Brabham-Climax BT3 – Brabham’s first ever F1 car

How 30 years of Brabham Formula 1 dominance began with the Brabham-Climax BT3.

From its humble beginnings, the Brabham-Climax BT3 became the cornerstone from which Brabham evolved into a world-conquering marque, beating the likes of Ferrari (Jack’s most enjoyable mission) and kick starting 30 years of F1 history. 

Built in Byfleet, Surrey, it was the first Formula 1 car produced in partnership by Ron Tauranac and Jack Brabham in 1962. Only one version was ever made and in the hands of Jack Brabham – already a two-time World Champion (1959 and 1960) – it earned a rightful place in racing history.

With the BT3, Jack became the first driver to score World Championship points in a car bearing his name, marking the start of the journey that would, in 1966, crown him as the only team owner and driver in history to win both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles. It also paved the way for a further 30+ F1 cars, 35 Grand Prix victories, four Drivers’ titles and two Constructors’ crowns, helping to build an unrivalled heritage spanning 70 years and counting.

Brabham’s first F1 charger was built on the same philosophy as its BT2 Formula Junior predecessor, key to which was safety and reliability. The capacious BT3 featured a stiff and heavily triangulated spaceframe chassis, crafted around the Coventry Climax FWMV 1.5-litre V8 engine. 

Driven by a Colotti five-speed gearbox, it sported all-independent suspension with double wishbones and coil springs, plus 13-inch front and 15-inch rear wheels in cast magnesium to Brabham design. Completed with distinctive twin megaphone exhausts and dressed in Ron and Jack’s inaugural team colours of turquoise-blue and gold, it was considered one of the most handsome of the contemporary F1 cars. 

Jack gave the BT3 its debut at the Nürburgring for the German Grand Prix in August 1962. Although that initial outing resulted in retirement, third at the Oulton Park Gold Cup – and the team’s first podium – soon followed. 

The biggest milestone came in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, fourth place earning the team’s first Constructors’ points and Jack another entry in the history books as the first driver to score championship points in a car bearing his own name. A fine drive to second in the Mexico Grand Prix and a further fourth place in the final championship foray in South Africa concluded an impressive year for the marque.

Building on the inaugural F1 BT3 prototype, a pair of Brabham-Climax BT7s were made for the team’s first full championship assault and the 1963 season. By this time, Ron was one of the first F1 designers to conduct wind-tunnel testing of a full-size car, to help reduce drag and the aerodynamic lift experienced with the BT3’s nose line. With revisions made, Jack said the BT7 proved “efficient and slippery in a straight line”.

With the BT7s ready for the team’s first full year of competition, Jack kept his BT3 as a team spare, lowered and stripped of 55lb/25kg. The colour scheme changed too, with all works cars to be dressed in Australian dark green and gold from there on. The car’s first appearance in that format came at Goodwood’s Easter Monday F1 Glover Trophy event. Fitted with a short-stroke Climax engine on Weber carburettors, Jack reported “It felt terrific”.

Jack continued to command the BT3 in non-championship events. Most notable of which was the team’s first Formula 1 victory in the 13th Solitude Grand Prix in Germany, making Jack the first driver to win a race at such a level with his own outfit. He recounted, in his autobiography with Doug Nye – The Jack Brabham Story; “It wasn’t a World Championship round, it wasn’t a full-blown Grand Prix, but it proved we had a car capable of winning. That was a great moment and I relished it”.

A second win for the BT3 soon followed in the Austrian Grand Prix at Zeltweg, the winning margin of five laps emphatically underlining the car’s reliability and strength. Fifth in the 1963 Italian Grand Prix one week later marked Jack’s last outing in the now historic BT3. 

Sold to Ian Raby in 1965, it continued to contest non-championship races, the British Grand Prix, Formula Libre and hill climb events. Once retired from active service, it was restored to its 1962 glory and displayed for over 40 years in the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition. The car is now owned and raced by Marco Rollinger. 

Brabham-Climax BT3 

Year built:  1962

Years raced:  1962-1965

Number built: 1

Engine:  Coventry Climax Type FWMV V8 90-degree V8-cylinders

Transmission:  Colotti 5-speed and reverse 

Chassis:  Multi-tubular spaceframe

Suspension:  Independent front suspension by wishbones and co-axial coil springs/dampers. Rear by wishbones, links, radius rods and co-axial coil springs/dampers

Brakes:  Discs all round

Wheels:  Cast magnesium to Brabham design, 13” front and 15” rear

Tyres:  Dunlop Racing

Sources and quotes: The Jack Brabham Story, Sir Jack Brabham OBE with Doug Nye