Posts Tagged ‘Ron Cousins’

Bill Downie, HRG, Caversham, Western Australia circa 1960 (K Devine)

Ignorance is bliss! Until now I’d assumed Brabham’s 1966-1968 Repco F1 V8 engine rebuilds/freshen-ups were done back at RBE’s Maidstone, Melbourne base, but that’s not the case

“When we started to use the Repco Brabham V8s (the very first race for the new engine was the January 1, 1966, non-championship South African Grand Prix) it was clear to Jack that sending them back to Melbourne for rebuilds wasn’t going to work given the time it would have taken,” recalls Bob Ilich.

The Australian mechanic/technician worked for Jack Brabham Conversions, Motor Racing Developments (MRD-constructors of Brabham cars) and the Brabham Racing Organisation (BRO-Jack’s race team) during the 1965-1967 glory years.

“There just wasn’t the time between race meetings to fly engines backwards and forwards between England and Australia, the logistics just didn’t work.”

In 1966 BRO contested nine championship GPs and four non-championship events (remember those!), and in 1967 11 championship GPs and five non-championship races; Race of Champions at Brands, Spring Cup and International Gold Cup at Oulton Park, the BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone and the Spanish GP. This intense program yielded world drivers championships for Brabham and Hulme, and manufacturers titles for MRD/Brabham Repco in 1966-67.

In short, the season was very full from early January until the Mexican GP in late October.

Jack had a ready-made machining solution when the H.R.G. Engineering Co Ltd – founded by Major Edward Halford, Guy Robins and Henry Ronald Godfrey in 1935 – ceased trading in 1966.

HRG built 241 sports and racing cars in addition to their core general engineering work. In 1956 they stopped building cars, their engineering clients included Cooper, and later Brabham.

“When Jack moved BRO from the Canal Yard, Byfleet Road, New Haw Surrey premises (which had been shared with Motor Racing Developments) to Guildford in early 1966, ex-HRG machinist Ron Cousins and his equipment, lathe, milling machines etc were already there doing work for Jack Brabham Conversions which operated from an Esso Service Station in Woking.”

“Conversions did general service and tuning work, fitted Coventry Climax engines to Triumphs and Austin Healeys, made performance modifications, and later did the development work on the Brabham Vauxhall Viva/Torana.”

“The Guildford premises had administration offices upstairs including a drawing office for John Judd, who was back at BRO after his stint with RBE in Maidstone. He was in constant touch liasing with Norman Wilson, RBE’s Chief Engineer in Melbourne.”

“Downstairs was the Brabham Conversions Parts Department, a large workshop where the racing cars were prepared and the transporter parked, Ron Cousins’ machine shop and an engine rebuilding workshop for Jack and myself,” Bob recalled.

“After the first couple of runs in South Africa and testing in England, the engines had oil leaks Jack said we needed to fix. The first rebuilds were to address this, over time of course we did freshen-ups as required.”

Bob Ilich with gasket kit at BRO, New Haw circa March-April 1966. Brabham BT17 sportscar coming together behind him and Holden EH abroad (unattributed)

“All the components we needed were sent from Australia including the new for 1967 700 Series blocks. I remember replacing three 600 Series blocks with the much stronger Repco 700 block, the three Olds F85 based blocks were still in a corner of the workshop when I left. If anything needed machining, Ron Cousins did it,” Bob recalls.

“By the end of the 1967 racing season the only thing we hadn’t mastered was the timing chain cover which still leaked a bit, but those 740 engines were otherwise bullet proof.”

“None of the engines were ever sent back to us for rebuilds,” confirms Michael Gasking, long-time RBE, Maidstone, Melbourne engine fitter and chief dyno test pilot.

“We sent engines and components over as they were needed, Jack and Frank (Hallam, RBE General Manager) were on the ‘phone all the time discussing updates and problems discovered at the track we needed to fix or enhance.”

So, there you have it, a little tidbit of RBE history not in Repco press releases or the history books.

Thanks Bob Ilich, I’m not sure quite how it popped into our conversation, but very much appreciated!

 Etcetera…

HRG

Among HRG’s products/enterprises were the original UK import rights for Weber carburettors, twin-cam HRG (Singer) engines, the Stuart Proctor designed crossflow cylinder head, inlet manifolds and rocker covers for BMC B-Series engines (usually marketed by VW Derrington rather than HRG themselves) and overhead-cam Ford 105E conversions.

HRG originally operated from Tolworth, Surrey and later Oakcroft Road, Chessington, also located in Surrey.

The then HRG director/shareholders, having reached retirement age closed their solvent, profitable business in 1966. Derringtons took over the drawings, patterns and moulds to manufacture cylinder heads and Jack Brabham acquired or absorbed the machine shop equipment and Ron Cousin into his group…

The main-man out front of Jack Brabham Motors, Hook Road, Chessington (unattributed)

Brabham Premises

There is plenty of interest in Brabham, Jack Brabham, Ron Tauranac and Repco Brabham Engines at quite a granular level.

With an imminent trip to the UK, I’ve a couple of Brabham Sacred Sites at which I’m going to pay homage, with that in mind here is a list fellow Brabham Tourists may find of interest.

Please treat it as work in progress, I’m keen to hear from any of you with additional information to add, or corrections which should be made to this list.

United Kingdom

.Jack Brabham (Motors) Ltd : 248 Hook Road (cnr Hook Road and Somerset Avenue, Chessington, Surrey.

Established circa 1959, ESSO garage, Rootes Group dealership. Phil Kerr ran the business, until his departure to McLaren. Ron Tauranac lived in a Bed-Sit in these premises when he first arrived from Australia and built the MRD (the first Brabham Formula Junior machine ) in a lock-up downstairs.

.Repco UK : Victoria Road, Surbiton, Surrey.

Circa 1957 at the Earls Court motor show. Repco’s marketing division and warehousing facility which sold garage and wheel balancing equipment, and later engine rebuilding, reconditioning and balancing equipment etc.

Space was sub-let to MRD to build Brabhams. The MRD, and Brabhams until when?, were constructed at these premises.

.Motor Racing Developments Ltd (MRD) : Canal Yard, Byfleet Road, New Haw, Weybridge, Surrey.

Circa 1962, manufacturer of Brabham cars and later Ralt cars

Shop floor at Motor Racing Developments circa 1966 (Repco)
Brabham Racing Organisation in 1970, Guildford. Jack’s F1 Brabham BT33 Ford being prepared (D Phipps/MotorSport)

.Jack Brabham Conversions Ltd : 131-139 Goldsworth Road, Woking, Surrey.

ESSO service station, modifications to Sunbeam Rapiers and other cars inclusive of fitment of Coventry Climax FWE engines to Triumph Herald, Austin Healey Sprites etc

.Brabham Racing Organisation Ltd (BRO) :

Initially co-located with MRD.

In early 1966 BRO moved to Weyford House, Woodbridge Meadows, Guildford, Surrey as outlined in this article.

High Performance Exhaust Systems Ltd (Directors Len Lukey and Brabham) sold and fitted Lukey Mufflers for cars, trucks and tractors from this location

BRO moved – partially – back to New Haw (MRD) circa 1968. Allan Ould recalls building the BT25 Indycars in the BRO workshop at MRD that year.

The F1 car prep and machining ‘shops remained at Guildford.

Jack Brabham (Worster Park) Ltd : 33-51 Central Road, Worster Park, London.

Vauxhall dealership in the-day, redeveloped in more recent times as the residential ‘Brabham Court’.

Jack Brabham Ltd : 23 Stoneleigh Broadway, Epsom, Surrey.

?

Jack Brabham (Ewell) Ltd : 5 Ruxley Lane, Ewell, Epsom, Surrey.

Circa 1965. Appears to have been the site of another car dealership?

Engine Developments Ltd (Judd Power) : Leigh Road, Swift Valley, Rugby.

Partnership of John Judd and Jack Brabham which commenced in 1971.

.Brabham family home.

3 Ashcombe Avenue, Surbiton, Surrey, from 1965 Greater London, below.

(P Stockden)
Repco Brabham Engines, Mitchell Street, Maidstone premises early 1967 during the Tasman Series (Repco)

Australia

Repco Brabham Engines Pty. Ltd.

This entity was the Repco subsidiary incorporated circa 1965 to design and construct the Repco Brabham race engines

A small team was initially located in a small part (the engine laboratory) of Russell Manufacturing Pty Ltd at 85-91 Burney Street, and 26-34 Doonside Street, Richmond. The first V8s were built there.

Nigel Tait picks up the story, “The engine lab that was at the back of Russell Manufacturing (Doonside Street, Richmond) was to service the then current Repco factories producing engine parts.”

“Once the Repco Brabham project started to outgrow that small lab, a decision was made to relocate it over to the Maidstone site that had been purchased from the original Automotive Components Limited company some years earlier. One of the four or five factories on that site was cleaned out and early in 1966 the manufacture and assembly of the RB engines was progressively transferred from Richmond.”

“The new company, Repco Brabham Engines Pty Ltd was incorporated, the Repco Ltd (parent company) Director responsible was Bob Brown, the General Manager was Frank Hallam.”

“Eventually a new test centre was built out the back, it was very sophisticated and state of the art with two dynamometers compared to what we had in Richmond.”

Michael Gasking testing RBE620-E2 2.5 V8 on the Heenan & Froude GB4 dyno in the old Myers garage – corrugated iron tin-shed – Doonside Street Richmond Engine Lab. The distinctive long-inlet trumpets allows easy identification of this engine as that used by Jack at the 1966 Sandown and Longford Tasman rounds. Mike is testing it either before the Sandown round, or immediately after it. The engine suffered oil pump failure and had to be quickly rebuilt before being sent to Longford…so it’s either mid-February or 28-29 February 1966 (Repco)
More sumptuous surrounds at Maidstone circa 1967. Very well equipped, RBE were set up to build engines with great precision in numbers. That two axis Cincinatti Vertical Acramatic milling machine (in the middle of the photo) is claimed by the man who sold it to Repco to be the first numerically controlled machine tool sold in Australia. The timing cover case lying flat this side of the vertical tape reader (the light coloured cabinet) was made on this machine (Repco)

“So, from about mid to late 1966 (the move started during the Xmas summer break of 1965-66) the whole of the racing engine project was at Maidstone and the engine lab in Richmond continued to service the Repco engine division.”

“Later, the same dynamometer set up was used for the (1969-1974) Repco Holden F5000 project.”

“In the meantime Repco started to move some of the piston and ring manufacturing plant over to the Maidstone site and for a while both sites operated as Repco Engine Parts – Richmond Plant and Maidstone Plant.”

“Then in 1986 Repco sold off the Engine Division to a management buyout and the same products continued to be made at the two plants though eventually all were consolidated at the Maidstone site, Richmond having been sold.”

“The management buyout company didn’t have a name and Repco kindly allowed it to be called Automotive Components Limited (ACL), so the wheel turned full circle,” Nigel Tait recalled.

The Richmond (art deco) buildings are extant, Maidstone became a housing estate close to a decade ago, below.

(N Tait Collection)
(N Tait Collection)

“The memorial at Maidstone was the brainchild and project of a local councillor about 2015. We had Michael Gasking and (now the late) Don Halpin (above) to cut the cake at the unveiling ceremony,” Tait recalled.

“Michael was at Richmond when I joined Repco as a cadet engineer, and I was assigned to work with him as his assistant on Repco Brabham with engine assembly and running the engines on our dynamometer (Heenan and Froude GB4).”

“Michael was (is) a good man, very skilled, a good teacher and very thorough. The engines he built won the 1966 championship and probably half of 1967 (Denny) as well.”

“Don, sadly now gone, was an amazing engine builder, worked in my team after Repco Brabham and the F5000 Repco Holden days on alternative fuel projects for the government, and post retirement built customer racing engines until the end. I miss Don…” recalls Nigel of his colleagues and friends.

Credits…

Bob Ilich, Nigel Tait, Ken Devine Collection, Paul Stockden

Tailpiece…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course there are Jack’s businesses in Australia too (both before he went to the UK and after he left to return home) in the automotive, aviation and rural sectors but my focus is just those of the Repco-Period.

If we widened the lens we would be going for weeks I suspect…

Finito…