When I was young, Jack Brabham, who died yesterday at 88, was the kind of Aussie bloke we all wanted to be: a tough, resourceful character whose combination of extreme determination and skill with spanners was every bit as important to his success as his ability behind the wheel.
Not for him the silvertailed start of others, financed (as so often in top motorsport) by rich connections. Black Jack, as he was known for no reason I ever heard explained, was the kind of bloke who would repair his car with fencing wire, if necessary, then physically carry it over the line to win.
Brabham started driving speedway midgets in the late 1940s on dirt tracks where cornering in constant oversteer was the only way to win. Some say what he learned on the speedway had lasting effects: photographs of him in grand prix Coopers a decade later still show him crouching low in the cockpit (evidently to dodge the flying stones). He was also more inclined to slide the car in big-time racing, it was what he grew up with.
Apart from the three world championships, Brabham’s special claim will always be that he won his third in a car with his own name on the nose. The truth is it was designed in partnership with two Aussie mates: designer Ron Tauranac, his partner in the Brabham team who had the same practical turn of mind, and Phil Irving (famous in other quarters as the inspiration behind the Vincent motorcycle vee-twin), who played a vital role in producing — quickly, and at Brabham’s request — the Oldsmobile-based 3.0-litre Repco V8 for F1.