Posts Tagged ‘Rodway Wolfe’

jack

Dick Simpson

Jack Brabham winning the 1969 Australian Gold Star Series event at Easter Bathurst in his Brabham BT31 Repco…he is heading across Mount Panorama between ‘Skyline’ and ‘The Dipper’…

Introduction…

Those who have read the first three Repco articles may recall that we have been chronologically going through the history of Repco’s F1 and Race Engine program of the mid 60’s partially through the eyes of Rodway Wolfe who worked for the company as both technician and storeman during the glory years from 1966.

This article is out of sequence, its’ about Jacks’ 1969 Tasman mount, the Brabham BT31 powered by the Repco ‘830 Series’ 2.5 litre V8, logically the 1967 and 1968 F1/Tasman/Sportscar engines and race records come first. Rodways’ manuscript is running ahead of my own research so we will run with this article now, one he is intensely passionate about for reasons which become obvious, i will re-number once we have covered 1967 and 1968 down the track.

‘In the historic vehicle world there are some fascinating stories of various cars and some seem to just keep accumulating historic events and happenings throughout their existence. The BT31 Repco Brabham is one such car. The following story is mine, I was lucky enough to purchase the BT31 early in its history making saga…

bathurst race

Brabham, BT31, Bathurst Easter 1969. It is such a shame the car did not arrive early enough to compete in the 1969 Tasman and/or the 1970 Tasman, it was potentially a winning car in 1970. ’70 Tasman won by Graeme Lawrences’ ’68 updated Ferrari Dino 246T despite F5000 cars also being eligible that year…(Unattributed)

BT31/1 was constructed by Brabham Cars  for Brabham Racing Organisation…(Sir Jack Brabhams works racing team, a separate entity from Jack and Ron Tauranacs’ race car production entity) It was built especially for the 1969 Tasman series, not just a modified Formula 3 car as some have suggested. It was bright red, unique itself as the FI BRO cars were all green and gold.

The engine was a ‘Tasman’ 2.5 litre ‘830 Series’ the car fitted with low profile wheels and tyres and various other features. It was consigned by sea freight to Australia, there seemed to be ample time for its arrival for the start of the Tasman series of races in New Zealand in January 1969.

I managed Repco Brabham Engine Company’s spare parts operation, we awaited the cars arrival with great anticipation. By a twist of fate the Melbourne ‘wharfies’ went on strike due to some industrial problem. They were cooperative and sympathetic to us and offered to unload the car if possible. A search revealed the car crate to be under many hundreds of tons of freight so it was not to be.

Eventually the strike ended and the crate arrived at RB on the Wednesday prior to the last race of the ’69 Tasman Series at Sandown Park, Melbourne. It was very disappointing but Jack being Jack he still wanted to be on the Sandown grid, Repcos’ home town race.

If anyone has been lucky enough to purchase a new Brabham they will know what I am talking about. The cars arrive in a very long crate just wide enough for the chassis and suspension, tanks and body parts are packed along the crate in front of the chassis. In this case a tubular space frame.

jack dandown 1969

Brabham Sandown, Dandenong Rd corner. Brabham BT31 Repco, Tasman 1969. (Unattributed)

The Car That Jack and Rodway Built…

As despatch and receiving was part of my job I had the great pleasure of assisting Jack to unpack the car. I have been lucky in my life to have many days I enjoyed to the fullest but that Wednesday with Sir Jack has to rank as the best. I spent the day helping the World Champion assemble his car, imagine a star of today doing that!

Every part went together like a dream, Jack sat in the cockpit while we fitted instruments, adjusted pedals, steering wheel reach etc. We discussed many subjects including his flying in Europe. He asked if I had seen any ‘Brabham Holden Toranas’ in my travels. At the time he had done a deal with General Motors Holden, it was possible to buy a Torana with Brabham badges and gear knob, steering wheel. It was truly a memorable day for a boy from the bush!

Meanwhile my RB colleagues were power testing the ‘830 engine’. It was one of the best and most reliable of our engines. Finally it was fitted and the car was ready for testing mid Friday afternoon prior to the Sandown meeting on Saturday/Sunday.

We loaded the car on an old open trailer of Jacks and set out for Calder Raceway, near Keilor, an hour from Melbourne. Kevin Davies went in his car, I went in mine and I think Michael Gasking took his too. (1959 Australian Gold Star Champion) Len Lukey and his wife took Jack and Betty Brabham and one of the toddler Brabham boys.

brabham testing at calder

Brabham testing at Calder the day before Sandown and the day the cars assembly was completed by Brabham and Wolfe…the DIY World Champion! Brabham is belted in but driving in a ‘parka’, no racesuit.(Rodway Wolfe)

Len Lukey towed the trailer. We stopped at Keilor and Jack disappeared into a house for a few minutes. He borrowed the key to the circuit from Calder owner, Jean Pascoe. We proceeded to the circuit, unloaded the car and with just a handful of us there Jack started testing.

The fuel cam was causing a hesitation coming out of corners but Michael Gasking had a selection of test cams and soon had the fuel mix OK.

Len Lukey parked his car on the infield and they all stayed in the car watching. At one stage Jack walked over and carried his small son to BT31 and took him for a few laps as he sat on Jacks lap, no wonder all those boys raced! Another memorable moment for me. It was such a lovely casual setting with Jack just wearing his Parka jacket, no fireproofs.

We had been there about an 1.5 hours, Jack seemed happy with everything and suddenly into the gate roared a car which skidded to a stop and out jumped a very irate man. He started shouting at us all, especially Jack who was still sitting in the cockpit. He yelled something about no engines were to be started at the circuit after 6pm at night and it was a council by-law etc. He would report us etc. When he finally managed to get a word in Jack calmly said ‘we will pack up now fellas’ the irate man left as fast as he had arrived.

I have often wondered how funny it was that he never knew he was abusing our World Champ!’

Needless to say the car was at Sandown next day for practice…

bt 31 dandenong road

Jack Brabham, Brabham BT31 Repco, Sandown Tasman 1969, ‘Dandy Road’ corner. Winged in the race, he tested also sans wing. Note the ‘old style’ Buco helmet…Jack was wearing Bell Magnums in Europe, i suspect this is an old helmet left in Oz, ditto the goggles! (Rod MacKenzie)

sergent.com reported the race as follows…

‘It was a battle for pole again between Amon and Rindt, although the dark horse of the meeting was Jack Brabham hurriedly arranging a marriage between a Brabham BT31B F3 chassis and the 2.5 twin-cam Repco V8 engine. It was certainly the smallest and lightest of the V8 powered cars at the meeting, and although he fitted a wing to the rear, Brabham was down on horsepower compared to the other Internationals.

John Harvey was having his first competitive drive in the Bob Jane Repco Brabham BT23 Repco V8 since his Easter accident at Bathurst in 1968, and was using the outing as an extended test session for the coming Gold Star rather than trying to drive a hard race first time out. This was born out by Harvey’s practice time which put him 14th on the grid among the 1.6 F2 cars.

bt 31 sandown grid

Brabham BT31 #9 beside Derek Bells’ Ferrari Dino 246T, Sandown Tasman grid 1969. Grey haired gent just in shot is Scuderia Veloces’ supremo, David McKay who entered the successful Amon/Bell Ferraris’ in both 1968 and 1969 Tasman. (Mildren Films)

Rindt (Lotus 49 DFW) got the start and lead the field through Shell Corner and held it through the very slow Peter’s Corner, but Amon (Ferrari Dino 246T) used his better gearing for the straight and took the Austrian as they headed over the hill and down toward the Esses. Hill (Lotus 49 DFW) had started in third position but dropped back sharply on the first lap when his throttle linkage came adrift and Courage (Brabham BT24 DFW) broke a previously twisted half shaft down the back of the circuit.

Amon and Rindt started to open a gap to Brabham, who was holding off Bell for third place. Kevin Bartlett (Brabham BT23D Alfa) pulled sharply into the pits on lap 5 with a broken exhaust which threatened to set fire to exposed oil and fuel lines while Hill re-joined the race and set about climbing back through the field. John Harvey spun when his Repco engine overheated and poured out scalding water at Dandenong Corner and he retired with a very sore neck from the results.

Meanwhile Hill was forcing his way back up and he took Levis on lap 33 for sixth place but couldn’t get any higher after his four lap deficit after the start. Garrie Cooper drove steadily throughout the race to finish eighth and first resident Australian home in his own Elfin 600B. Leo Geoghegan hadn’t started as mechanics found a leaking fuel cell in the Lotus 39 Repco V8 and they couldn’t repair it in time.’

Amon won the race and the Tasman Series that year from Rindt and Courage. Rindt and Brabham were second and third in the race.

Check out this fabulous film made by Alec Mildren Racing of the Australian Leg of the 1969 Tasman Series…

After that Sandown event, Jack returned to Europe to commence his F1 campaign for the year.  Brabham’s BT26’s fitted with the Ford Cosworth DFV V8 for 1969 rather than the RB 860 Series 3 litre V8’s which had been so unreliable for he and Jochen Rindt in 1968, and caused his decision to bring the F1 partnership with Repco to an end.

The BT31 returned to the Maidstone factory, the engine was removed and the car stored for a while. We had two 830 2.5 litre engines for the car, one of course the spare.

bt 31 bathurst dale harvey

Brabham, Bathurst Easter 1969. (Dale Harvey)

In April 1969 the car was brought out of mothballs and taken to Bathurst for the Easter ‘Bathurst 100’ race

‘This race has also been widely reported over the years needless to say the BT31 started from the rear of the grid and hosed off all the Australian cars and set a new lap record for open-wheel cars of 2 min 13.2 seconds.’

I wrote about this weekend in another post a while back; https://primotipo.com/2014/09/01/easter-bathurst-1969-jack-brabham-1970-et-al/

‘Of course that was the old track layout with the full Conrod Straight and notorious hump. Typical of Jacks foxiness, he fitted both front and rear high wings for Saturday practice which resulted in some teams working frantically all night to install front wings as well to their cars. Of course Jack rolled out the BT31 on race morning minus the high front wing’.

wings

Bi-winged during Easter Bathurst practice. One-off car based on BT28 F3 chassis. Multi-tubular space frame, front suspension by upper and lower wishbones and coil spring/damper units. Rear suspendsion by single top link, inverted lower wishbone, twin radius rods, adjustable sway bars front and rear. Cast magnesium front and rear uprights. Repco ‘830 Series’ 2.5 litre SOHC 295bhp V8, Hewland FT200 5 speed box. (Rodway Wolfe)

The car was suffering some fuel starvation problems in practice. Very hastily the electric fuel pump was borrowed from Charlie Deans’ Lancia road car, some of you may remember Deans contribution to Australian motor racing in the Stan Jones article published a while back;

https://primotipo.com/2014/12/26/stan-jones-australian-and-new-zealand-grand-prix-and-gold-star-winner/

It assisted fuel flow into a reserve pot arrangement in the fuel system and a switch fitted to the instrument panel. Jack turned the pump on each lap for either the climb up the mountain or the run down Conrod I cannot recall which.

I do remember how great the car sounded down Conrod. It was the days of the apple orchards at Bathurst and BT31 looked magical going down through the apple orchards. When I purchased the car later it retained the Bathurst gearing, Peter Holinger and i calculated 5th gear at 186 mph at 9500 rpm so it was flying!

After the Bathurst meeting the car went to Sydney for display at Jack Brabham Fords’ Bankstown showroom.’

jack

Brabham during Bathurst practice pondering fuel starvation problems…(Rodway Wolfe)

‘Finally the BT31 was returned to our Repco factory at Maidstone…Jack Brabham had since returned to the UK, the cars engine was removed and it sat in a corner gathering dust.

Meanwhile Repco had been negotiating with Jack to purchase the car for the Repco Export Company to place on display in Japan at the upcoming ‘Expo 70’. Repco exported engine components around the world, most people would not know that Rolls Royce in the UK were supplied with Repco piston rings. So the display in Japan was a crucial part of the company’s export drive.

We will never know the details of Repco’s purchase of BT31, all I know it was involved with import duty with the amount paid dependent on the car being used as a race car or for advertising purposes.In other words, if the car was raced a higher level of duty applied than if the car was not.

One morning the works superintendant, Kevin Davies came out of his office and went down to John Brookfield in the welding shop, (John was our magic welder of all things aluminium) and was an excellent engineer. We all heard a bit of a discussion and Kevin disappeared back into his office. John was a big guy, his nickname, ‘Lurch’. We all knew something was wrong as Lurch came out of his welding bay with a red face, set to explode.’

‘Chop up BT31…

He told us with an incredible look on his face; ‘Kevin came and asked me to cut the BT31 chassis in half!!!??? I told him to F….k off and if he wanted it cut in two pieces he would have to find someone else to f…….g cut it for him…’

‘We all rebelled, the entire factory agreed on no destruction of BT31. It was something to do with Repco buying the car from Jack for advertising only, a space frame cut in half of course destroys the car and prevents it being raced. Anyway it was all to do with the usage of the car and the marketing idea at ‘Expo 70′ in Japan was to setup a display using a tunnel with the rear of the car disappearing in one end and the nose coming out of the other.

After a lot of discussion and refusal to damage the car the nose was removed and the bracket holding the radiator cut off the front. I didn’t visit Expo 70  but I understand the display did feature the car entering a tunnel. The car’s front high wing, the nose cone and the front wheels were in my care in our RB store until the car was returned in 1971’.

Editors Note: Without being an expert on Australian race car import laws of the past, the legislators allowed racing cars to be imported free of duty into Australia on the basis that the car left the country annually…perfect for Tasman series competitors as the cars left Oz for NZ to compete each year before returning. Eventually, when the car stays in Oz, duty is payable, therein commenced, often, a lot of ‘jiggery-pokery’ with chassis numbers as impecunious racers, seeking to avoid the taxmans net, applied very old chassis numbers to very new cars!  Repco, as an audited public company could not afford to play ‘ducks and drakes’ in this manner. I suspect the scenario Rodway outlines is around the points outlined here. That is, how to minimise the punitive duties whilst remaining ‘kosher’ in the process as large public company.Mark.

bt 31 cockpit

BT31/1 cockpit shot taken in 1983 at Sandown. Quintessential 60’s English racing car cockpit; Smiths chronometric tach, oil/water temps/oil pressure, leather bound Mota-Lita wheel and right hand change for the 5 speed Hewland FT200 gearbox. Chassis tubes clear as is aluminium fuel tank to left and right. (Mark Bisset)

‘When the car was returned by sea freight from Japan Repco had undergone huge changes in their motor racing policy…

The whole Repco Brabham project had been dismantled and the factory in Maidstone was being converted to a new company, Repco Dynamics, which was to construct a new concept in automotive wheel balancers. Most of the RB employees, about 70 at the time, were given their marching orders but a few were selected for the new entity or other Repco companies.’

In essence what occurred was the commercial flow on of Jack Brabhams decision to change from Repco to Ford Cosworth power in F1 with effect the 1969 F1 season.

RB Engines raison d’etre was the supply of engines to Brabham; Brabham received race winning engines and Repco reaped the advertising and promotional spinoffs.

The sale of Tasman 2.5 and 4.4/5 litre sports car and other engines in Australia and elsewhere did not generate a commercial return, the parent companies subsidy to keep its RB Engines subsidiary afloat was increasing each year. The PR rub off ended when Jack turned to Cosworth and had lost its gloss in ’68 due to the engines unreliability in F1. Whilst the 2.5 Repcos’ won Gold Star races they never won a Tasman or Gold Star series. Frank Matich’s 1969 Australian Sports Car Championship Matich SR4 Repco win was laudable but again did not, in Repco’s view, justify the significant investment made.

Repco therefore ‘flipped’ the stock of unsold engines and other assets of RB Engines into Redco, a new company, which it continued to support. The deal was probably done that way to maximise the tax effectiveness of the transaction, with Redco then looking after the needs of RB Engine customers needing spares etc, and taking on development of the new Holden ‘308 V8’ as a race F5000 engine, CAMS having finally made the vexed decison of the new ANF1 category between 2 litre race engine and 5 litre F5000 stock block alternatives.

These are topics we will explore in later articles, in essence this is a summary of the circumstances around the issues Rodway addresses above.

bi winged

Bi-winged BT31 during Bathurst practice. At ‘The Dipper’. (Unattributed)

‘In a corner of the RBE factory a wall was constructed with big doors and ‘No Entry’ signs, the new domain of  ‘Repco Engine Development Company’ (REDCO) was set up with Mal Preston as Chief…

The former General Manager of Repco Brabham Engine Co, Frank Hallam was transferred to Repco Research at Dandenong. Don Halpin, John McVeigh, John Mepstead and Brian Heard were placed in the new company with Malcolm Preston.

Being the spoilt brat from the bush, i refused to accept the closing of Repco Brabham which was my life really. I wrote a nice letter to the board and thanked them for employing me through the RB project and told them I was returning to Gippsland. I asked them to re-employ me when they started building F1 engines again. I had been offered a job as Service Manager assistant to Michael Gasking who was the new Chief Engineer of  Repco Dynamics.

It did have a huge future and I could not have found a better guy to work with than Michael Gasking but I was young and stubborn.

One day Charlie Dean arrived and said ‘What’s all this about you going home to the farm Rod’ I explained to him how I was not keen on the heavy cast iron 308 Holden engine. I had loved and appreciated my time on the Repco Brabham Engines. Anyway he said ‘right, I want you to work with Malcolm, he will need you to keep up the RB spares around the world as we have to maintain supply’.

‘The Repco Brabham engine spares represented $340,000 in value at that time!, were retained by REDCO,  to sell the parts to RB engine owners. I ended up behind the wall with Don Halpin and the other boys. Looking back it was great to have Charlie Dean tell me I couldn’t leave! The time I spent at REDCO with Malcolm is another story altogether.’

bt 31 bathurst bi-winged

Bi-winged BT31 during Easter Bathurst practice, car won sans front wing…and high wings shortly to be banned globally by the FIA during the 1969 Monaco GP weekend. (Dale Harvey)

Buying the Brabham BT31…

‘BT31 arrived back from ‘Expo 70’ in its crate and no one cared. Repco Brabham Engine Co did not exist, all the staff had gone. Mal Preston had not seen the car and was not interested as Charlie was continually on his back about Holden F5000 developments.

I did not envy Mal in those early months of the F5000 project he was under lots of pressure. Charlie Dean was like a small tornado wherever he went.

One day Mal asked me to unpack the BT31 as it was needed for a car show in Mornington. I spent a couple of days reassembling it around a mock ‘830 2.5’. It was rare for us to display a going engine. I recall once doing so with our one magnesium 3 litre, (which disappeared off the planet anyway) so at all times we used mock ups. They were mostly complete but had no internals.

There was no interest in the car, so i decided to write to the Repco Board asking to acquire it. I was a lot younger then but I did have some nous. I decided not to discuss it with anybody as I knew I was a ‘very small gear in a massive gearbox’. I pulled out a figure I would pay and got secretary Coral Allen to type the letter for me but I left a gap where the price offered was to be added later by me! Coral typed it and I duly posted it to the Repco Board. I trusted Coral completely but not all the bosses she typed for!

I really didn’t think I had any chance and I had not even given a thought to how i would pay for it. Malcolm asked if I would take the car to Mornington for a car show that Jim and Bill Leech had a lot to do with. I loaded the car on Jacks old farm trailer and took the car to the show, kept it polished and handed out Repco brochures and answered questions.

It was about mid afternoon when up bowled ‘Tornado’ Charlie Dean. Charlie told me he had read my letter and asked why I wanted to buy the car. I very politely (in Repco you rarely got to speak to a director anyway) told him I loved the cars history and it was important to both Repco’s and Australia’s history. He quickly replied yes we will discuss the matter next week.

He then commented on how good it looked and went to leave but just at that moment up walked one of the Leech brothers, these guys owned some serious cars including a Maserati 300S and Bugatti T37A, Jim was enquiring about the value of BT31, the conversation fortunately stopped when the entourage of Lancias’ arrived which Dean and the Leech boys joined…a close call!

A couple of weeks later I was cleaning the car. All of a sudden the double doors flew open with a crash and out came Mal Preston in ‘full flight’ RODWAY he shouted, ‘Did you write to the Repco Board offering to buy this car without even consulting me? I am your boss and the least you could do is tell me’ He was furious. He asked ‘Why didn’t you consult me first’. I replied in a rather shocked state, because you possibly would have talked me out of it Mal. He shouted at me for a minute then disappeared back to his office again. I was very low. I realised I had done my dash and might not even have a job!

A few minutes later Mal appeared very quiet and subdued. ‘I am very sorry for that outburst Rodway, I have thought about your reply and you are probably right, I would have bloody well talked you out of it’. It is of great credit to Malcolm that he was that sort of boss. He treated us all as equals and he got the most out of his employees that way. As he went to depart I called to him. Are you with me or against me Mal, he turned and said I will help you all I can. The matter was never discussed between us again.

During the following weeks I heard all kinds of stories about BT31. Several people wanted to buy it internally. BT31 was built in 1968, by then it was 1971, it had only raced twice by Sir Jack himself and was still setup as he raced it including all decals, accessories, gear ratios etc. It certainly was not an old car as some have suggested. There must have been many discussions and arguments about what was going to happen to the car within Repco until one night about 6 pm I was consigning some parcels, when Mal Preston came storming out of his office over to my desk.

RODWAY  he shouted again, ‘I want you to get that F…..g car out of this f…..g workshop tonight, load it on a f……g trailer and I never ever want to see the f…….g car again ! As he stormed back to his office I called what about the money, as I had to get it. He shouted out he didn’t care at all about that just get it out of here now’.’

program

‘And so, BT31/1 was Mine…

BT31 spent the night on Jack Brabham’s old trailer in suburban Burke Road, Kew where I was living at the time with not much car parking. Anyway it was still there next morning! I rang up my good friend Peter Holinger who was now, after the Repco Brabham closure working in his own workshop in Warrandyte. He was happy to store the car in return for making a duplicate chassis for himself. He had decided to build another hillclimb car to replace the Vincent powered one that had brought him so much success.

Now that I had it I had to pay for it!, fortunately a wealthy uncle, who had a large, successful bakery business came to the party. It took a while for Repco to process my cheque, i firmly believe had i not paid for the car no-one would have asked for the money.

I left the car in Holingers’ care, it was in the safest of hands. He photographed the suspension and measured all the lengths of the components and duplicated the space frame so well that years later at Morwell Hillclimb he borrowed the shock absorbers and a few bits from BT31 and won the event with some of my suspension parts. He even used the fibreglass seat insert to make a pattern for another one.’

brabham letter

‘830 Series Engines, Paperwork and BT31’s Rarity…

repco 2.5 830 series

Repco ‘830 Series’ 2.5 litre ‘Tasman’ V8. SOHC gear driven per bank, Lucas fuel injection, 295bhp @ 9000rpm. Note the heavily ribbed block, and below the ribbing socket head cap screws to ‘cross bolt’ the main bearing caps. This engine is ex Garrie Cooper Elfin 600D and has the later ‘Indy’ sump assy and combined oil pressure/scavenge pump. (TNF)

BT31 was fitted with Repcos’ latest ‘830 Series’ Tasman V8. The engine was first used by Brabham in his BT23E in practice for the 1968 Sandown Tasman round, he raced with an ‘840 Series’, which failed, Jim Clark winning the race in his Lotus 49DFW.

The ‘830’ incorporated the shorter, more rigid ‘800 Series’ block developed for the 1968 F1 engines by Norm Wilson with the ’30 Series’ cross-flow SOHC heads. With a bore and stroke of 3.34X2.16 inches, the engine developed 295bhp @ 9000rpm and weighed 150Kg.

‘The 830 was such a good reliable engine Jack stated that had Repco developed a 3 litre version (despite what people may tell you, we never EVER built a 3 litre 830 but I think Don Halpin has since) we would have quite possibly have retained the World Champioship in 1968.

Jack said that the 830 was such a great engine in 2.5 form and was so much lighter than the oposition despite being down on horsepower by comparison. I remember Jack saying to us fellows in the engine assy area one day. ‘If Ferrari had the horsepower they claim to have they would be leaving me behind by a much bigger margin than they are leaving me behind’ !!! We will never know what the 830 would have produced at 3 litres capacity?’

At the time, two 2.5 Litre 830’s were built for the car. Other 830’s were subsequently built for other Tasman competitors.

‘Now as our commercial manager Bob Sippo had been moved on to the Repco Replex Company we had no-one really able to make any commercial decisions. One night the Bob Jane Racing fellas turned up and I was informed that we were lending them one of the 2.5 litre 830 engines. (for the Bob Britton built ‘Jane Repco’, a car constructed on Brittons BT23 Brabham jig at his Sydney, Rennmax facility)

What the various companies and individual teams were charged was up to the manager and the accountants, this applied to all customers including Jack Brabham, he was of course sponsored by Repco.

So I did as I was told. Later the Bob Jane Racing boys arrived again, their car was going to Tasmania for the next meeting and they needed a spare! Well that of course meant the spare BT31 engine went too. Now as this was while the car was in Japan on display with a mock up engine and I never of course dreamed of ever owning the car I just did as instructed. The person instructing me never really had the authority to lend either engine but the factory was in disarray and the Jane organisation had been great ambassadors of our engines, the decision made sense at the time.

Neither engine ever came back of course as many others did not either. I knew about stock control and the hazards of stuff being squirreled away, the amount of stock of RB parts and even engines that were removed from my store illegally is staggering. No names, no packdrill!

I was not the least concerned about obtaining an engine, i had a good mock-up engine anyway and their were still enough bits around to build an engine.

I was not ambitious enough to buy the car to drive it as at the time I believed it was ultra valuable as an historic car, totally original as described above.

To me it is as collectible as BT19, Jacks 1966 World Championship car now in the Victorian Historic Racing Register, Melbourne, museum in Box Hill. One of the BT31 engines lay under a work bench at Bob Jane Racing for quite a time so was available to any collector.

In contrast I went to Sydney and called at Jack Brabham Ford to see BT19 when it arrived from the UK. A salesman showed me what was left of an F1 car. There was not too much of the car there, no engine and lots of parts missing. I am not sure if the wheels were there. Later BT19 was totally restored by Jim Shepherd to as new condition, Don Halpin built an original ‘620 Series’ Oldsmobile engine for it.

What I am saying is that BT 19 did not have an original engine or body and was mostly built up to original, BT31 in contrast even had the Bathurst tyres still on it and was totally original with an original engine available.’

rod and bt 31 sandown

Rod Wolfe, Brabham BT31/1 and faithful Leyland P76 towcar, mid ’80’s Sandown.  Car fitted with mock-up ‘740 Series’ exhaust between the Vee, V8 in this shot. (Rodway Wolfe)

‘Working on the Repco F5000 Engine and home to Gippsland…

With the BT31 safely stored with Peter Holinger I continued at REDCO assisting with the new Repco Holden F5000 engine. We were all busy with only 5 of us to do everything, Mal Preston had a big job to do. Don Halpin was in charge of the workshop, he was exactly the right choice to work with Malcolm. Malcolm was always thinking, I mean always! so he would expect problems before they had a chance to happen in an uncanny sort of way and Don was seemingly unruffled at any problem so the combination worked very well with some very amusing conversations between them at times.

I had a variety of duties as I did stuff including porting cylinder heads and all the consignment of RBE parts and acquisition of F5000 bits. I enjoyed working with all my mates from the RB project and despite our regular ‘innings’ on various subjects I admired Mal Preston very much and learnt a lot from his rather unusual management style. He did tell me once after one of our sparring matches that out of all the boys I was the one most likely to end up working for myself eventually! I never worked out if it was a compliment or not.

Mal Preston was the right man for that F5000 project, his passing recently was very sad.

As I was not that happy with the situation, it was not a personal reason but a Repco political situation, eventually I resigned to go home to Gippsland. I ended up at Peter Holinger’s working with Pete and his wife Bev, after a period with them I departed Melbourne and towed BT31 behind to Gippsland. The car was a bit out of place on a farm in the country and various articles were appearing in motor magazines about it.

In my spare time I used to fully dismantle it and got to know every nut and bolt. My small son was toddler size and I used to make up a bed for him in the cockpit where he slept until the early hours of the morning and loved it. I am sorry to inform subsequent owners that my son holds the record for most hours in the cockpit!

I had the chassis gently sand cleaned and repainted by a good friend. You have to be very gentle with a space frame as you can upset the tension of the various tubes if it is sandblasted too severely. It was a satisfying pastime getting to know exactly what went into a Repco Brabham design.

I was a Kawasaki motorcycle dealer for a time and used BT31 as a display feature in the country showroom, it enabled me to meet lots of interesting people.

I would have loved to convert the BT31 to a hill climb car for myself as I had hill climbed a Cooper Mini and usually won my class at Morwell Hill Climb and loved it but I really believed to break that magic of Jack Brabham being the only driver and all original condition I would be a fool. One of my aims was to get recognition of Repco Brabham in Australia, even Phil Irving told me how Repco had totally missed the boat when it came to claiming the fame that they should have been recognised for.

I wrote to Ampol (Australian oil company) first giving them all the details and informing them of their association with the car. The car still had the Ampol decals on the nose cone too. A little secret here, we never did use Ampol oil, it was Shell ‘Super M’ in Ampol drums but that’s normal in advertising, only because Ampol did not make a racing oil. But even at director level they were not really interested. I have a file of old letters from various Australian Companies and museums. There was just no real interest.

I eventually moved to Metung on the Gippsland Lakes in the late ’70s and began a new sort of engineering with boats and became a Volvo Penta service agent.

BT31 gave me a huge insight into motor racing and motor sport generally. Many people were attracted to the car and i got to know them as a consequence. The legendary race car engineer John Sheppard spent holidays at Metung, we had many hours talking about his times including managing the Holden Dealer Team after Harry Firth.

The great Peter Brock and his engineer at the time, Bruce Nowacki spent hours leaning on the cars rear wing, Pete was a fantastic source of driving and handling technique so I was in another world. He and Bev even came and stayed at our holiday accommodation in Metung.

One day a guy showed up wanting to see BT31. He introduced himself as Austin Miller, or Aussie Miller. He was a fantastic character, he owned a crop dusting and spraying company in Northern Victoria. On looking up his past I realised just who he was. The fastest man on wheels in Australia prior to the Bluebird of Donald Campbell. A legend of Australia’s Motor Sports’ past and in the Guinness Book of Records.

I also featured the car on display at various race meetings. One Sandown meeting was very special. I met and talked for an hour or more with the great John Surtees. He was so down to earth and discussed the Italian Grand Prix between he and Jack Brabham at Monza in 1967. I also met and talked to Tom Wheatcroft, he told me all about Donington Park, his race circuit in the UK.

All these people could see my dedication to the Repco Brabham engines and they responded by letting go on their own particular  Motor Sport interests.’

babe

BT31/1 and ‘Penthouse Pet of The Year’ Tracey Wallace..shot of poor resolution sadly. AGP Calder auction 1980. (Rodway Wolfe)

‘Time To Sell…

Finally as the salt air beside the lake at Metung was getting to the car, I was disappointed with the lack of interest in preservation of BT31.

So I sent the car to auction prior to the 1980 Grand Prix at Calder. I set a reserve price, there was lots of hype and Alan Jones and Tracy Wallace (Miss Penthouse of the year)  and other Australian motoring greats.I passed it in after a very good bid but slightly under my reserve. So I returned to Metung and kept the car for another term.

One day I received an offer from a museum owner who wanted the car for his collection. At last I thought I was on to something to keep me happy with the RB history. I believed this guy had the resources to purchase a going engine from Bob Jane. The guy purchased the car and forwarded a deposit and made several payments but never the full amount so the sale fell through.

I decided if Australia didn’t want the car I would advertise it in ‘Road and Track’. There were problems in placing the ad as they decided the car was a replica and didn’t want to run the advertisement! In the meantime a guy showed up in a Rolls Royce asking about it. He was a Sydney specialist Doctor. He specialised in repairing people after bombs had exploded, especially facial damage. He made up new jawbones from other body parts etc. It was a gruesome job, he had worked for many years in Ireland for experience. He never smiled and actually reminded me a bit of the film star Jack Palance. The Rolls Royce was filthy, covered in mud and he explained it had been in a motorkhana the weekend before!

He wanted BT31 and as I was browned off generally as all my attempts to preserve it for Australia had flown out the window. I had the advantage of already obtaining most of the required funds due to the museums closure and failure of the previous sale. So I agreed to sell the car, it was 1984. We did a deal and Don Halpin arranged to construct an engine for him.

Finally the ‘R&T’ ad bore fruit as Bib Stillwell contacted me. He was President of the LearJet Corporation in America at the time and wanted to buy  BT31. Of course being a mate of Jack Brabham’s he knew all about the car. I explained that I had received a deposit and had sold it to the Sydney doctor subject to his final cheque arriving. Much to Bibs’ frustration, he tried hard to convince me to sell the car to him but i had committed to Dr William Marshall. Bib got his wish and did buy the car later, he won a lot of races ‘in period’ with Brabhams and was keen to own it.

Marshall put a team together and did race the car for a time and had a fairly serious crash during his term of ownership.’

bt 31 sandown bo sippo

Dr William Marshall in the cockpit, older gent former RBE Commercial Manager Bob Sippo and a mechanic, Sandown, not long after the cars ‘re-debut’. (Rodway Wolfe)

‘Bib Stillwell and BT31…

Some time later I was invited to an historic Sandown meeting and sure enough there was Bib Stillwell with BT31 looking great in the Stillwell green colours, he bought the car from Marshall in 1987. I was looking at the car in the pits and had not made myself known and said in my typical fashion. ‘Hey what’s with this green’ a big guy stood up and said and why shouldn’t it be green. I piped up that it was built red, raced red and Bib hearing all this came over and said hello.

We ended up very good friends. At one stage he said ‘You should have sold it to me first Roddy’. I was impressed with his driving that day. He really put in. I also suspect a little extra effort because I was there in his pit, when he came back he was covered in perspiration and all red in the face. He walked over and put his arm around my shoulder and said ‘How was that Roddy did I do a good enough job?’. I was pleased that he cared what that I had kept the car in original shape for so long. He was a born racer as Bob Jane was as well. They were not just collectors they were users and drivers.

We Repco boys were invited to Geelong on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay for a special sprint meeting on the waterfront. The Geelong sprints are a wonderful spectacle on a good day. During the afternoon Don Halpin came in to the RB tent and said to me ‘Bibs gone in’ of course meaning an accident. We did not all rush down there of course and later I became aware that somehow it had been a very bad accident and Bib had multiple fractures of his legs. He had an extensive stay in Geelong hospital and sadly I think that he never recovered fully from that accident.

It was a long and tough call on Bib and he was no spring chicken. He also had lots of problems as the bottom had dropped out of new car sales in Australia. Sometime later he tragically collapsed and died of a heart attack in his Kew showroom. I don’t think that the BT31 had added much to his fine racing career.

The car was rebuilt and sold overseas and has since changed hands numerous times, but is back in Australia.

Nowadays I have the great pleasure of occasionally seeing BT31 in flight under various owners and I was impressed to see the car looking so good at Phillip Island in 2014. It gives me a lot of satisfaction in my older age and the reception I get from the younger owners is pleasing to say the least.

Long live BT31, the only one built and built specially as a works car for Sir Jack Brabham to race in Australia. You cannot get a car much more historic than that’.’

bib stillwell and bt31

BT31 Phil Irving and Bib Stillwell, Sandown, late 1990’s. Stillwell won 3 of his 4 1960’s Australian Gold Star Championships in Brabhams, a World Class steerer in his day. (Rodway Wolfe)

bartlett brabham bt31

Kevin Bartlett track testing BT31, whilst owned by William Marshall in 1987 at Oran Park, Sydney for ‘Wheels’ magazine. Bartlett typically sideways! (Wheels)

Etcetera…Track Test of BT31/1 by Kevin Bartlett in 1987…

Australian Gold Star Champion in 1968 and 1969, Bathurst Winner and ex-Brabham racer Kevin Bartlett track tested the car for ‘Wheels’ magazine, the article written by Graham Howard was published in August 1987. These are excerpts from that article;

‘…The car fires up and Bartlett hops right into it, giving it three hard bootfuls of throttle on the way to the first corner. Just so the car knows whos’ boss right? To the onlookers there is no doubt. All the gearchanges go in, the throttle work is smooth and confident. Progressively he is getting faster everywhere, braking later-tho still a bit early, it seeems, and now after a few laps starting to find the outside of the kerbs on the way out of corners’. Then he comes in.

KB, ‘It doesn’t like getting its power to the ground, does it. And the brakes are a worry. The front to rear balance is not right. The throttle needs heavier return springs’. He removes the seat and goes again. ‘Its a good torquey little engine from 3100-3200’. He suggests shock and tyre pressure changes. Present day Australian Historic Regs don’t allow a wing which Bartlett concludes it needs.

‘You can see the understeer into the corner but his exits are clean, decisive much steadier as he steers the car with its own noise, vanishing away with successive upward shrieks of acceeleration, gearchange, more acceleration. He is fast and accurate and the impressive thing is how, with a very peaky engine and a car with a willingness to break into wheelspin, Bartlett is stringing together lap after lap without a slip. No extravagant wheelspin, no attitude on the car, this mate, this is car control.’

Says KB, ‘Its understeering, just, which is the way they used to be. A bit, thats all on turn in, but you fix that with the throttle. It is better with the lower tyre pressures and stiffer rear shocks, not perfect but better. The engine starts to work at 5000 and at 6000 the cams come in, so you’ve got to drive it between 6000-7500. Any engine like this you have to work it right thru its range. No point having your gears too close. Its a good engine though, a good car.’

Graham Howard asked KB how his 1968 Gold Star winning Brabham BT23D Alfa (2.5 litre T33 V8 engine) would go up against BT31…’It would be very even, it would depend on the driver. I feel the chassis we had, with the Alfa V8, might have got the power to the ground better. But with the right tyres and a wing this car could be fantastic. The actual driving position is full of memories. I did my championship years in cars like this. It feels like home again.’

bartlett brabham bt 31 1

Bartlett BT31 in profile, Oran Park 1987. KB raced Brabhams BT2 Ford, BT11A Climax, BT23D Alfa, BT43 Chev and others in his successful single-seater years…(Wheels)

Photo Credits…

Rodway Wolfe, Dale Harvey, Rod MacKenzie, Dick Simpson, Mildren Films,The Nostalgia Forum, Bob Frankel

Bibliography…

sergent.com, ‘Maybach to Holden’ Malcolm Preston, ‘Historic RacingCars in Australia’ John Blanden, Wheels magazine, Rodway Wolfe Collection, Racing Car News

Tailpiece: Brabham, Mount Panorama Easter 1969…

(B Frankel)

Finito…

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)

 

 


 

 

RB Cover

This is the first Repco brochure about the RB project which fired my imagination to become a part of the project and off to Melbourne i went (Repco)

Mechanical Childhood…

I was born in Melbournes’ Kew and moved to Traralgon, in Victorias La Trobe Valley a long time ago! I suppose I can blame my lifelong interest in all things mechanical on my grandfathers as they were both blacksmiths. I have never been keen on horses and so I am possibly lucky that I was born after the motor car.

From a young age I was fascinated by anything with wheels or gears that whizzed around . My dad bought a new Ford Consul when I was 9, I studied it closely and learnt all I could. It was one of the first production cars with independent front suspension , dad would pull up in the main street and people would come up and push the mudguards up and down to show their mates how it worked, he used to get so annoyed!

He was a civil engineer and had 400 guys working for him at the local paper mill. In the early 1950’s he bought a derelict farm 10 km out of town. He loved farming but wasn’t very practical and he stayed at the paper mill and gradually improved the property on weekends.

In 1954 when I was 11 he bought a new Fordson diesel tractor. There were not many diesel’s on local farms, it was our pride and joy. I still have and use it! I learnt a huge amount from it. I remember when dad was at work I removed the Simms injector pump and pulled the governor apart and various pieces, Dad was due home so I stuck it all back together and went to start it, it wouldn’t! I hurriedly checked everything and figured out that because the injector pump had a small block coupling it could be put back 180’ degrees out of timing so I quickly removed all the pipes and refitted the pump and just managed to start the engine as dad drove up the driveway.

The Consul developed a bad flat spot when you accelerated . I reckoned it was a challenge , I pulled the downdraught Zenith carbie  to pieces. It had this funny looking thing held on with three screws on the side of the carbie and the book called it an economiser. I pulled that apart and the small rubber diaphragm had a hole in it. I put it all back together and during the week got another diaphragm from the Ford dealer. I fitted it on the following weekend and the Consul ran perfectly.

Dad told the whole world what a great mechanic I was, repairing something that the paper mills top mechanic could not etc,  that was my first mechanical victory!

ford consul

Dads Ford Consul taught me a lot and the independent front suspension was a Traralgon novelty (Wolfe)

Over the next few years I  had a Bedford truck given to me which I loved and knew every nut and bolt on as well. Dad bought me another ‘problem’ , in the mill workshop they had a small machine called a Calfdozer. Its a baby bulldozer built in England by Aveling Barford. The mechanics couldn’t start the engine, a Dorman single cylinder petrol unit. Dad bought it for me for 40 pounds, $80 now, and we lugged it home we could only unload it at a gravel pit we had so every bit of spare time I had was at the gravel pit trying to start this weird machine. It has a Zenith carbie as well, I first tested for spark of course and it had a wonderful big orange spark, after much fiddling with the magneto, timing and points it finally had a nice small blue spark and the thing duly burst into life. I still also have the Calfdozer and give it a run on occasion.

Bedford

This Bedford truck , bought by my Dad was one of a range of vehicles which taught me basic mechanics (Wolfe)

Motor Apprentice & Repco Rep…

All of this ‘fettling’ of machinery made my career path clear , dad agreed to me leaving school which I disliked very much! , but on the strict condition that I completed a motor mechanics course with RMIT by correspondence, which I did over 4 years, completing the practical elements some years later. I was encouraged to read books, no TV in those days but it was starting in the cities. I read all the motor magazines I could including ‘Wheels’ and ‘Modern Motor’, writing letters asking advice about my various farm engines. Phil Irving and Charlie Dean were my heroes, I read all I could about their projects including the Repco Cross-Flow head for the Holden ‘Grey’ motor.

I became interested in motor sport and bought the first Mini Cooper to be sold in East Gippsland, entering many hill climbs and usually winning the up to 1000 cc class. The first Coopers were 997cc ,only later did the 1275cc ‘S’ arrive . A few of us formed a new club, the Latrobe Valley Motor Sports Club’, its now known as the Gippsland Car Club .

In 1963 I read a local paper advert for employees required by Repco , they were opening an automotive workshop and parts store in Traralgon, I had since married and needed a better income than that derived on the farm . They didn’t offer me the manager’s job much to my disappointment but instead a drivers job distributing parts, engines and parcels . A new EJ Holden ute was mine, I did a huge amount of miles ,in those days, travelling up and down the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland Victoria sometimes twice in the one day. It taught me how to drive as things were totally different to today . The highways were pretty much free for all and there was no speed limit but if you exceeded 60MPH you had to prove in the case of an accident or incident that you were driving within your ability and safely. To give you an idea, the local police station in Traralgon had one car, a Ford Anglia with a top speed of about 70 MPH.

I enjoyed the job immensely and learnt lots of stuff in the workshop. Crankshaft grinding and cylinder head surfacing, clutch rebuilding etc. and of course engine assembly. I was lucky to work with the grandson of the Chairman of Repco’s Board, Sir Charles McGrath.

Mr David McGrath (brother of Sir Charles) was the managing director of our parts company and his son David junior was spending time in our particular branch learning the internal operations, he became a good mate and through him I learned a great deal about the parent company.

Repco owned ‘Brenco’ in Moonee Ponds Victoria , a machine tooling company,’ Warren and Brown’ in Footscray, a hand tool company and ‘PBR Brakes’ in Moorabbin and so the list went on. Each entity had a director on the Repco Board ,i was to learn a lot more of the politics of Repco as time went on.

On the road to Repco Brabham Engines…

RB fullspread

One of my tasks was to organise brochures etc, to be packed in each parcel we consigned. One day I received a bundle of these telling of the proposed development of a Repco Brabham Formula One engine. I read every word and decided that was what I wanted to do!

The following week the Melbourne Motor Show was on, I took the long train ride Melbourne for the show. Pride of place on the Repco stand was the prototype RB engine. There was a young fellow in a suit looking after the display , I asked him a few questions. He couldn’t really answer me and told me he was a student draughtsman helping Phil Irving in the drawing Office. That was enough for me, if this guy worked there so could !

I got him to divulge where the engine was being built, out in Maidstone near Footscray to Melbourne’s inner West. The following day, Monday, I took a ‘sickie’, hired a taxi and ventured out to Maidstone. After a lot of driving and walking around I found a small group of factories. They were ACL factories (Automotive Components Limited). ACL was operating under licence to an American Company , they manufactured in Australia, ‘Perfect Circle Piston Rings’, ‘Glacier Bearings’ and ‘Polson Pistons’. In the prior year the American company made moves to take over ACL, as this would have been a disaster for Repco, it was decided by Repco to buy ACL. So I arrived at these 3 factories, one of the empty ones had been assigned for the RB project.

I banged on the door , a guy answered but no way was he going to let me in. He explained that it was a special project and not open to the public. I gave him my whole story, he seemed to be happy that I was already a Repco employee. Finally Kevin ,let me in , I could see about 8 machines and 6 guys working making various components. I explained to Kevin that I would love a job there.

He was a bit taken back ,he told me these are Repco’s top guys and very special operators. I was young and confident and told him I would sweep the floor or anything if he would consider me. We stood and watched a guy turning something in a lathe, as I stood there an older guy wandered across to talk to the lathe operator. It suddenly struck me that this was the legendary Phil Irving standing beside me. In person, I could not believe it!

I took up the subject of a job again and he asked if I would like to look over a piston ring factory ? Anything to please Kevin as by this time I learned he was the works superintendent. He took me into the adjacent factory and introduced me to the manager, saying he would see me later and off I went , the Manager was good ,he stopped the machines, mainly operated by women , to show me what they were doing and held up various production lines to show the finished products . I now know that Kevin had arranged the factory inspection to have a second opinion on me.

I went back to Kevin and he said’ look we have decided to give you 3 weeks trial, but you will have to accept a lesser wage than you are presently getting in the country’. That didn’t worry me to work for Phil Irving, I would have worked there for nothing ! So I had to go home and tell my poor young wife that we were moving to Melbourne. I did not have a clue where to, all I knew was I had my job at Repco Brabham Engine Co and I was happy!

And so, an incredibly challenging but successful part of my life commenced…

RB detail 2

performance 2

 

film

tailpiece