How the reliable Repco Brabham BT19 came out on top in 1966

Professional Engineering

The Brabham BT19 on display at the National Sports Museum, Melbourne, Australia (Credit: Bahnfrend, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Brabham BT19 on display at the National Sports Museum, Melbourne, Australia (Credit: Bahnfrend, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Formula One drivers sometimes get criticised because their successes rely on the engineering team behind them. But in 1966, Australian driver Jack Brabham achieved a unique feat: he won his third F1 World Championship driving for a team he’d set up himself.

After winning back-to-back titles with Cooper in 1959 and 1960, Brabham set up his own team with engineer Ron Tauranac, who designed the chassis around a Cooper engine, while Brabham was team manager and mechanic. Then, in 1966, F1 doubled the maximum engine capacity, and Brabham sourced a new engine from their sponsor Repco and its chief engineer Frank Hallam. 

“Jack began preparing for the 1966 season by engaging Repco to build him a Tasman Series engine,” reports the website Car Throttle. “Deciding that it would be too difficult to design an engine from scratch, he acquired an Oldsmobile Jetfire V8 engine block for £11. Phil Irving, a Melbourne-born engineer who had worked as chief engineer for Vincent, HRD and Velocette, was hired by Repco and Brabham to turn the single-cam pushrod V8 into a racing engine. Irving replaced the original pushrods and cam-in-block with his own two-valve SOHC cylinder heads. The bore and stroke were reduced to meet the 2.5-litre Tasman Series capacity limit.”

The Brabham BT19 was not as powerful as some of its competitors, but it won out in reliability, achieving three pole positions and four consecutive wins in a nine-race season (no one else finished more than four races). It was, and remains, the only car to win the F1 World Championship with the same driver and constructor’s name. In 2014, the Repco Brabham BT19 was recognised with an IMechE Heritage Award.

Find out more about the Institution's history on the heritage awards page

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