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How Repco took on the world and won

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 60 years, you’d know that Jack Brabham and his engineering mastermind Ron Tauranac used an all-Australian Repco engine to power them to a Formula 1 world title in 1966.

But did you know how it all came to pass?

South Africa in 1966 provided the opening to the international racing season and the debut for the new 3-litre Formula 1 regulations. Enter the Repco RB260.

The withdrawal of Coventry Climax as an engine manufacturer opened the door for Repco, led by project engineer Phil Irving and general manager Frank Hallam.

Having serviced the 2.5-litre Coventry Climax 4-cylinder engines, Repco was searching for a new unit to continue its success when at the insistence of Jack Brabham, the Oldsmobile F85 V8 was provided as an option.

Having raced against the engine three years previous, Brabham noted its compact layout and weight as well as its results at Indy making it a suitable option for Formula 1’s new regulations.

After the first prototype was developed in the Repco Engine Laboratory in Richmond, the project transferred to its Maidstone factory where developments continued to be made when in December the first 3-litre iteration of the unit was tested.

The difference between the first prototype and the E3 version were larger inlet valves, throttle bodies and ports boosting power from 235bhp to 280bhp.

Brabham debuted the engine at the non-championship South African Grand Prix, taking pole before retiring due to a fault in the Lucas injection system.

The ‘International Cup’ at Silverstone provided a final opportunity for Brabham and Repco to refine the chassis-engine combination, which ended in victory.

For the 1966 World Drivers’ Championship, Ferrari entered as favourites initially as it started the season with a mix of its V6-powered 246 for Lorenzo Bandini and the 312 V12 of John Surtees.

Jochen Rindt led Cooper’s Maserati V12 challenge, Honda joined later in the season with V12-power for Richie Ginther, Lotus used Climax V8s and BRM also sported V8s to start off with before transitioning to its complex H16 unit debuted in Italy. It did give Jim Clark victory in the US, but was largely unsuccessful.

Although the Repco engine failed in its first Grand Prix, a run of four Grand Prix victories, beginning with the French at the legendary Reims. This sealed ‘Black Jack’ a unique place in history as the only driver to win in a chassis bearing his name and became the first non-European manufacturer to win the World Championship.

It also moved Brabham into a clear second behind the great Juan Manuel Fangio in most championships, which was soon to be levelled by Jackie Stewart in 1973.

And to prove it, the Brabham-Repco combination was no one-hit wonder, Kiwi Denny Hulme won the title the next year and it retained the F1 Manufacturers’ title.

To celebrate the achievement a Brabham BT19 will be on display at the Repco Garage, which is featured within the Australian Grand Prix on April 7-10.