1964 Repco-Brabham BT11A Review
John Bowe puts a very special Repco-Brabham BT11A through its paces at Albert Park
1964 Repco-Brabham BT11A
It’s always a bit of a thrill for me to drive a car I saw race when I was a kid in Tasmania, like this Brabham BT11A. Only five BT11 Tasman Series cars were made and three of them were at the Australian Grand Prix doing historic demos, which is where I had a steer of it. Its owner Peter Strauss asked me if I’d drive it and because I love that era of motorsport – and because Sir Jack Brabham was one of my childhood heroes – I just couldn’t say no.
Sir Jack was Peter’s hero too. He tells a story about going to Sandown as a sixteen-year-old and meeting the then three-time world champion who spent 10 minutes showing him around his racecar. After that it was his dream to own a Brabham. And now he has three! As well as the BT11 he has a BT31 with a 2.5-litre Repco V8 which was to be Sir Jack’s 1968 F1 car until the FIA intervened, changing the engine rules to 3.0-litre and requiring fuel tanks to have bags fitted internally. These wouldn’t fit the three-litre. Peter also has a BT6 in which Denny Hulme won the 1963 European Formula Junior Championship.
This BT11 is a hugely valuable car with a fabulous pedigree. Bib Stillwell went to the UK and put it together with Brabham designer Ron Tauranac and brought it back to Australia. The BT11 was a Formula One chassis originally designed for the 1.5-litre engine formula and Brabham built 10: five with 1.5-litre Coventry-Climax or BRM engines for F1 and five with 2.5-litre Coventry-Climaxes for the Tasman Series. The F1 BT11 was popular with privateer entrants and emerging drivers like Jochen Rindt and Dan Gurney.
Stillwell won the 1965 Gold Star in this car then it went to Frank Gardner who raced it extensively in Australia and New Zealand before it was bought by David McKay’s Scuderia Veloce team. McKay once lent it to Jackie Stewart who broke the lap record at Surfers Paradise in it in 1966.
After that it was bought by a guy in Auckland who’d won a lottery. Evidently, after he had scared himself witless in it a few times he put it under his house in Auckland in 1967 and it stayed there until Peter bought it four years ago. You can imagine the condition it was in. Peter had it totally restored by Peter Larner and it has a brand new 2.5-litre ‘Coventry-Climax’ engine from Crosthwaite & Gardiner in the UK, who remanufacture these in-demand powerplants. In case you were wondering, yes, Peter still has the original donk!
I’d driven a BT23 Brabham before, which is the next era after the BT11, and there’s not a lot of difference between the two. Both have spaceframe chassis, aluminium fuel tanks that you sit between, and 2.5-litre Climax engines but the BT23 has bigger tyres. That was the era when tyres started to get fatter and the drivers got skinnier. The driving position is classic semi-reclined, long-arm and it’s quite roomy (later cars were narrower) but if I was racing it I’d like the wheel a bit closer. At Albert Park I was only driving it ‘briskly’.
The Crosthwaite & Gardiner engine is very torquey. Coventry-Climax used to claim around 250hp and I’m not sure how much this engine makes. I only revved it to 6500 – they probably used 7200 back in the day – but it only weighs about 450kg so that’s a healthy power-to-weight ratio. And anyway it doesn’t have any grip! The tyres aren’t skinny but they’re not super-wide either and they used to slide these things around a lot in the 60s, which isn’t really my driving style. To see Sir Jack power- sliding out of corners was pretty thrilling.
The engine is mated to the trusty Hewland HD5 five-speed ‘box, which was a bit recalcitrant at the AGP but has a beautiful short shift. You basically just flex your wrist to change gears. The light steering is all in the wrists too. You finesse these cars around a track.
By modern standards it doesn’t have a lot of braking power, despite having small discs at each corner and it weaves a bit under brakes, but without doing a proper test I’m not sure if that’s due to tyres or setup. I suspect that’s what the cars were like then. The superstructures back then didn’t have masses of torsional rigidity and drivers got used to those characteristics and drove around them. But, it’s a proper race car and everything is adjustable.
In the first session at Albert Park I was checking my mirrors and I saw Mike Ryves’ ex-Alec Mildren BT11 that Kevin Bartlett raced in 1966/67 and I thought: "I could be Bib Stillwell leading KB!" It was a surreal moment and one that I’ll probably never forget. I guess that’s one more thing ticked off the bucket list.
1964 Repco-Brabham BT11A
Engine: 24977cc, DOHC inline 4
Power: 178kW @ 6750
Weight: Approx 460kg
Gearbox: Hewland HD5 5-speed transaxle
Top Speed: N/A
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