Great racing cars: 1974 Brabham BT44



A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Cars, which is available to buy here.

To buy the lead image click here.

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

John Watson
Five-time GP winner

Carlos Reutemann in the 1974 Austrian Grand Prix aboard the Brabham BT44 Ford

I choose the Hexagon Brabham BT44 because it was the first really great Formula 1 car I drove. I’ve raced lots of really good cars at all different levels but the BT44 gave me something beyond the BT42, with which I started my F1 career. This car was a significant step forward and it elevated me to a much higher level, enhanced my reputation as a driver. You always think you’re giving your best, and you probably are, but this car lifted my game, took me to another threshold of performance and gave me that psychological boost that is so important to every driver.

Essential info: Brabham BT44

Notable entrants: Motor Racing Developments, Goldie Hexagon Racing
Notable drivers: Carlos Reutemann, Carlos Pace, John Watson
Debut: 1974 Argentine Grand Prix
Achievements: 5 wins, 2 poles
Constructors’ Championships: 0
Drivers’ Championships: 0

What made the car great was the combination of good grip and balance, much better than the BT42, so I could deliver a performance without having to work hard to get it. I don’t think Carlos Pace and Carlos Reutemann [in the works cars] were any better than me at the time, but they got the BT44 before me. Once I got into it, my status, if you like, was suddenly improved.

As soon as I drove down the pitlane I realised how good it was, it’s as obvious as that, a feeling you get through your hands, through your body, and that inspires confidence. Then, out on the track, it’s the way the car communicates that message to you. Gordon Murray is an exceptionally clever man. He approached design from a very lateral perspective and the BT44 was subtly a very clever car, with rising rate titanium springs, and it was the first time I realised just what a really good racing car feels like.

It had a short wheelbase, and was very narrow, and the triangulation of the chassis matched the triangulation of the 90-degree V8 Cosworth engine so there was a synergy all the way through Gordon’s design criteria. The BT44 was a fantastic car and, a bit like your first girlfriend, you never forget her.

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