In the early 1960s designer Ron Tauranac and then two-time World Champion Jack Brabham joined forces and started the production of single seater and sports racing cars. Without real financial backing or a road car program to support the efforts, Tauranac and Brabham had to keep a very close eye on the expenses. The cars carried Brabham's name and the individual models the two partner's initials. A single car was produced in 1961, but things really got started in 1962 when 11 examples of the BT2 Formula Junior racer were produced. This customer car was followed later in the year by the one-off BT3 Formula 1 racer for Brabham to drive. In the car's second Grand Prix, Brabham drove it to a fourth place and as a result was the driver to ever score world championship points in a car bearing his own name.
Used in the wide variety of single seater championships, the Brabhams that followed the BT2 and BT3 all shared a very similar design. The simple spaceframe chassis proved very effective in the lower formula, but in reality was not going to cut against the more advanced Lotus 25s and more powerful Ferraris. Nevertheless, Dan Gurney managed to drive a Coventry Climax engined BT7 to the team's first Formula 1 victory in the 1964 French Grand Prix. As the 1.5 litre era drew to a close in 1965, Brabham was a well established manufacturer, producing dozens of cars per year. All that was needed now was success in Formula 1 and with a set of completely new rules and subsequently a level playing field, it was an ideal opportunity for Anglo-Australian team.
After running super light weight cars and high revving engines, the new 3-litre regulations proved quite a challenge for chassis and engine manufacturers alike. Both Coventry Climax and BRM attempted to carry over as much as possible from their 1.5-litre engines by designing overly complex 16 cylinder units. Ferrari seemed to have an edge with their vast experience with 3 litre V12 sportscar engines and even Maserati looked like a promising engine supplier with the V12 developed for the 250 F a few years earlier. Continuing their collaboration with Coventry Climax, Brabham started to work on a new car to adopt the proposed flat-16 engine in 1965. When it became clear that the engine would not arrive any time soon, the BT19 was set aside and the search for a new engine started.
In the off-season many teams traveled down under for the Tasman Series, which had a displacement limit of 2.5 litres. The European teams usually replaced the Coventry Climax V8 with a big four cylinder produced from the same manufacturer, but there was an Australian alternative developed by Frank Hallam and Phil Irving. Dubbed the Repco V8, it was originally derived from an all aluminium Oldsmobile engine. With the help of Brabham's engine man, John Judd, it was enlarged to displace just under the three litre limit. In this form it was good for around 300 bhp, which was by no means impressive, but it did produce a very flat torque curve. The engine was installed before the season started off and Brabham was one of the rare teams to actually have a three litre car at all. Compared the bulky competition, the one-off BT19 was very nimble and provided Jack Brabham with a string of wins and his third World Championship. Again he was the first driver to do so in a car bearing his name.
A few races into the 1966 season, the 3-litre car was joined by the BT20 built for teammate Denny Hulme. It served only for a few races and in the hands of the New Zeelander won only one race, the Monaco Grand Prix. Again following the trusty design principles a new single seater was designed for 1967; the BT23 for Formula 2 and the BT24 for Formula 1. The latter featured different suspension, brakes, wheels and gearbox to cope with the latest specification Repco engine, which now produced 330 bhp. The competition seemed to have gotten to grips with things and the days for Brabham seemed numbered. Fortunately the rock-solid reliability and nimbleness again proved too much for the more advanced competition and the BT24 scored three 1-2 finishes in the hands of Brabham and Hulme. Together with the Monaco win in the BT20, it was enough for Hulme to score his first Driver's Championship, just ahead of his boss. The team won the Constructor's Championship for the second year running.
Featured above is the second of two BT20s constructed and it bears the serial number F1-2-1966. It was Denny Hulme's car and propelled him to victory in the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix. The New Zeelander finished on the podium on several occasions and in doing so scored enough points to win the 1967 Driver's Championship. After its active career the car was rarely seen, but it came out of hiding for the 1997 Monaco Historic Grand Prix where it finished second, exactly thirty years after Hulme's win. Since then it has been completely restored and it was offered by Christie's in their 2007 Retromobile sale. The Repco engined BT20 found a new owner for just over 400,000 Euro.