos.com)

Don O’Sullivan in the hi-winged Matich SR3 ‘3’ Repco slicing into Warwick Farm’s Esses in early 1969. Behind him is Niel Allen in the ex-Matich Elfin 400/Traco Olds, now 5 litre Chev engined car. The chassis of the SR3 was either identical to or very, very similar to Cooper’s Elfin 400 design.

sr sr3

(oldracephotos.com/Dick Simpson)

Matich Cars: The Chassis List…

Matich listed ‘his cars’ by chassis number as below. After discussion with Frank Matich, Darryl Duff who owned one of the SR3’s at the time in the early eighties prepared a document listing ‘Franks’ sportscars. A truncated summary of it is set out below. To that I have added Matich’s single-seaters, all F5000’s the source, Derek Kneller, his engineer/mechanic throughout the entire F5000 period;

sr3 wf

Matich in SR3 ‘3’ Repco ‘620 Series 4.4 litre V8, the last one built, at Warwick Farm in 1968, this is the chassis with which he belted Chris Amon in the ’68 Tasman support rounds, Amon in David McKays/Scuderia Veloce Ferrari P4/Can Am 350 (Dick Simpson)

1.Sports Cars: All of multi-tubular spaceframe construction

#1 Lotus 19B Climax: (the second of FM’s 19’s, highly modified with many Brabham bits and ultimately destroyed in FM’s big ’65 Lakeside shunt)

#2 Elfin 400 Olds: (aka ‘Traco Olds’ first raced Sandown early ’66, still exists)

#3 SR3 (1) Olds/Repco (still exists) Built with 5 litre Traco/Olds, ZF 5 DS-25 ‘box

First race Warwick Farm early ’67, won ’67 Victorian (Sandown) and NSW (Catalina Park) sportscar championships and Australian Tourist Trophy at Surfers Paradise. To Marvin Webster, California, sans engine in June 1967. Tony Settember raced the car for Webster.

#4 SR3 (2) Repco (still exists) RBE ‘620 Series’ 4.4 litre V8 # ‘RB620E22’, from late 1969 Traco/Olds 5 litre from ex-SR3 (1), ZF DS25 ‘box

Built, sold and exported to Kent Price, California US, first raced 3 September 1967, Road America, Elkhart Lake by Matich. Its only US race. Returned to Oz, it was sold on Price’s behalf, by Matich to Malcolm Bailey in 1969. Bailey fitted the ex-Elfin 400/Traco Olds/ SR3 (1) V8 from Niel Allen to the car.

#5 SR3 (3) Repco (still exists) RBE ‘620 Series’ 4.4 litre V8 engine # ‘E25’, ZF 5 DS-25 ‘box

First race by Matich, 17 September 1967 Bridghampton, raced in Oz later in ’67. Won RAC Trophy and Australian Tourist Trophy at Warwick Farm and Mallala respectively in 1968. This is the chassis which beat Amon’s Ferrari P4/CanAm 350 throughout the ’68 Tasman support races. Sold to Don O’Sullivan late in ’68

#6 SR4 Repco: (still exists, ’68 intended CanAm contender, late, only raced ’69 in Oz, won ASSC that year)

#7 SR4B Ford/Lotus twin-cam (still exists, customer car built for John Wood)

image

Matich A51 Repco on the Watkins Glen pit row in 1973 (D Kneller)

2.F5000’s: All aluminium monocoques

Note The Matich Team reskinned their McLaren M10B Repco tub after its Oran Park 1971 practice shunt, their first monocoque experience. Six virtually identical tubs were built by Matich/Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and built up as follows;

#8 A50 Repco Chassis # ‘001/002’ (1971 AGP and 1972 Gold Star winner, still exists)

#9 A50 Ford # ‘003’ (exported to the US, bits incorporated in sportscar) 1972

#10 A50 Repco # ‘004’ (customer car, John Walker ’73 US L&M later to Jon Davison, still exists)

#11 A51 Repco # ‘005’ (US ’73 L&M Series sold to J Goss, converted to A53 spec, ’76 AGP winner, still exists)

#12 A51/52 Repco # ‘006’ (US L&M Series as A51 converted to A52 spec back at Brookvale in time for the Surfers Gold Star round that September, destroyed in a Warwick Farm testing accident shortly thereafter driven by Bob Muir, scrapped)

#13 A53 Repco # ‘007’ (’74 Tasman car sold to J Goss after FM retirement, still exists)

On the basis of the above the Matich Team built 11 cars; the list above less the Lotus 19B and Elfin 400 which were built in Cheshunt, London and Edwardstown, Adelaide respectively.

FM’s logic of including the Lotus and Elfin as ‘his cars’ is not spelt out in Duff’s document but I suspect FM’s thinking was that he modified the cars to such an extent that they were more ‘Matich’ than Lotus/Elfin which may be true of the Lotus but ‘praps not the Elfin… Both these cars are covered in my ‘Elfin 400’ article the link of which is early in this article.

In Period Race Footage…

SR3.

SR4.

Shot below by Dale Harvey and is at Catalina Park in the Blue Mountains, not Warwick Farm.

Etcetera…

sr 4 drawing

Racing Car News June 1968 (Dalton)

Matich SR4 RCN cover (2)

Racing Car News cover July 1968 (Dalton)

wf poster

1970 Frank Matich Vicki Fry

1970 shot of FM in natty check strides, Vicki Fry and journalist and later motor racing publisher, Chevron Group founder Ray Berghouse. Hewland box missing, nice shot of suspension detail (Ray Berghouse)

Special Thanks…

To Nigel Tait for entrusting me with his manuscript

Derek Kneller for his recollections of the 1969/70 period at Team Matich

Credits…

Nigel Tait Collection, Dick Simpson, oldracephotos.com, Repco Ltd, Dave Friedman Collection, Ian Pope, Jay Bondini, The Roaring Season, Derek Kneller, Dale Harvey, Peter Ellenbogen, Stephen Dalton Collection, Ray Berghouse

Tailpiece: Matich is his local ‘backyard’, aboard the SR4 Repco, Warwick Farm’s Esses, now ‘Bell Star’ equipped, 1970…

mat wf

(oldracephotos.com/Dick Simpson)

 

post

Jack Brabham, Repco engineer Nigel Tait, and Brabham BT19 Repco. Sandown Park Melbourne for its Tasman Series debut, January 1966. RB620 ‘E2’ engine in 2.5 litre capacity. (Australian Post magazine)

 

rb 620

Repco Brabham ‘RB 620 Series’ 3 litre SOHC V8 engine. The ’66 World Championship winning engine. Circa 310 bhp @ 8000 rpm. Weight 160 Kg, the ‘600 series’ block was F85 Oldsmobile based, ’20 series’ heads early crossflow type (Repco)

In this Repco article we start with a summary of the events leading to Repco’s involvement in Grand Prix Racing, then identify key team members, the equipment used to build the engines and finally have a detailed account of the 1966 championship winning engines construction…

records

RBE factory records ’60’s style (Wolfe)

Why did Repco Commit to Grand Prix Racing?…

Younger readers may not know the background to Australian automotive company, Repco’s involvement in Grand Prix racing in the mid-sixties.

Coventry Climax, the Cosworth Engineering of their day caused chaos for British GP teams when they announced they would not build an engine for the new 3 litre F1 commencing in 1966.

Repco had serviced the 2.5 litre Coventry Climax FPF four cylinder engines, the engine ‘de jour’ in local Tasman races, but were looking for an alternative to protect their competitive position, Jack Brabham suggested a production based V8 to them.

Brabham identified an alloy, linerless V8 GM Oldsmobile engine, a project which had been abandoned by  them due to production costs. Jack pitched the notion of racing engines of 2.5 litre and 3 litre displacements using simple, chain driven SOHC, two valve heads to Repco’s CEO Charles McGrath.

GM developed a family of engines comprising the F85 Oldsmobile and Buick 215. They were almost identical except that the F85 variant had six head studs per cylinder rather than the five of the 215 and was therefore Brabham’s preferred competition option.

Jack had first seen the engines potential racing against Chuck Daigh’s Scarab Buick RE Intercontinental Formula mid-engined single seater in a one off appearance by Lance Reventlow’s outfit at Sandown, Australia, in early 1962.

The engine’s competition credentials were further established at Indianapolis that year when Indy debutant Dan Gurney qualified Mickey Thomson’s 215 engined car eighth, the car failing with transmission problems after 92 laps. It was the first appearance of a stock block engined car at Indy since 1945.

scarab

Jack Brabham looking carefully at the Buick 3.9 litre engine in the mid-engined Scarab RE at Sandown Park, Melbourne in 1962, filing the information away for future reference! (Doug Nye with Jack Brabham)

Whilst the engine choice was not a ‘sure thing’ its competition potential was clear to Brabham, as astute as he was practical.

At the time the engine was the lightest mass production V8 in the world with a dry weight of 144 kg and compact external dimensions to boot. Its future at GM ended in 1963 due to high production costs and wastage rates on imperfectly cast blocks, about 400,000 engines had been built by that time.

New Kid on the Block…

‘Having talked my way into the Repco Brabham Engine Co with a promise of hard work and a 3 weeks trial I was very happy’ recalls Rodway Wolfe.

I was given a nice grey dustcoat with a lovely Repco Brabham insignia on the pocket and shown around the factory and introduced to everyone- I was the seventh employee. Repco had picked the cream of their machinists from throughout the empire to work at RBE, they were great guys to work with and willing to share all their skills.

The three-week trial period was a gimmick, after a few days I had settled in as one of the team. After the trial my wage was increased to slightly higher than my previous job in the Repco merchandising company.’

People: Key Team Members…

dyno

L>R: Phil Irving, Bob Brown, Frank Hallam and Peter Holinger dyno testing the first 2.5 litre Tasman RB620 engine at Russell Manufacturing’s engine test lab in Richmond in March 1965. Weber carbs borrowed from Bib Stillwell, the engine did not race in this form. The engine initially produced 235 bhp @ 8200 rpm, equivalent to a 2.5 Coventry Climax engine. ‘Ciggies a wonderful period touch (Repco)

The first prototype RB engine was built at the Repco Engine Laboratory in Richmond, Victoria, an inner Melbourne suburb, then a hub of manufacturing now a desirable inner city place to live, 1.5 km from the CBD.

It was designated the type ‘RB620’, which was the nex file number of the various laboratory, research and development projects in process at the time.

‘Frank Hallam was General Manager and Phil Irving was Project Engineer together with Nigel Tait and others. Peter Holinger made the components and Michael Gasking tested the engines. There were others involved before my time, those mentioned were involved at Richmond’.

As an industrial site using steel garages in Richmond the RB project received comment in various overseas publications as the ‘World Championship Fl engine built in a tin shed in Australia’.

When I joined in late 1965 the project had just arrived at the Maidstone, Melbourne factory. (87 Mitchell Street, Maidstone, then an industrial Melbourne western suburb, 10 km from the CBD) The Manager was Frank Hallam. In the drawing office, the Chief Engineer was Phil Irving, the Production Manager Peter Holinger, Production Superintendent Kevin Davies and the machine shop leading hand was David Nash. We also had a Commercial Manager, Stan Johnson who came and went’.

hallam

Frank Hallam and Jack Brabham discuss the turning of camshaft blanks on the Tovaglieri lathe (Repco)

‘Around this time Michael Gasking also transferred from the Richmond Laboratory- he was Chief of Engine Assembly and Testing.  Also on the machine tools was John Mepstead who was a great all rounder and later appointed to help Michael with engine assembly. He eventually joined Frank Matich to ‘spanner’ the 1969 Australian Sports Car Championship winning Matich SR4 Repco.

Frank Hallam arranged for me to attend RMIT night school, Repco picked up the bill. Those Tuesday and Thursday nights for 4 years helped me immensely, over the period I obtained a certificate in ‘Capstan and Turret and Automatic Screw Machines’ operation and a certificate in ‘Product Drafting’. My status was as a First Class Machinist in the Repco Brabham factory.

If I had any queries I would also ask Phil Irving who loved a yarn and was a huge bank of knowledge. I felt so honoured to to work for him, and learned so much’.

RBE formation

‘Repco Record’, the internal Repco staff magazine announces the formation of Repco Brabham Engines Pty. Ltd. (Repco)

Machine Tools…

‘Frank Hallam was a machine tool enthusiast.

It was a big help, he made sure we worshipped our machines, blowing away the swarf with an air hose. I learned respect and cleanliness of all machine tools. Few machine shops were as clean or free of swarf and mess everywhere with the exception of Holinger Engineering, Peter was also fastidious.

We were lucky to have top machines in the workshop. Our biggest was an Ikegai horizontal boring machine. RBE had two lathes- a Dean Smith & Grace English machine and also a Tovaglieri Italian unit.

We had a small Deckel horizontal borer and a couple of mills- a Bridgeport and a French Vernier. The older machine was a Herbert capstan lathe, I used this to make every stud for all the future Repco Brabham engines- main bearing and cylinder head studs, a very big variety in different steel types, it was repetitive stuff that would normally be boring but I didn’t care, we were winning the World Championship’…

‘When he drew a new design of stud, Phil Irving would come out and check my thoughts on being able to make it with what we had and other various things. We would do a yield point test in a vice where we measured the length of the new stud after I made a sample and then tension it to a nominated foot pound tension and we would keep increasing the tension until the stud refused to return to the original length. That tension was known as the yield point so Phil would pick a tension somewhere in a safe range under that yield point’.

RB620 Series Engine: Machining and Modification of the Oldsmobile F85 block…

olds

Not the sharpest of shots but a rare one showing the ‘production’ Olds and RB620 engines. RB620 on the right. The engine was the lightest production V8 in the world at the time (unattributed)

‘When I arrived there were a lot of aluminum cylinder blocks along one factory wall. Repco acquired twenty-six Oldsmobile cylinder blocks from General Motors in the US. (2 of the 26 were prototype engines E1 and E2 which were built up in Richmond)

One of my first jobs was to remove all the piston assemblies from those twenty-four blocks. They were not short blocks as known in Australia (here they are complete without sump or cylinder heads) but these were not complete to that stage. They had crank bearings in place, all main bearing caps and the 3.5 inch liners were cast into the block. We didn’t use the cast iron main bearing caps or bolts, replacing them with steel caps and high strength studs.

The RB 620 used the original 3.5 inch cast in sleeves but practically everything else was changed.

All surfaces were re-machined for accuracy, all bolt thread holes re-tapped and recessed to accept studs of superior material. The camshaft bearings were in the valley of the block of course but we pressed them out and rotated them 45 degrees and pressed them back in place to cut off the original oil galleries as our engine ran twin overhead camshafts, one per cylinder bank.

The front original camshaft bearing was left intact and the second camshaft bearing was removed and fitted was a sleeve with an INA roller bearing.

We made up little jackshafts which were driven from the crankshaft by a duplex chain, which also drove the single row chain driving the overhead camshafts. These jackshafts used the first original Oldsmobile slipper bearing and a small roller type bearing in the second original cam bearing location. The chains etc, were all enclosed inside the RB chain-case.

rb 620 chain case

RB600 F85 Olds block from above. Note the valley cover of aluminium sealed ‘with a sea of Araldite then painted over with Silverfros- those blocks which are still in service today still retain the Araldited plate and still do not leak’ comments ex RBE engineer Nigel Tait. Phil Irving’s design had lots of clever bits including the timing chain arrangement which allowed the heads to be removed in the field without disturbing the engine timing- and was also clever in that the same head could be used on either side of the engine (Tait/Repco)

 

 

block & timing case

600 block and timing case, ‘Purolator oil filter housing, timing chain single row (Repco)

‘A lot of people in 1966, including the international motoring writers, did not realise the extent of the machining required to the F85 Oldsmobile cylinder block to use as our race engine base. It was more work and and involved to adapt the F85 than in machining our new Repco cast blocks (700 and 800 Series) used later in the project.

It used to annoy all of us when our engine was referred to as ‘based on a Buick’ in various world motoring magazines. It also added insult to injury by them adding ‘Built in a tin shed in Australia’!

We then had to close up the large cavity in the valley where there used to be a cover plate, pushrods and cam followers in the original engine.

We spent many hours fettling aluminum plates by hand and fitting them into the valleys to cover the original cam followers and holes etc. When we had a very good fit of these plates we mixed two pot resin (Araldite) with additional aluminum powder and filled up the valley seams around the plate.

Then with some elaborate heating systems we invented, we dried the Araldite in place. This also gained us the reputation of the ‘The Grand Prix engine held together with Araldite’ in various magazine articles!’

rb 20 block

RB600 block on the left, Olds’ F85 unmodified block on the right. The 600 block has the pushrod holes covered with the Araldited aluminium plate. ‘The 1/4 inch thick block stiffener plate protrudes from the top of the modified block. This gives the effect of cross bolting…note also the Repco designed magnesium sump’ notes Tait (Tait/Repco)

‘I finished the job of dismantling the blocks, we only worked on two or three at a time during the early months of 1966. Unless the parts were an easy item or required substantial machine set up we only made a few of each component as design changes were ongoing. Not critical large changes but small subtle ones’.

‘We didn’t have any problems with the Oldsmobile block by there was one race in 1966 when a cylinder liner failed. As explained, we used the cast in liners and retained the 3.5 inch bore.

BRO, (Brabham Racing Organisation) sent back the failed engine block and we bored out the remains of the cylinder liner. There was a casting cavity behind the liner which caused the weakness and failure. This was a problem that could not be dealt with without boring out all the liners and fitting sleeves. Otherwise there could be more failures due to bad castings. From that date we used dry liners and eradicated the risk of it occurring again.’

block

Jack and Phil specified this aluminium plate to add stiffness to the production F85 Olds block, big holes to provide rod clearance obviously. ‘This block would have had dry sleeves which led to considerable blowby problems due to distortion and eventually wet sleeves were specified by Phil Irving’ notes Nigel Tait (Tait/Repco)

UK Components: Crankshaft etc…

Phil Irving completed most of the design of the engine in England, he rented a flat in Clapham in January 1964 close to BRO and together with Jack they settled on a relatively simple single overhead camshaft configuration compatible with the block and fitment into the unused Brabham BT19 spaceframe chassis. This simplen specificaton is what Jack pitched to the Repco board at the projects outlet.

The BT19 frame had remained unused throughout 1965 when the engine for which it was designed, the Flat-16 Coventry Climax FWMW, was not released to Brabham, Lotus and Cooper as planned.

To expedite things in the UK, whilst simultaneously mailing drawings to Australia, Phil  commissioned Sterling Metals to cast the heads. Prior to his return to Australia in September 1964, HRG machined an initial batch of six heads, fitting valves and seats to Irving’s specifications.

‘Laystall in the UK also made the crankshaft. Constructed from a single steel billet the ‘flat’ nitrided crankshaft was a wonderful Irving design. I don’t recall any updates or changes to the design of the crankshaft over the years the RB engines were built. It was supplied in 2.5, 3 litre and 4.2 litres for the Indy engines- also 4.4, 4.8 and 5 litre sportscar versions. All crankshafts were of the same bearing dimensions etc’.

‘The term ‘flat-crank’ refers to the connecting rod journals being opposite each other and not in multi-plane configuration as is usual in production V8’s. It meant the engine was not such a well balanced unit at low revolutions but it actually converted the engine to virtually two four cylinder units and either cylinder bank would run quite smoothly on its own. The layout also enabled the superior use of exhaust configuration eliminating the need for crossover exhaust pipes to obtain full extraction effect’.

crank

Crankshaft was made by Laystall to Phil Irving’s design, pistons and rings by Repco subsidiaries. (Repco)

Pistons…

‘Repco is a piston ring manufacturer and very experienced in ring design which meant that we were well ahead in that regard.

The famous SS55 oil rings were well known already around the world. The pistons were Repco Products.

No other F1 engine constructor of the sixties made their own pistons. The experience we gained with the supply of Coventry Climax pistons and rings contributed to this success.’

Bearings: Vandervell Interlopers and ‘Racing Improves the Breed’…

‘Repco was already supplying engine bearings to various manufacturers globally from the Tasmanian based Repco Bearing Company, we obtained these components as required.

During 1966 an advert appeared in a British motoring magazine, ‘French Grand Prix won on Vandervell bearings’. Vandervell are of course a British bearing company, Repco were furious and telex messages to and from BRO (Brabham Racing Organization) revealed that Jack Brabham was not happy with the depth of the lead overlay on our copper/lead crankshaft bearings.

Our bearings had a lead overlay of .001 inch and the Vandervell bearings an overlay of .0005. So I was instructed to pack away all our existing bearings and mark them not for use, our bearing company came up with the improved design bearings with the lesser overlay in time for the next GP. Racing certainly improves the product!

Before I transferred to the RB project, i worked in Repco merchandising and received brochures and information about a new Repco alumina/tin bearing known as the ‘Alutin’ and advertised by Repco as a new high performance product. Repco were promoting them as a breakthrough design.

I learned these new bearings had been unsatisfactory under test in the F1 engine and within a short period no more was said about the new product ‘Alutin’. They were inclined to ‘pick up’ on the journals at high rpm – another example of how racing  improves the product. This problem had not been evident in the engine testing of the product by Repco to that date.’

ad

‘Racing Improves the Breed’…Repco Ad 1966

Outsourced Items…

‘There were some components we did source outside the Repco Group.

There were cam followers, Alfa Romeo cam buckets, valve springs from W&S, valves manufactured by local company Dreadnaught. The ignition system was sourced from Bosch by Brabham.

The collets were from the UK and were a production car or motorcycle collet, the name escapes me. We made the valve spring retainers and collet retaining caps. Over the project we made  changes to the collet retainer material from aluminum to heat treated aluminium bar and later titanium. Not a lot was gained as titanium fatigues as well, as we found out.’

Lucas Fuel Injection…

‘The fuel injectors and fuel distributor were Lucas items, the system was in early stages of development. It consisted of an injector for each cylinder, in our case installed in the inlet trumpet a short distance from the inlet port in the cylinder head.

The system is timed with a fuel distributor in the engine valley driven from the chaincase by the distributor drive gear. The fuel is supplied at 100psi from an electric pump. The fuel pressure supplies and operates small shuttles which are constantly metering supply according to the length of shuttle travel. The amount of fuel supplied to the injectors is controlled by a variable small steel cam which is profiled to suit the particular engine size etc. The steel cam therefore controls the actual fuel mixture and is linked to the throttle inlet slides’.

‘It is interesting to note that although the fuel distributor can be timed to any position in the engine cycle, injecting at the point of the inlet valve opening or with it closed or wherever, it does not make any important difference in engine performance but as Phil Irving explained to me there is a point of injection that lowers engine performance so therefore the fuel distributor is timed in each installation to avoid the undesirable point of injection. The air inlet trumpets were cut to length spun and profiled.

The chaincase was a magnesium casting and the ‘620’ 1966 World Championship engine used a single row handmade chain imported from Morse in the US. We cut all the sprockets and manufactured all the camshaft couplings etc. We used an SCD hydraulic chain adjuster, a standard BMC component.

The cam chain was driven by a small jackshaft which was fitted in the front two original camshaft bearing spaces of the original Olds block. The jackshaft was driven by a Morse duplex chain from the crankshaft sprocket, also Repco made. The crankshaft had a small gear driving the oil pump mounted underneath the chain case.’

chain case

Assembly of chain in the magnesium timing case of an RB620 engine (Repco)

Oil Pump…

‘The oil pump was a wonderful Irving design, simple to service but a small work of art. It featured flexible supply hoses with snap fittings and was a combination of oil supply pump which supplied the engine with oil up through a gallery in the chaincase and also a slightly larger scavenge pump connected to each end of the engine sump- it was also a magnesium casting. The pump assemblies, sump and all components were made by Repco.

The system consisted of a sump with an inertia valve located in its lowest point. If the car was braking the inertia moved the valve forward which opened a cavity in the front of the sump causing oil to be drawn from the front. Under acceleration the inertia valve moved backwards and the forward cavity closed and the rear cavity opened. This meant a minimum of blowby and air to be pumped by the scavenge system. I don’t recall any failure of this system apart from the  Sandown debut race of our ‘620’ Series 2.5 litre engine in January 1966′.

‘The ‘Tasman’ cars were held on the grid for rather a long time and as a result the oil had cooled in the Repco Brabham. Jack left the line with plenty of revs, the cold oil and resulting oil pressure split the pressure pump gears. The first engines used cast Fordson Major tractor pressure pump gears and one gear had split due to the extreme pressure. Jack Brabham did  3 or 4 laps from memory.

I arrived at work on Monday morning and in typical Irving style found a drawing  for the supervisor for the construction of new steel gears and a ‘Do Not Use’ request for all the Fordson gears in stock. Phil had arrived at the drawing office on Sunday evening after the Sandown meeting and made the modifications straight away’.

‘The chaincase featured a couple of inspection caps which were removed to allow for chain tension adjustment etc. We made these caps and when it came to cutting the retaining threads in the chaincase we could not obtain the required thread tap anywhere. Phil had specified similar threads to the Vincent Motorcycle chain adjuster cap threads so that’s exactly what we used. Irving brought in the original Vincent motorcycle thread tap and we used that to thread all the chaincases under manufacture at the time, actually going back to valve spring collet retainer caps.

I recall that the first engines used BSA motorcycle collet retainers. One of the things I enjoyed so much working with Phil was that he did not waste time on risk taking design, he used tried and tested systems from his past. He once said “There is really nothing new, it is just changed around in some way”- well he sure proved that with the first RB620 engine!’

chaincase componentry

Cylinder Heads…

‘The cylinder heads were cast aluminum of crossflow design, the cam covers cast magnesium. All our cast magnesium and aluminum components were supplied by CAC in Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, with the exception of the first batch of six heads cast in the UK. (Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation).

Phil was remarkable with his engine design skill in that he could see the item in reverse or three dimensions and could design all the sand boxes etc and patterns required to arrive at the finished item.

The engine used no bolts as the original Olds did. Cylinder heads, cam covers, main bearing caps, sump, oil pump and chaincase were fitted with, or retained by high tensile studs.That was my department and apart from the first couple of prototypes I made all the studs for the 1966/67 RB engines. Some were quite a challenge, the thread specification and tolerances were exacting.

The crankshaft rear bearing seal was a slipper ring design with a bolted on ring retaining flange. The slipper rings were supplied by our Russell Manufacturing Co, we made the outer flange in the factory. The steel flywheel was also turned and made by Repco’.

Conncting Rods and Ease of Servicing…

rod

RBE conrod drawing (Repco)

‘We used modified Daimler connecting rods and competition Chevrolet and Repco rods. In later engines we occasionally used Warren rods from the US. In the valley of the engine a small drive housing held the vertical ignition distributor and also the fuel distributor. Sometimes in the larger engines we also fitted a mechanical fuel pump to this housing.’

‘The type 620 engine engine had throttle slides running on small grooves with 1/8 inch steel rollers to prevent lock ups which would be a disaster. The slide covers were  fastened directly to the cylinder head and in later engines were changed to fully assembled units and fastened directly to the cylinder heads for ease of changing if required. They were then complete units with studs bolting them to the inlet flanges’.

A big feature of servicing the RB620 engine was that either cylinder head could be removed without disturbing camshaft timing or the camshaft from the cylinder head, a great time saver. (See the photos in the block section above which clearly shows this)

The oil pump can be removed in one small unit and replaced with no other dismantling. Or the two cylinder heads can be removed without disturbing the timing of the camshafts or the chain case. All very important design features for use ‘in the field’.

engine assembly

RB620 engine assembly early 1966, Maidstone (Repco)

First Test…

The first engine, a 2.5 litre Tasman engine designated ‘E1’ was fired up on March 26 1965, almost twelve months to the day Phil Irving commenced its design.

It was initially run with Weber 32mm IDM carbs and after a checkover fitted with 40mm Webers. The engine produced 235BHP @ 8200RPM, equivalent to a good Coventry Climax 2.5 FPF at the time.

Repco committed to build 6 engines for the 1966 Tasman Series, later changed to three 2.5 litre Tasman engines and two 3 litre F1 engines, the first race for the new engine was the non-championship South African Grand Prix on January 1 1966, the next part in the Repco story is the 1966 race program for the new engine.

rb 20 dyno long shot

‘2.5 litre 620 V8 E1 on the Heenan and Froude GB4 dynamometer in Cell 4 at Richmond, 1965. The exhausts lead straight out through a hole in the wall. Also there was minimal noise insulation in the tin shed that served as a test cell. Vickers Ruwolt across the road blamed us for the large crack that developed in their brick wall on the other side of Doonside Street!’ recalls Nigel Tait (Tait/Repco)

Photo & Other Credits…

Autocar, ‘Jack Brabhams World Championship Year’, Repco Record, ‘Doug Nye with Jack Brabham’, Australian Post, ‘From Maybach to Repco’ Malcolm Preston, Rodway Wolfe Collection, Nigel Tait recollections and his Collection, Repco Ltd photo archive

Etcetera…

letterhead

Original RBE Pty.Ltd. Letterhead. Jack Brabham had no financial (equity) or directorship involvement in this company, it was entirely a Repco subsidiary.

 

wade

‘E1’ was the RB620 prototype Tasman 2.5 litre engine. Most of the entries in this exercise book are dated, this one is not, but its mid 1965, the book records the use of cams with the ‘Wade 185’ grind and the valve timing, no dyno sheets sadly! (Wolfe/Repco)

 

repco 1

Have a look at this Repco film produced in mid-1965…

It covers some interesting background on the relationship between Brabham and Repco, footage of Jack at home in the UK, the Brabham factory in New Haw, some on circuit footage at Goodwood and then some sensational coverage of the 1965 Tasman Series in both NZ and Oz. The latter segues nicely into footage of the first ‘RB620’ 2.5 Tasman V8 engine ‘E1’ on the dyno at the Repco Engine Laboratory, at Russell Manufacturing, Richmond in ’65…

Tailpiece: #1-RBE620 2.5 litre ‘E1’, the prototype Tasman 2.5 V8, fitted with Webers on the GB4 dyno- Repco Engine Lab at Russells, Richmond 1965. The box over the Webers is for airflow measurement notes Nigel Tait…

rb 620 on dyno

(Tait/Repco)