Brabham carcass with an Indy past
Leading British restorer/racing car preparer Rick Hall stumbled across something recently which amused him and which he sent on to me. It was a letter that I wrote in 1973 to Brian Davies, who was at that time restoring cars for the Donington Collection in Tom Wheatcroths contemporary workshop at his builders’ yard in Wigston, Leicester. I had just recently found the carcass of a 196869 Repco Brabham BT25 Indianapolis car lying in a tiny, dark lock-up garage behind a row of houses in Chessington, not far off the Kingston Bypass in Surrey. Tom had done a deal with Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac of Motor Racing Developments Ltd the Brabham manufacturing company to buy the remains, and I had been trying to locate as much of the then five-year-old car as I could to help the restoration. My letter read (in part) as follows:
‘I went to see Ron Tauranac on Saturday, and found he had lots of bits for the Indy car. He’s given me two front wheels, the steering rack which I had seen in that garage originally, he’d taken it out to rebuild it for us and a Hew/and LG600 gearbox casing and nearly complete set of internals. This is the ‘box off the car and it has a ‘filler cap’ sticking out the back so they could mate up a trolley starter.
‘The car was raced by Jack in the ’69 Indy 500, and on the next day it was being scrutineered in the garages. They wound it up onto TDC while checking the capacity and it sparked down a disconnected fuel tank breather into a left-side tank full of methanol fumes! There was ‘ell of a bang and the left-side monocoque was blown out complete. ‘So they brought it home, fitted a new skin they had already wheeled, and stripped the paint back to the metal on the other side ready for 7970 and a new sponsor. The rear sub frame was also stripped back to the metal and slightly altered in the light of experience, but another sponsor never came along for two cars so this one just rusted to the state we
have it in today. I also have the seat and one of those nose spoilers as seen in the photo with a perspex end-fence. I’ll bring all these up during the week if poss… Interesting, in ‘t it?’ Well, it interested us at the time. But with the benefit of some 38 years’ hindsight I believe I was misinformed. That particular chassis was not Jack’s at Indy in 1969 BT25/2, later ex-John Martin and Bill Simpson, which is owned today by collector Aaron Lewis in Australia but his team-mate Peter Revson’s BT25/1 which actually finished fifth and effectively began the elevation of Revvy’s career from self-funded dilettante privateer into a genuine
front-line professional racing driver. This was the blown-apart car… Jack and Ron’s Repco Brabham Indy
projects were never lavish, often last-minute, but they punched above their weight. For 1968 the BT25 became Ron’s first monocoque-chassised design, largely to provide fuel bag sheathing protection. During ’68, Jack readily deferred to his muchadmired and immensely daring young team-mate Jochen Rindt, not only in Formula 1 but also at Indy. There during qualifying on Sunday May 19 rain greased the Speedway. Both Jochen and Denny Hulme driving an Eagle were anxious to qualify that first weekend since the Monaco GP the following Sunday would take precedence over Indy second qualifying. But after rain breaks Jochen only began his run around 6pm, and after three ever-faster
warm-up laps on the cold track he raised his hand to start his timed attempt to make the 33-strong grid. His first two laps were then timed at 163.8mph, the third at 165.017, the fourth back to 163.3. He just made the grid, at 164.144, slowest that weekend.., but one of the bravest, for assorted reasons.
Both Black Jack and Jochen were notoriously keen on saving every expense. The Austrian’s return air ticket was fixed-date, non-refundable “el cheapo racing and all that”… so Jochen duly went out “and scared the crap out of everyone watching. The front of the car could be seen right through Turn 4 pointing towards the pits as it was drifting sideways. Indy drivers and mechanics all came out to watch this lunatic who was obviously going to hit the wall, virtually laying bets he wouldn’t come round for the next lap. But he pressed on, qualified and came into the pits to a round of applause…” Sadly on race day Rindt’s Repco engine burned a piston to put him out after only five of the scheduled 200 laps. Back for another try in 1969 both BT255 qualified, BT25/2 driven by Jack and BT25/1 by Revson. On the night before the race Tauranac had nothing left to do but was puzzled by Peter’s complaints that his engine was down on power. “It wasn’t my job, but I looked at the fuel system and found there was a tight pipe bend immediately after the pump, so I set about puffing a better radius on it on the table in my hotel room. We re-installed it next morning and Peter promptly went from last place on the grid to finish fifth. It became apparent during the race that the engine was now virtually
was now flooding and he had to make extra fuel stops due to running so rich.” The Repco engine ran Fl -style Lucas fuel injection rather than lndy’s typical Hilborn “piss and splash” system. The viscosity of USAC’s methanol fuel didn’t suit the fine tolerances within Lucas’s barrel metering unit. Meanwhile Jack’s race had ended due to “the horrible Joe Hunt magneto he was talked into in conjunction with
the Spalding distributor”. Presumably their potential place bonuses had looked attractive…
So Tom Wheatcroths lads restored Peter’s burst BT25 which was subsequently driven by among other people John Noakes of BBC TV’s Blue Peter. They used Donington’s initial Melbourne Loop circuit on an overcast day, much like Indy qualifying that first weekend in 1968. But Noaksie wasn’t Rindt. The first time he opened the throttle, he skated straight off onto the wet grass where he then spun like a garden sprinkler, all recorded by an onboard camera. We could almost hear “Ooh, aah, eek, aye, flippin ‘eck, 00H Ph—!” from the trackside… The video probably survives somewhere.