David Brabham set for 'lump-in-throat drive' of dad Jack's BT19


David Brabham will pilot his dad Jack's BT19, the only eponymous F1 car to win the world title, on the Adelaide street circuit this weekend in an "emotional" outing


Brabham races to victory at Zandvoort in his championship year of '66 – at the wheel of his own car

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

As a child in the late ’60s, future Le Mans-winner David Brabham would wander over to the dusty old shed opposite his father Jack’s Ford dealership, between Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, and peer inside.

Sitting in amongst various broken down competition efforts and discarded Blue Oval machinery was one of the most important F1 cars of all time: the Brabham BT19.

This mechanical embodiment of fast-paced pragmatism holds records that will never be broken: it’s the first and only eponymous F1 car to be driven to a world title when the late, great Jack Brabham made history in 1966, as well being the first race-winner taken to victory by its namesake.

Brabham, who used to sit inside the car as a child and imagine himself driving it, will do so for real at the classic Adelaide street circuit this weekend, telling Motor Sport it will be a “lump-in-throat moment”.

1966 French GP Jack Brabham 2

Third title was arguably Brabham’s most significant

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The car will be the crown jewel of the antipodean answer to Goodwood, the Adelaide Motor Sport Festival. Though this automotive jamboree will see over 200 classic F1 machines, competition cars and exotic road-going examples roar through Victoria Park over two days, the feted BT19 will be upheld as the ultimate in Aussie motor sport: an Australian champion driver, an Australian team’s car and an Australian engine, created by the powerfully practical design duo of Ron Tauranac and Brabham.

“Any time you get in something like that, it’s always special – and I’m not doing a lot here,” says David of bringing the thunder Down Under – he’ll be limited to 70km/h (43mph) for insurance reasons, naturally.

“When we drove some of his cars before the Australian GP in 2019, the response from the crowd was amazing – Dad was treated like royalty here. He was so down to earth, would speak to anyone but was probably the most famous person in Australia at one point.

“Over here, particularly when you get the BT19 out – it’s an iconic Australian F1 car with an Australian engine – it certainly helps bring the emotions to the front.”

David Brabham 2

Brabham says driving his dad’s historic championship-winner will be an emotional moment

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Sixties F1 design axis Brabham and Tauranac ultimately experienced a huge amount of success both at a grand prix level and through the vast numbers of customer cars which they produced – but the BT19 is the ultimate tribute to the pragmatic engineering excellence of the pair.

When conceiving it, originally for 1965, Tauranac chose to stick with a spaceframe chassis rather than use the monocoque idea pioneered by Lotus’s Colin Chapman and fast becoming de rigeur down the rest of the grid, the Australian not yet fully convinced the concept was developed enough as to be useful.

After not being run in the ’65 season, the BT19 was instead adapted for the new 3-litre era in ’66, and paired with the Australian Repco 620 engine, proved a potent prospect. Once Brabham got over the inevitable teething issues, he would hit his stride and win four races in a row from France onwards, building an unassailable championship lead while others struggled with their new 3-litre F1 cars.

From the archive

The usually poker-faced Brabham named the one-of-one BT19 ‘Old Nail’ in a rare show of romanticism, the faithful machine which helped him to make history.

“He would always talk about that one,” says David. “The BT19 is the one where he got the jump on everyone.

“That’s where he was really good. He could take a look down the road – from an engineering point of view –and going ‘Oh, actually, that’s probably going to be the best solution.’ And he was the only one that really went down that route.”

However David admits that compared to the monster Le Mans prototypes he campaigned in the ‘90s and ‘00s, the BT19 isn’t quite as refined.

“The thing’s just so raw,” he says. “It’s got three pedals, a five-speed gearbox, H-pattern and a steering wheel with no buttons. You’re sitting between two fuel tanks which scares you every time you jump in it.”

Stefan Johansson 1985 Ferrari at Adelaide Motor Sport Festival

Johansson sends it in downtown Adelaide

Adelaide Motorsport Festival

Brabham sold the “priceless” car to Repco in 1978 – “dude, why the hell did you sell that one?!” – but the car has been kept in meticulous condition by the Australian engineering company, all the more impressive considering chassis F1-1-1965 is the only example.

The famous BT19 will be joined by a host of other Brabhams, including Stefano Modena’s 1989 podium-finisher and Damon Hill’s first F1 car – the BT60B – with over 15 F1 machines present, nearly all of which would have competed at Adelaide during its grand prix heyday.

The festival is now taking over other parts of the city, with Stefan Johansson having blasted his fire-breathing 1985 Ferrari F156/85 through the downtown area last night as part of an add-on street party festival.

From the archive

The event, which was set up by motor sport fanatic and entrepreneur Tim Possingham and first ran in 2014, expanded from 1,800 spectators in its debut year to 50,000 in 2018. It’s now back after a Covid-enforced hiatus, and could well top its previous attendance this time.

Similar to Brabham’s BT19 story, Possingham explained to Motor Sport in movie-style terms how he set up the festival.

“Early on when I had my mechanic’s workshop, I didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t get into the grand prix,” he says.

“I’d go and sit outside with my back against the fence and listen to the F1 cars. It’s the sound I remember so vividly. I loved that.”

1992 Brabham BT 60 Damon Hill at Adelaide

Damon Hill’s Brabham BT60 will be amongst a wide variety of the marque’s machinery on show

Adelaide Motorsport Festival

Being the final F1 race in the world championship for a number of years, Adelaide had a unique place in the calendar. Possingham says his event tries to invoke that party atmosphere of yesteryear.

“I’ve met a lot of amazing people that have got great stories to tell about Adelaide,” he says.

“It was the last race of the year, so all the teams let their hair down. The weather was great, they often stayed here for a while, offloading lots of merchandise at the end of the year, giving things away to people – and there were title deciders here too.

Beatrice Lola F1 car at 2023 Adelaide Motor Sport Festival

Over two hundred cars will run on the classic circuit

Adelaide Motorsport Festival

“I suppose I’m a nostalgic person – I like to relive history, and I like to celebrate amazing things where possible and this gives me an opportunity to do that.”

It’s not all retro though – for the first time the festival will see a contemporary F1 driver attend.

“We’ve got Valtteri Bottas driving an Aussie V8 supercar. His partner is Australian, he’s got into the Australian way of life, even his initials are VB, just like [favoured Aussie beverage] Victoria Bitter!”