The Brabham family are deeply saddened to hear of the death of legendary racing car designer Ron Tauranac, who passed away on Friday at the age of 95.
Ron was one of the pillars that helped form the Brabham racing legacy, thanks to his work alongside Jack Brabham to both form Motor Racing Developments in the early 1960s, and to push the Brabham Racing Organisation to new heights within the sport. He was also the man behind Ralt – a leading single-seater constructor – and a close friend and confidant to the entire Brabham family.
Ron was also David Brabham’s godfather. David says: “Ron made an immeasurable contribution to the sport. Things are different these days, but certain people laid the foundations for motorsport, and he’s one of them.
“He achieved a lot but, perhaps because he was reticent in public, he didn’t really receive the recognition he deserved. He didn’t like the limelight and Jack was good at that, but Ron was behind the scenes. Dad got the accolades but Ron should have got just as much recognition.”
Despite being born in England in 1925, Ron moved to Australia during his childhood. He first encountered Jack Brabham while contesting speedway and hillclimbs in Australia during the 1950s. Tauranac and his brother Austin had been competing with self-built cars, which earned the name ‘Ralt’ through an amalgamation of their combined initials.
Ron and Jack formed a strong bond during this time and remained in contact even when Jack headed to Europe to compete. And, after two world titles with Cooper Cars, Jack decided to go it solo, and sought Ron’s help to form Motor Racing Developments to design and produce cars under the Brabham name, to be run by the Brabham Racing Organisation.
All of the new cars would bear the designation ‘BT’ – for Brabham-Tauranac – and the first of these machines, the BT3, made its debut in the 1962 German Grand Prix. While that race ended in retirement after a throttle issues, it carried Jack to two fourth place finishes before the end of the campaign.
Learning from the lessons of the BT3, the following BT7 proved a marked step forward in 1963. Using a more reliable Hewland gearbox, more efficient aerodynamics and with chassis input from Malcolm Sayer of Jaguar Cars, it carried Dan Gurney to wins in both France and South Africa to cement the first victories for a Brabham chassis in the world championship. Jack himself would celebrate two podium finishes – in Belgium and France, respectively – to ensure the Brabham team finished the season third in the constructors’ championship.
The crowning glory for the Brabham-Tauranac partnership in that period came with the BT19 of 1966. Despite being designed and built around the 1.5-litre Coventry Climax engine, a shift in rules toward three-litre powerplants forced some late changes to the chassis, while Jack talked Repco into building a bespoke three-litre unit to power the car. The completed BT19 was a work of art, with Tauranac carefully crafting its glass-fibre bodywork using the latest in windtunnel technology at the time – its swept-down nose and upswept rear engine cover allowing it to stay slippery while also creating elements of downforce.
Jack used the design to devastating effect, winning four races on the trot to cement his third world title and become the first, and only, driver ever to win the world championship in a car bearing his name. Denny Hulme made it two straight titles for BT-badged cars, when he took the 1967 crown with the BT20-24.
David says: “Jack and Ron were kindred spirits. They had a high regard for each other’s engineering, designing and driving capabilities. Dad continued driving and building his cars, but Ron was there in the background, even with the Coopers in 1959 and 1960, before they formed Motor Racing Developments.
“Together, they conquered the world of Grand Prix racing in the 1960s and became the biggest racing car manufacturer at that time, beating the likes of Ferrari. Although Dad sold his half of the team to Ron, they remained friends and weren’t shy to bring each other into various projects they were working on, up until Dad stepped back in the 1990s. They had a good friendship.
“When we were about to launch the Brabham BT62, I called Ron to ask for his permission and blessing to continue the BT naming convention and he was quite happy to hear about it.”
After he retired from driving, Jack handed control of the team over to Tauranac, who ran it until it was eventually bought by Bernie Ecclestone in 1972.
After Brabham, Tauranac put all his efforts into Ralt machinery, and grew the brand into one of the most successful Formula 3 marques of the time, running drivers such as Nelson Piquet, Derek Warwick, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello to titles around Europe, before also adding a trio of European Formula 2 titles, one of which was won by David’s brother-in-law Mike Thackwell, when partnered with Honda engines.
It was through Ralt that David first really got to know Ron, as he explains: “My first real experience of getting to know him was when I raced Formula Atlantic and won the Australian F2 Championship and CAMS Gold Star in a Ralt in 1987. When I came over to the UK in 1988, I raced a Ralt in F3, and again in 1989 when I won the British F3 Championship and the Macau Grand Prix, then I was back with Ron and Team Roni for F3000 in 1991.
“Ron has played a significant role in Brabham history, but also from a family point of view as all of us raced and won in Ralt cars – myself, Geoff and Mike Thackwell. Myself, and a lot of other big-name drivers, have a lot to thank him for.”
Tauranac finally sold the controlling stake of Ralt to rival March in 1988, but remained part of the company in a consultancy role before returning to Australia in 2002 having enjoyed one of the most storied careers in the history of the sport, both with Brabham and beyond.
Ron Tauranac is survived by his daughters, Jann and Julie and the entire Brabham family wishes to express their deepest condolences to the Tauranac family, and their many friends.
Images: Jack Brabham private collection. Bottom picture, thanks to The GP Library.