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Racer and constructor: the unique Sir Jack Brabham passes away aged 88
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Posted By: James Allen  |  19 May 2014   |  10:36 am GMT  |  91 comments

Only 33 men have won the F1 drivers’ world championship since its inception in 1950 and among them Sir Jack Brabham, who has died at the age of 88, was unique: the only driver to win the title in a car he built himself.

Brabham raced against some of the greats; Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart.

He was part of the wave of innovation which swept through the sport in the late 1950s as John Cooper put the engine in the back of the car, rather than the front where it had been up to that point. Brabham won his first Grand Prix at Monaco in 1959, and went on to win 14 Grands Prix. He took the little Cooper to the world title in 1959 and 1960.

He started his own team with fellow Australian engineer Ron Tauranac and clinched his third world title in 1966. His team mate Denny Hulme won the title the following year again in one of Jack’s cars. One of the mechanics in that team was Ron Dennis, now the boss of McLaren.

After Jack retired from racing following the 1970 season, the Brabham team was acquired by a man called Bernie Ecclestone and so began another chapter of F1.

Jack got the chance to see another Brabham in a Brabham when his youngest son David made his F1 debut in 1990; the team at that time was owned by the Japanese Middlebridge company, which underestimated what it took in terms of investment to compete in F1. I know because I worked for the team in 1990 and 1991.

When David was announced we organised a photoshoot with father and son together with one of Jack’s 1960s racers, kindly loaned from Tom Wheatcoft’s Donington collection. As David sat in the cockpit he looked in the mirror, “He’s looking out for Clark!” quipped Sir Jack.

The great man continued to attend the Australian Grand Prix up to fairly recently and still got a kick out of seeing the technology on the cars and the innovative ideas the engineers came up with.

That side of the sport always fascinated this unique racing driver.

Mark Webber paid a heartfelt tribute to the great man on his website today,

“He provided me with endless support and advice over the years and became a close confidante – even right up until the last couple of years when, after hearing the rumors that I might move to Ferrari, he told me he would be very disappointed if I went there because for him, it was the absolute betrayal because they were his motivation – the ones he wanted to beat in his day,” wrote Webber.

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91 Comments
  1. JohnH says:

    One of the few genuine all time greats of motor sport, we will not see his like again.

    RIP

    1. La Decima says:

      Agreed. Some of the current lot may be slick drivers but they are (by virtue of the times) not anywhere close to having either the class or ‘completeness’ of Sir Jack.

  2. Kenneth M'Boy says:

    RIP Sir Jack, a great racer, a wonderful Australian and a thorough gentleman.

    1. Stephen Fox says:

      Amen!

  3. John T says:

    They don’t make them like Jack anymore.
    RIP Sir Jack Brabham
    Onya mate

  4. GarryT says:

    My childhood hero, Jack you achieved things that made us proud made us dream. Your true legend is more than can be appreciated we salute you Sir Jack.

  5. kenneth chapman says:

    a greatly revered driver who was a very very tough competitor at the best of times. i watched him win at silverstone in 1960 and have never forgotten it.

    he lived quite near to me here on the gold coast and he was considered a legend by all the locals. a great loss and also a great memory.

  6. purch says:

    A sad day to see the passing of a true legend of motor sport and a humble gentleman. His legacy lives on in more ways than one.

    The ABC put together a touching documentary on Sir Jack in 2009. You can watch it online here:

    http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/whenwereracers/default.htm

    RIP Sir Jack.

  7. Mike J says:

    In today’s world the word ‘legend’ is used too often however here it is totally warranted. Sir Jack Brabham – a true legend. A gentleman, great sportsman and fantastic engineer.

    I first got to saw him race in 1965 at Warwick Farm in the Tasman Series against the world’s great drivers and followed him for the rest of his career. People today just cannot imagine the difficulty people like him and Bruce McLaren faced when moving to a place on the other side of the world in those days to follow their dreams. Probably one of the most under rated world champions yet he achieved something no one will likely ever do..he was my first hero.

    A quote from him that summed him up!…”The big aim now is to die without an enemy in the world. I’m going to outlive the bastards,”

    A link to a nice piece if James doesn’t mind. (click on full story)
    http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/whenwereracers/default.htm

    People also forget that he ran the first (successful) rear engine car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1961 when the transition to ‘rear’ really began.

    At 44 he was still winning races however was convinced to retire by his wife and dad in 1970 after losing three close friends that year in McLaren, Courage and Rindt. He always said he retired too soon.

    He will live on in our memories. Condolences to the Brabham family.

    RIP ‘Black’ Jack

    1. Snowy says:

      Indeed an absolute legend of sport.

      Interesting to note that with Sir Jack’s passing, 1964 champion John Surtees becomes the earliest and oldest surviving World Drivers’ Champion. Next is Sir Jackie Stewart. Notice the obvious omission – surely it’s time to continue the push to have Surtees efforts recognised with a knighthood.

  8. chris green says:

    as a kid i grew up in penshurst and my best friend lived across the road from jack brabham.
    he was always over in europe racing so i never got to meet him but my dad used to take me out to warwck farm to watch brabham race in the tasman series.

    what brabham achieved in f1 will never be matched.
    it’s a pity brabham won’t get to see the return of honda next year. brabham and honda had very successful relationship in f2.

  9. Ray C Boy says:

    A one off… a true legend.
    RIP Black Jack.

  10. goferet says:

    Condolences go out to Sir Jack’s family and friends thankfully, Sir Jack did live a full life despite having participated in a dangerous activity that saw lots of his colleagues not make it.

    For sure, Sir Jack was a unique individual for not only being the only Aussie champion but for also having done so in one of his cars >>> I mean, can you picture Enzo winning in a Ferrari >>> very difficult!!!!

    Anyway these blokes from the golden era are what F1 stands for and that’s courage, honour + hardwork and thanks to their contribution, we have younger chaps like Riccardo dreaming of making it one day.

    1. Gaz Boy says:

      Goferet, there’s great footage on YouTube of the 1970 South African GP which Black Jack won – and turned out to be last his GP win.
      There’s also footage of the 1970 Monaco and 1970 British GP’s where poor old Jack was leading only to loose the race at the final corner in both events (at Monaco for locking the front axle on the marbles, and at Brands Hatch for running out of petrol)………both races were won by Jochen Rindt, Jack’s ex driver.
      Incidentally, Jack ran out of fuel at Brands Hatch 1970 because his chief mechanic forgot to set the fuel metering unit to lean, so the Brabham spent the whole race on a rich fuel setting. The name of that mechanic? A certain Ron Dennis!
      So much for Ron being obsessed with attention to detail!

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        PS Don’t want to be pedantic or adenoidal but I think Jonsey was an Australian WDC in 1980……………….
        Alan should have also won the title in 1979 but for a few silly mistakes by himself or Williams (smashing into the barrier at Monaco, the team forgetting to tighten a wheelnut at Watkins Glen after a pit-stop) and some unreliability (suspension failure at Kyalami, leading by miles at Zolder and Silverstone until Jonsey’s Cosworth DFV grenaded itself)…………

      2. goferet says:

        @ Gaz Boy

        Thanks m8 had forgotton about Jonesy as the other champion.

        Meanwhile, you memory of things that happened is really excellent, actually more than excellent >>> WOW!!!!!

        As for Ron Dennis, Lol… I guess that would explain some of Mclaren’s woes.

    2. Jonny Speedriff says:

      Ahem, Alan Jones? R.I.P Sir Jack

      1. goferet says:

        @ Jonny Speedriff

        Whoops, thanks!

    3. Balsac says:

      Alan Jones might have a small problem with your post

      1. goferet says:

        @ Balsac

        Cheers!

  11. Balsac says:

    I was just thinking of sir jack on the weekend . What a life well spent

  12. jason eade says:

    r.i.p sir jack

  13. Nasidas says:

    Was lucky enough to meet him once; really nice guy, really fantastic racer. He had it all and he did it all. Legend. F1 and the world will miss him.

  14. David in Sydney says:

    Met him briefly in Melbourne some years ago.

    Funny old fella, a great man, very modest and down to Earth.

    Rest in peace Sir Black Jack Brabham – Australia’s greatest ever race driver (and team owner)!

  15. Elie says:

    Today we lost a legend in Australian motorsport. My condolences go out to the Brabham family.

    We sit here all of us essentially “arm chair experts” rambling on about what we know about F1, the technology & innovation, the cars even driving the cars but Sir Jack was successful at all those things and more in actual fact. The complete wish list of any motor racing enthusiast. RIP.

  16. Oliver W says:

    What a superstar.
    Back in 66 Sir Jack was the man that I followed as a young boy and I have always loved his cars.
    Thank you for your inspiration and integrity.

  17. Bryce says:

    A true legend and one of a kind.

  18. jps says:

    Met the great man about ten years ago at Adelaide where he was signing autographs for young fans. He truly loved being with his fans even in his 70s. To win three world drivers championships puts him among the greats but to build his own car and win the wdc in my mind that puts him in a league of his own.
    Above them all.

  19. Leo says:

    A legend of the sport, who survived possibly one of the most dangerous eras.
    RIP Jack.

  20. Paul D says:

    The term legend is bounced around far too much now days, but in this case it is very much merited.

    A true icon, who made it through the sports most dangerous period with 3 World Championships and some incredible unique achivements which will never be repeated.

    RIP Sir Jack.

  21. Gudien says:

    A great man.

    Not only did Jack Brabham drive very well and win races and championships he also ran a top F-1 team, constructed winning cars, and hired some of racings top men to drive for and against him. Men such as Gurney, Hulme, Rindt, and Ickx drove for ‘Black Jack’ and were given equal, or better cars than Jack’s!

    How many of our current F-1 ‘greats’ would think of acting in such a fair and honest way?

  22. Chris says:

    RIP, TY for all you’ve done for this amazing sport of ours!!

  23. Docjkm says:

    1967, US Grand Prix..
    My first in attendance. Sir Jack had a mechanical, pitted, and drove like a maniacal dervish on rejoining. A memory still cherished.

    Goodby, Jack

  24. Gaz Boy says:

    Jack, I hope you’re up there in F1 world champions heaven with the likes of Fangio, Hawthorn, Farina, Clark, Senna, Hunt, Rindt, the Hills and your good pal Denny Hulme having a cool beer and a barbie! Jack was a taciturn, straight talking man who called a spade a bloody shovel and was a top driver, a good bloke and one of the forerunners of todays successful British and commonwealth F1 industry.
    Rest in peace John Arthur Brabham, Australia, Britain, the BRDC, the Commonwealth and the F1 industry will always remember you.

    1. KRB says:

      “the Hills”? Maybe I’m missing something, but I think you’ve just killed off Damon there!

      1. Lezza says:

        Phil and Graham.

      2. KRB says:

        Gawd I’m dumb … how could I have missed that? The plural got me thinking family, I guess. I’m stickin’ to that.

  25. Andrew Carter says:

    RIP Sir Jack, he’s achieved something no one else ever will, winning the championship in a car with his own name on it.

  26. aveli says:

    sounds like he enjoyed his life, leaving a pronounced footprint on the heads of all petrol heads.
    rest in peace jack brabham.

  27. JTR says:

    Farewell Sir Jack. You always made me proud to be Australian. Thank-you.

    1. jps says:

      Well said

  28. Alex says:

    God’s speed, Sir Jack.

  29. Pkara says:

    R.I.P Jack.
    Absolute Legend. Great Racer & Designer.
    Sad loss to F1.
    A true genius.
    R.I.P.

  30. S2K says:

    RIP Jack Brabham. A true racer!

  31. Rein says:

    When I came to the UK 13 years ago, I settled down in Surbiton, Surrey. At my choice of residence I had at first no idea that I’m surrounded by F1 history. As a F1 Fan since my earliest childhood and always especially interested in F1 car design – this was absolutely fascinating for me.
    Over the years I learned more and more from eyewitnesses of the 50s and 60s. About John Copper, Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham – who all lived and worked here in close proximity. Whenever I pass by Sir Jack’s former Surbiton home or his first workshop, it fills me with awe and respect. The determination and foresight of these pioneers of motor racing is deeply admirable. Often with the simplest of means, including F1 engine repair in the family kitchen. A story I’ve been told by a local 83-year-old, retired painter/decorator who had worked in Brabham’s family-home at the time. Mrs Brabham was not at all pleased about this – I was told.
    RIP Sir Jack Brabham.

  32. Dufus says:

    There was a video a couple of years ago showing BUT and HAM trying to assemble a McLaren.
    Sir Jack’s legacy makes their efforts ridiculously comical and trivial.

  33. Werewolf says:

    A huge loss. One of the very small handful at the absolute top echelon of motor racing greats: an exciting and tough competitor (you always knew which car he was driving), smart and innovative team owner and a true enthusiast for the sport.

    Post retirement, I don’t think I ever saw him without time for the fans and I vividly recall listening to him drawl anecdotes from the “the old days” with fondness and humour. I’ll never forget his response to a big, bone-breaking shunt at Goodwood in his late seventies: “it’s taken me forty years to have a big accident and now I’ve started I think I’ll have one every forty years!”

    RIP.

  34. All revved-up says:

    1) won the WDC in the car he built – legend
    2) gave Sterling Moss the rear axle off his sparecar so that Moss could take part in the race (and possibly beat Brabham) – a gentleman from a more civilized era

    1. Gaz Boy says:

      F1 was more of a cottage industry in those days rather than the cut-throat, dog eat dog pull the ladder up and sod the rest mentality that is the result of the great god sponsorship……….
      Having said that, in Jack’s day F1 was a lethal past-time, so while today’s business and driving standards may verge on the shambolic at least on the safety front it isn’t a shambles.
      Progress (safety) on one direction and regression (business and driving ethics) in the other direction I suppose………….

      1. All revved-up says:

        Well said +1

  35. Wade Parmino says:

    A legendary racer; driving, engineering and sportsmanship. God bless.

  36. graham bowman says:

    What was your job in the team James?
    R.I.P sir J.B. May you smell the fumes from that higher place.

    1. James Allen says:

      Press officer

      Nowadays would be ‘Head of Communications’ !!

      1. Gaz Boy says:

        I bet when Jack was running his team he didn’t have a “head of communications!”

      2. Thank you James, for the notice and for sharing some pieces of history from what were ‘the formative years’ – especially your involvement back then. Makes the picture today even clearer and more appreciated.

        Moss, Clark, Brabham and Stewart were the big guns when working SCCA races in Tech and Marshaling on the corners in 1962 and Sports Car Graphic was the only way to get the pictures and stories from the F-1 world — before discovering Autoweek was available, that is.

        Condolences to Sir Jack’s family, and especially to David for his family’s ongoing contributions to the racing world. Few people have the opportunity to inspire as those folks did for a young man’s life.

      3. Random 79 says:

        I like “press officer” better – it just sounds a little more classy :)

      4. Gaz Boy says:

        I wonder what Mr Ron Dennis calls the person responsible for dealing with the media for McLaren, eh????
        It’s not two words with one or two syllable each that’s for sure!

  37. Chromatic says:

    Hope he’s first past the flag where he’s heading!

  38. BoogWar says:

    Good bye, Black Jack. You have been a great inspiration to us backyard builders and bar stool racers. Maybe one of us will rise up and claim a WDC in a car we built under an oak tree. There should be a place in today’s formula 1 for people who think like you. Guess what? Ideas and concepts are still free….

  39. Steve Zodiac says:

    You just don’t get real stars of Sir Jack’s calibre these days. When the likes of John Surtees, Sir Sterling etc have all departed there will be an unfillable void which,somehow, todays drivers cannot fill.

  40. Peter says:

    Lovely and poignant tribute James.

    Rest in peace Sir Jack.

  41. Delgado says:

    Good speed Sir Jack!

  42. Leah says:

    A great champion, who left a great legacy and gave his name to a very memorable racing team.

    Condolences to his family. RIP Jack Brabham.

  43. Mansell Mania says:

    Another sad day in F1. R.I.P Jack Brabham

  44. Olivier says:

    Shame Webber is not around … he certainly would”ve painted his helmet in Jack Brabham’s helmet colors this weekend:

    http://www.collectorstudio.com/index.cfm/ID/15/itemID/5552/details/1

    1. Pkara says:

      I’m sure Daniel will do something to show his respect as will the rest of the F1 Clan & all motorsport in general :-)

      1. Pkara says:

        Ooops sorry Gis = His

  45. Curro says:

    R.I.P. Mr Champion

  46. Michael says:

    Truly a man of courage, intelligence, integrity, humour and most of all, skill. Denny Hulme will have a beer and warm welcome ready for when Sir Jack arrives.

  47. Bavman says:

    Black Jack’s passed away,
    about 15 years ago at the Speed on Tweed Historic hillclimb, (lap around the streets) at Murwillumbah in northern NSW? I was in the pits looking at the cars
    when Jack Brabham came back after his demonstration lap in one of his F1 cars, he would have been in his 70′s, he just trundled up and did a perfect 90 degree flick with the throttle, on the grass which lined him up perfectly to back into his bay, Front wheels were dead straight and he just rolled back perfectly positioned into his pit bay, I can remember being impressed.

  48. Old Dry Joint says:

    I was admiring his Repco Brabham along with Jones’ FW07 at the Aus GP a couple of months ago. Soaking up that moment.. thinking how lucky we Aussies are to have such champions.

  49. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    These days, in the right car at the right time, a driver can be a world champion. But to do it three times and in a car of your own design/manufacture and at a time when so many of your contemporaries passed away, highlights the true skill of the man.

  50. Ciao says:

    Pic beholden to those with nouse, limited resources, and character …..

    https://twitter.com/McLarenF1/status/468175722272800768/photo/1

  51. Nigel says:

    RIP Sir Jack. A great racer and a special person, full of class and dignity.

    Nice words too from Ron Dennis and the McLaren team.

  52. ozmark says:

    Vale Sir Jack, no more to be said other than a list of proper F1 team names;

    Williams
    Lotus
    Ferrari
    McLaren
    BRABHAM

  53. kenneth chapman says:

    very interesting to read that there are a few posters on here that were in attendance at the tasman series held at warwick farm many many years ago.

    for me this was the highlight of the year and would never ever miss the chance to attend. some great racing there. i seem to recall the wooden planks put in place just prior to the back straight where the track crossed the horse racing track!!! cannot imagine that happening today hahaha

  54. Sad news about Jack’s passing away. The man was living legend.

    His achievement of winning in his own car will most certainly never be equalled.

    He was here at the grand prix this year again James. There was a nice display with a couple of his cars just outside the paddock club, you couldn’t have missed them.

  55. JohnBt says:

    R.I.P. Sir Jack Brabham an icon never to be forgotten.

  56. Nano says:

    Sad to hear. I had the chance to meet the great man once. RIP.

  57. Jay Bopara says:

    Sir Jack is an absolute Aussie hero, someone who I admire massively. RIP great man.

    I must say though he certainly gave Mark Webber some bad advice, irrespective if they were the enemy in his day, in Mark’s day, his enemies were actually in his own team. He would have won the 2010 title comfortably if he was given equality with Vettel. Just as Rubens would have pushed Jenson very close if he was given equality at Brawn in 2009.

    Webber had a great opportunity in 2013 to enjoy driving with his great friend and someone who he never collided with on track despite races upon races of wheel to wheel action – Fernando Alonso.

    A great shame Mark did not finish his career at Ferrari, and a shame that Sir Jack pushed Mark away from Ferrari.

  58. bmg says:

    He was a giant in Australian sports,R.I.P.

  59. Tom says:

    I met Sir Jack during the first Targa Tasmania where he competed against Stirling Moss and Deny Hulme. Jack beat them both driving an automatic Honda at 67 years of age. Stirling was driving a Shelby Mustang running on avgas which his wife had to siphon from small tanks. Jack was an old fashioned gentleman with a wicked sense of humour, who believed in fair play, but competed fiercely. Wish their were more of his like today.

  60. James, Lovely pic of Jack in the Aintree Pit’s!

    I had the great pleasure of chatting to Jack in the paddock at Oulton Park (Gold Cup) in 2004…he was a wise and wonderful self made man…didn’t miss a trick..I suspect Ron Dennis learned a lot from him!

  61. KARTRACE says:

    Isn’t Jackie also Sir Jackie Stewart ?

    1. Ben says:

      I thought that also.

  62. Bullish says:

    Hi James,

    Will there be a moment of silence to remember Sir Jack at Monaco?

    Thanks

  63. PaulL says:

    Vale Sir Jack – an true Aussie legend and a great bloke. I read small article in the Sunday paper in Sydney last weekend that highlighted the fact that two of his grandsons were ripping up the tracks at different ends of the world. I was thinking how proud he must be that his famous name is still in the headlines.

    His legend will live on…RIP mate.

  64. Jake says:

    A lovely article James, thanks. Jack was a genius and will never be forgotten.

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