In fact production of their first Brabham FJ cars began in Victoria Road, Surbiton, using a warehouse property rented for them, then sub-let, by Repco’s UK marketing arm. In return the cars would be marketed under the ‘Repco Brabham’ name. Repco had a major interest down-under in Tasman Formula racing dominated by 2 ½-litre Climax 4-cylinder engines, for which Repco manufactured many parts and with Coventry Climax’s blessing ran a sales and service programme for Australia and New Zealand.
What became the Repco V8 Formula 1 engine for 1966 was conceived in January 1964, when Repco’s Melbourne management appreciated that supplies of Climax 4-cylinder engine parts would probably dry up within the life of the existing Tasman Formula. Chief Engineering Frank Hallam and Project Engineer Phil Irving – of UK Vincent motor-cycle fame – were authorized to produce a new engine suitable for Tasman racing, and which would fit into the existing Repco Brabham Tasman chassis.
Their answer – with Jack Brabham’s encouragement – was a V8 based upon an existing General Motors-made Oldsmobile F85 all-aluminium cylinder block. The American project had flopped and Repco effectively picked up some of the pieces, while Bruce McLaren picked up most of the remainder for his initial McLaren-Oldsmobile sports car programme.
Hallam found that the Olds V8 block could accommodate a range of displacements from 2.5 to 4.4-litres. It needed stiffening and its original central camshaft was replaced by a still-humble single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, in new cylinder heads. With only two valves per cylinder it was a very modest and ‘un-racy’ architecture, but the resultant 3-litre Formula 1 V8 was intensely practical, and light, and economical, and Clever! Here was Aussie can-do at its finest.
Only 51 weeks after Hallam and Irving had first set pen to paper, on March 21, 1965, the Repco V8 ran for the first time on a Melbourne dyno. The engine provided a broad and useable power band, promising great drivability. It offered useful torque from 3,500rpm, began to fly at 4,000, and gave peak torque at 6,000. It would rev freely to 8,000rpm – and it weighed only 340lbs. Fuel consumption was around 8mpg.
In Ron Tauranac’s proven recipe of lightweight, good handling multi-tubular spaceframe chassis, this uncompromisingly sensible racing engine looked good for the opening season of an otherwise complex new racing Formula. To save time the little Brabham Racing Organisation team based beside the River Wey Navigation at New Haw Lock, Byfleet, dusted-off a hitherto unused chassis built for the still-born Coventry Climax flat-16 engine of 1965 – the Repco Brabham BT19. This unique car used unusual oval-section tubing to strengthen the customarily weak area around the cockpit opening, and it would be joined in the little team by a pair of dedicated new Repco Brabham BT20 chassis, to be driven by Jack’s chosen new number two driver Denny Hulme, and also subsequently – late-season ’66 – by himself.