Rude awakening

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1955: Richmond Trophy, Goodwood

Jack Brabham’s success at cooper was the product of graft and talent. His first UK race was full of the sort of obstacles that made him stronger. Paul Fearnley explains

This was not Jack Brabham’s first race in a Cooper. Far from it. Nor was the moment of his maiden race outside the Antipodes particularly enjoyable for the swarthy, brown-as-a-berry Sydney-sider: the race ended in retirement and, in the broader scheme of things, he felt he’d been swindled.

For two-and-a-bit seasons Down Under, his Cooper-Bristol MK2 had racked up success after success – and complaint after complaint about its lurid Redex sponsorship livery. Tired of small-mindedness, he was easily wooed by the RAC’s Dean Delamont during an into-the-night chat before the 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix: Europe, it was clear, was the place to be. Jack was confident he had the talent to succeed there, but he’d soon realise that he had a lot to learn. Europe’s tracks were not paved with gold.

“Unfortunately, I did not fully listen to Dean’s suggestions,” he recalls. “The most important one was to take the Redex Special to England. After spending two years developing that car to a very high standard, there is no doubt that it would have been a race winner in England. But I wasn’t sure it would be good enough at the time, and so I sold it.” And replaced it with what?

“Peter Whitehead was over at that New Zealand GP, too, and he had a Cooper-Alta in the UK which he wanted to sell. He conned me into buying it from him. When I got to England and went to pick up the car, my heart sank like a stone when I saw it.

Apart from an Alta engine that was well past its sell-by date, the car had been fitted with heavy, knock-on wire wheels which must have doubled the unsprung weight: it was like driving a truck compared to the Redex Special.”

But it was too late and too far to go back home. So Jack entered it in the 21-lap Richmond Trophy, the main event of Goodwood’s Easter Meeting of April 11. The race was a two-tier affair: the 250F Maseratis of Moss and Roy Salvadori in the first, the rest of the field in the second. Brabharn thus found himself mixing it with the solid citizens of the British scene: Bob Gerard (Cooper-Bristol), Mike Keen (Cooper-Alta), and Bill Holt, Don Beauman and John Young (all three of them in Connaughts). Moss retired from the lead with fuel injector pump problems, and so ‘Salvo’ won from Gerard (oh for the Redex Special), Beauman, Keen, Holt and Young. And Brabham?

“The reason I didn’t finish was that one of Whitehead’s mechanics worked out the fuel needed for the race and it ran dry.” But Gregor Grant, managing editor of Autosport, had seen enough to be impressed and wrote as much: ‘This very likeable Aussie is certainly a press-onner and possesses remarkable control over his car. More will be heard of this young gentleman.’

He was right. Although the Cooper-Alta was soon pensioned off, its tough driver had just got going. What he needed now was a decent car…

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