Green & Gold

BRABHAM RETURNS TO PUT ADELAIDE ON THE GLOBAL STAGE WITH A $1.8M 522KW FERRARI KILLER

WORDS RYAN LEWIS

WHEELS EXCLUSIVE

THIS is the Br he Brabham BT62. It is not a concept car. It is not a hypothetical rendering years from production. It hiis here, now, as a fully formed supercar customers will take delivery of before the year is out. And the best bit? It’s built right here in Australia, by Australians.

Here are the headline numbers: 5.4-litre naturally aspirated V8, 522kW at 7400rpm, 667Nm at 6200rpm, 972kg dry. It is an all-out attack on the track-only toys from the likes of Ferrari’s FXX program, and even the McLaren Senna GTR, and has the esteem of a marque etched into Formula 1 legend.

Brabham’s re-emergence has been shrouded in secrecy since the family won a court battle to protect the name in early 2013. The BT62 project has been on the boil behind closed doors for the last two years. Brabham is one of the most evocative names in motorsport, with intrinsic Australian DNA, and its return to the automotive landscape has been extremely calculated in execution. Managing it is respected racing driver – and youngest son of Sir Jack – David Brabham, and a team of businesspeople split between Australia and the United Kingdom.

Christian Reynolds is one such businessman. He’s an ex-pat working in Adelaide as both a Brabham Automotive director and representative for Fusion Capital Partners, a private equity firm that has backed the initial phase of Brabham’s return.

“[Fusion Capital was] looking at the opportunity in this market in late 2015. We were fairly well through mature concept planning, and through mutual contacts we were introduced to David. It snowballed pretty quickly from that point. We started worki d king through h h how we could align what we saw in the market with the revival of the Brabham brand, and set out how we would work together to deliver a program like the BT62.”

Brabham tells Wheels: “When we first met we started to talk about visions. I said, ‘I’m either involved or I’m not.’ For me this was all hands on deck. If we’re producing a high-performance vehicle it’s got to have Brabham DNA in it.”

Reynolds is the man overseeing the 15,000sqm production facility in an undisclosed Adelaide suburb, keeping engineering and operations teams on schedule. His employment history reads like a who’s who of lightweight performance experts and disruptive business pioneers including Lotus and Tesla.

Before Brabham Automotive, Reynolds was managing director of ZF’s Australian arm, with a direct line into Holden through the axle and chassis work undertaken by the firm for General Motors. His exposure to the manufacturing industry in South Australia primed him to leverage our existing expertise and infrastructure, and to bring the right people in from local OEMs, thirdparty suppliers and even Supercars race teams.

“The supply base and the capability has always been here to develop advanced product. In both advanced manufacturing and advanced engineering it’s actually quite a logical choice to use that installed capacity and supply base.”

Brabham agrees. “It’s a fantastic opportunity with manufacturing having left these great shores. There’s a bit of a void with a lot of well-trained, talented engineers and people. A project like this can tap into that,” he says.

TWO STEP

Production of BT62 is limited to 70 examples, in reference to 2018 as Brabham’s 70th anniversary year. The first 35 will be Celebration cars, painted in race-inspired liveries that honour each of Brabham’s 35 Grand Prix victories, with an individual commemorative plaque placed on the dashboard. Every Celebration car will be unique. The second half will be Signature cars, configured by their owners. “If somebody says I want to do something a little bit out there and I want to have a car that’s customisable fully to me, we’ll work to do that as well.”

WHERE’S BT61?

“I have a list that was drawn up by every designer that graced the Brabham Formula 1 team where they all wrote, on the same piece of paper, what car model, what year, the specs and how many were built,” says Brabham. “So every year I’ve got a list and it goes all the way to a BT61. The BT61 was drawn but it was never built. So that’s why to continue that lineage and honour Jack and Ron with the BT it made sense to make this chapter a 62.”

THE COCKPIT

BEHIND BRABHAM

David Brabham

Former Formula 1 racer and sportscar specialist with multiple Le Mans victories to his name. Youngest of Sir Jack Brabham’s three sons, and uncle to Matt Brabham.

Paul Birch

Technical engineering director with 15 years powertrain and electronics experience; 12 years at Lotus from 1999 to 2011 and three years at Caterham from 2011 to 2014.

Christian Reynolds

Australian-based director with background in automotive operations at MG Rover, BMW, Lotus, Tom Walkinshaw Racing and Tesla. Moved here to head ZF’s local outfit before Brabham.

On paper there’s no immediate link between Australia’s history of building large sedans and a high-end track-focused supercar carrying a A$1.8m price tag. And the Brabham couldn’t be further from a Commodore or Falcon.

" I SAID 'I'M EITHER OR I'M NOT'. IT WAS ALL HANDS ON DECK THE CAR HAS ALL HANDS ON DECK. THE CAR HAS TO HAVE BRABHAM IN IT"

– David Brabham

Composite materials feature heavily, including extensive use of carbonfibre for the main body panels, the floor and barge boards, and all aerodynamic additions. Carbon-Kevlar is used for the wheel houses, and it is pure racecar everywhere else. Doublewishbones with adjustable pushrod-actuated Ohlins dampers hang off each corner. There’s an air-jacking system, dry-break fuel fillers in the rear quarter windows and on-board telemetry data acquisition. Stopping power comes from enormous carbon-oncarbon six-piston Brembo brakes – 380mm front, 355mm rear. The gearbox is an Australian-made, air-shifted Hollinger sequential with six forward ratios that sends drive to the rear wheels from the dry-sumped Brabham-branded 5387cc quad-cam V8.

Pressed for details about the engine, Reynolds is frustratingly reluctant to share. He is instead keen to point out the BT62’s powerplant is vastly different from anything available off the shelf, and is Brabham in personality as much as in spec.

A little digging suggests the base engine is sourced from Ford, and most closely related to the 5.2-litre ‘Voodoo’ V8 with flatplane crankshaft found in the Shelby GT350 and GT350R, itself a development of the 5.0-litre ‘Coyote’ V8 that powers the regular Mustang.

“We engaged an OEM and talked to them about a personalised development program,” says Reynolds. “They were supportive at that level, but we took the engine and heavily customised it to suit the attributes of our vehicle and agreed with the OEM that the engineering work is such the engine can be called a Brabham based on its departure from anything they do in any sector of automotive.

“We’ve customised and re-engineered it to be very, very specific to this vehicle. The design specifications are under control of Brabham. You cannot go out and procure an engine of this configuration.”

Brabham adds they didn’t simply grab the first V8 they could find. “There’s a strategy behind it,” he says. “We’ve got racing in our sites. A lot of the architecture we’ve done around the car and the engine is based around where we want to go with that.”

Push for clarification about which category the BT62 will compete in and Brabham’s representatives are cagey, though the official line is, “Le Mans is in our sites.”

A focus on the racetrack means aerodynamic performance is paramount. Sculpted bodywork scoops air around the purpose-built chassis, applying downforce via blades and canards and an adjustable dual-element rear wing optimised using computational fluid dynamics.

Again, more secrets surround the source of the car’s emotive design. Reynolds cites the support of a ‘well-respected international partner’, but there’s no namechecking when pressed for specifics.

Elements of its form resemble themes seen in other high-performance vehicles from McLaren and even Lamborghini that have a focus on air management, though as a whole the BT62 is far from derivative.

“What you see in the finished vehicle is the battle between form and function,” says Reynolds. “We’re bet re-establishing the marque, so there are subtleties in re-e the design in terms of the taillights, door depth to sill the position, that will continue to identify brand vehicles pos going forward.”

“It has an identity of its own, which is really important,” says Brabham. “Those design cues will imp w through the next variant of cars so you’ve got that flow common thread and it becomes ‘that’s a Brabham’.

BRABS ON BT62

“I’ve driven the car on quite a few circuits. It’s what I wanted. I’ve been driving for 35 years – single seaters, sportscars, touring cars – a very broad spectrum. I want something that’s going to challenge me, so it’s got to be fast. It’s got to be stable, it can’t be too edgy or too difficult to drive, it’s got to have a reasonable window that gives the driver confidence. It’s great because it just does what you want, how you want it, and yet it challenges you at the same time. You get the rawness of a racecar as well, which was really important. It sounds bloody awesome. It works.”

But track-only supercars are not the only goal B or Brabham Automotive. The BT62 is a means of for establishing credibility. Beyond racing as the next step, esta the eventual target is street-legal road cars.

“Aspirationally we understand where we want to end up, and we’ve entered this venture with a long-term bus business plan,” says Reynolds. “It’s fair to say we have to e to earn the right to grow, and we believe BT62 is the righ right product to re-establish the brand and give people confidence in the validity of the company.

“The automotive industry will see a growth in what we we refer to as A-to-A vehicles. Whether that be on the the road or out on track. We’ve developed a platform stru structure that will lead us toward competition.”

IT ISN’T A RENDERING. USTOMERS WILL TAKE ELIVERY LATER THIS YEAR

“We have the team in place that has engineered the firs st vehicle, we are in the mature concept phase for the the follow-on vehicle, and specification ready on the thir third generation after that,” says Reynolds.

Presently, Brabham Automotive operations are div vided into two main camps, with a core team in Australia responsible for delivery of the physical Aus oject, and a crew in the UK charged with technical pro engineering and sales.

Mystery surrounds the exact scale of the fledgling enterprise in terms of personnel and the depth of ent talent at its disposal. Specifics are being kept behind tale a curtain, for now, but there is a clear roadmap laid a cu out beyond BT62’s launch and the people to deliver it, out according to the company.

“We don’t really want to say how many people are in t in the business. We’ll disclose how big we are later on on for you to understand the true horsepower behind this this venture,” says Reynolds. “We’ve gone two and a hal half years being very comfortable not telling people eve everything that we’ve done and who we are, and that’s part of our continued plan going forward.”

The development program has seen the car tested at s at several Aussie locations, including Phillip Island Gra and Prix Circuit where it’s understood the brief was to a to achieve a 1:22.0 – an outright record – making it nine sec seconds per lap quicker than a V8 Supercar. Brabham won’t say whether that target has been met. Not won bec because they didn’t time it, but because it represents yet yet another ace tucked up its sleeve for drip-feeding.

The Brabham BT62 is the most ambitious, most exp expensive production car this country has ever pro oduced, and most likely the fastest. Whether it can del deliver on the performance promise, and successfully com command its phenomenal asking price against brands wit with established credentials remains to be seen, but on paper, this is no flash in the pan. Brabham is back.