Model history: Seeking an advantage over his Cosworth engined rivals, Brabham supremo Bernie Ecclestone signed an exclusive deal with Alfa Romeo to use their three-litre, 12-cylinder engine for the 1976 season. The Ferrari engine of a similar design had just clinched both titles, so Ecclestone's surprising choice did have some reason behind it. What also helped was that the engines would be supplied free of charge and that it would most certainly appeal to Brabham's Italian sponsor Martini & Rossi. Arranging the deal would turn out to be the easiest part of the Brabham and Alfa Romeo partnership.
Although new to Formula 1, the twelve cylinder engine had already served three seasons in the back of the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 sports racers, culminating in a dominant victory in the 1975 World Championship. Following the example set by Ferrari a few years earlier, Alfa Romeo's Carlo Chiti opted to use a 180 V-angle for the 12-cylinder engine. The horizontally opposed configuration naturally resulted in a very low centre of gravity. Like all its peers, Alfa's flat 12 featured twin overhead camshafts, actuating four valves per cylinder. The 1975 results had shown the engine to be able to produce around 500 bhp very reliably.
Responsible for the rest of the car was Gordon Murray, whose previous Brabham designs had been increasingly competitive. The Cosworth engined BT44 had won three Grands Prix in 1975 and was used as a basis for the new BT45. In line with the new engine, the tub was slightly lower and wider than that of its predecessor. The biggest change was the need for pontoon extensions at the rear to carry part of the weight of the engine and the suspension loads. The BT44B's unusual semi-in-board and push-rod actuated front suspension was carried over. A Hewland sourced gearbox, with five and later six forward ratios, completed the package.
At its launch the BT45 sported two very striking air-intakes for the engines that were mounted on the edges of the left and right side-pods. These were quickly abandoned and the white Martini livery was also replaced by a similar, red paint-scheme. Both 1975 drivers, the Brazilian Carlos Pace and Argentinian Carlos Reutemann, were retained. Their talent and experience could do little to hide the new Brabham's imperfections. The flat 12 proved to be over-weight and under-powered. The drivers also complained that the handling was not up to scratch. The best result of the year was a third for Pace in the French Grand Prix. Brabham slipped from 2nd to 9th in the constructor's tables.
Over the winter Murray went back to the drawing boards and devised a B-specification of the BT45 with revised rear suspension, different engine mounts and a lighter gearbox. Reutemann could not bare another season with the Brabham Alfa and left for Ferrari at the end of 1976. Pace decided to give it another go but he was tragically killed in aircraft accident early in 1977. The Alfa-engined Brabham again had its finest moment during the French Grand Prix, where John Watson placed his BT45B second behind Mario Andretti's Lotus. The boost in performance showed at the end of the season, although fifth in the constructor's championship was still low for Brabham's standards.
Despite two difficult seasons, Ecclestone remained loyal to the Italian manufacturer. Murray worked his magic and created the revolutionary BT46, which used heat-exchangers mounted on the flanks to cool the engine. It did not work quite as well as hoped for and a redesign was called for. To bridge the gap, Brabham fielded the BT45C, with a revised radiator, in the opening races. New signing and reigning World ChampionNiki Lauda finished second and third in the season's opening races. The Brabham - Alfa Romeo partnership finally bore fruit when Lauda took a win with the controversial BT46 fan-car later in the year. He won again with a more conventional version of the BT46 and Brabham was up to third in the championship.
This is the first of five BT45s built for the 1976 season. It was raced throughout that year, predominantly by Carlos Pace but also by Carlos Reutemann. The best result in 1976 was a fourth for Carlos Reutemann during the Spanish Grand Prix. Updated to BT45B specification, it was raced for another full season by several drivers. John Watson managed to place it third in the non-championship Race of the Champions at Brands Hatch. Still in its 1977 guise, it is seen here at the Alfa Romeo Museo Storico in 2006.
Chassis BT45/2 was used for the six of the first eight races in 1976 season by Carlos Reutemann. Its results are illustrative of the Argentinian's horrendous run with the Alfa Romeo engined Brabhams. He was forced to retire four times and when he did manage to reach the finish, he was in 11th and 12th position. After finishing 11th in the French Grand Prix, the chassis was not used again. Today it is owned by a German Historic racer, who has had it restored to full running. As far as we know, chassis BT45/2 is the only Alfa Romeo engined Brabham that is used today. It is seen here in action during the 2008 Monaco Historic Grand Prix.