Pivot Point

1955: Redex Trophy, Snetterton

History often hinges upon events deemed insignificant at the time. Brabham’s drive in this race was praised, but not appraised until much later. Paul Fearnley reflects

There was jubilation in the Vanwall pit. The team was growing in stature and its lead driver Harry Schell was maturing into a very capable performer. True, it was only a 25-lapper in the wet and windy flatlands of Norfolk, but it had been a consummate one-two with reliable Ken Wharton following Schell home against opposition that included the Maserati 250Fs of Stirling Moss and Roy Salvadori. It was an inkling of what was to come from the Acton machine shop.

But there was an even more subtle undercurrent of future British grand prix dominance in this race, in the battle for third place between Moss and Jack Brabham’s Cooper Bobtail.

The Aussie was by now part of the fixtures and fittings at Cooper’s, welding, spannering and driving with equal facility. A man of few words, his actions spoke loudly. He had a vision, and set about conquering the world from a small corner of a small workshop in a small corner of Surrey suburbia.

“I suggested to John Cooper that we put a Bristol engine in the back of a lengthened 1100cc Bobtail sportscar and make a single-seater out of it. He said, ‘Why not do it yourself?’ So I did. It was a day-and-night effort and we just made it to the British Grand Prix at Aintree.”

The programme stated it was a 2.2-litre Bristol, but it was only a 2-litre, and teething troubles restricted the all-enveloping machine to last on the grid and just 30 laps of racing.

Unconvincing outings at Crystal Palace and Charterhall followed. Money and time was running out. Decision time was looming: back to Oz for good, perhaps setting up an engineering or a trucking business, or have another crack at this silly business called motor racing? To be honest, the former looked the more likely option. Until Snetterton on August 11, that is.

Brabharn lined up 11th on the grid, but rain on race-day gave him the chance he needed. It was nearly snatched away from him at the first corner, though, a spinning Salvadori causing havoc for the following pack. If Jack had t-boned him and wrecked the Cooper, motor racing history might have been changed for ever. Instead, one grassy excursion later, he finished that opening lap in third, behind the Vanwalls but ahead of Moss. He then proceeded to stave off the British GP-winner for 21 laps, the pair twice passing and repassing.

Moss: “In my diary I’ve written that my car ‘felt awful’ and that it was overgeared. But I do also remember being impressed with Jack’s car control. Whenever you followed him, you saw as much of the front of his car as you did its rear.”

As the track began to dry, the pressure increased and Jack spun with four laps to go. He’d lost a place, but gained the confidence to continue.

“I only went to England for a year’s experience,” he explains, “but although in a lot of ways it was a disappointing year, I felt I could go back and do better. The sale of that Bobtail in Australia financed another trip to the UK.”