In 1966-’67, Repco-powered Brabhams won the F1 constructor’s championship and delivered driver’s titles for Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme. The introduction of the all-new Repco Brabham BT26 for the 1968 season was meant to keep the team atop the standings, but instead, the new car finished just two races (actually, a single race, but with two cars) in its debut year. Redemption came in 1969, courtesy of a switch to Ford Cosworth power, and in March 2019 the 1968 Brabham BT26A that carried Jacky Ickx to two wins and two additional podiums crosses the auction block at Bonhams Amelia Island sale.
Like the BT24 that preceded it, the BT26 was designed by Ron Tauranac and utilized spaceframe construction, but with an innovative twist. To permit the use of thinner (and hence, lighter) tubing, Tauranac used aluminum panels as stressed members, making the car semi-monocoque in construction. The car’s bodywork was molded of lightweight fiberglass, and the emphasis on weight savings was a direct attempt to construct a chassis competitive with the Lotus 49.
For the 1966-’67 seasons, Repco supplied a 3.0-liter, single overhead-camshaft V-8 that used two valves per cylinder. By 1967, this Repco 700 series was producing nearly 330 horsepower, with reasonable reliability. When the Ford Cosworth DFV appeared at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix, however, the Repco 700 series was suddenly obsolete, down roughly 80 horsepower to the Cosworth V-8. The new DFV engine had its teething problems, as did the Lotus 49 chassis, which allowed the Brabham team to enjoy another successful championship season.
To produce enough horsepower to challenge the DFV, for 1968 Repco engineered a new double overhead-camshaft V-8 with four valves per cylinder, capable of producing 400 horsepower at 9,500 rpm. The Repco RB860 used gear-driven camshafts, a complex arrangement that proved to be the engine’s undoing. Even reducing the redline to 9,000 rpm (which cut output to roughly 380 hp) wasn’t enough to make the RB860 reliable, and in its debut year the new BT26 chassis finished just two races (the German Grand Prix, where Jochen Rindt finished third and Jack Brabham fifth).
The Brabham team’s lack of competitiveness in 1968 saw driver Rindt depart for Lotus in 1969. In an effort to recover from the squad’s disastrous year, Brabham switched to Ford Cosworth DFV power in 1969, hiring up-and-coming driver Jacky Ickx to replace Rindt. The BT26 carried over from the year before, but modified to accept the DFV engine, became known as the BT26A.
Chassis BT26-3, the Brabham set to cross the auction block at Amelia Island, debuted at the 1968 Oulton Park Gold Cup race (a non-championship event), where Rindt’s day ended with a Did Not Finish (DNF). The remaining three events on the 1968 calendar ended for Rindt in an identical manner, and the car was upgraded to BT26A specifications ahead of the 1969 season.
At the 1969 season-opening race in South Africa, Ickx retired early with ignition issues, and a non-championship race at Brands Hatch also ended in a DNF. At the Silverstone International Trophy event, another non-championship race, Ickx drove BT26A-3 to a fourth-place finish, followed by a sixth-place finish at the Spanish GT five weeks later. At Zandvoort, Ickx drove the car to a fifth-place finish, and two weeks later, scored his first podium for Brabham in the French GP, finishing third.
Ickx’s first win in chassis BT26A-3 came at the Oulton Park Gold Cup race (another excluded from the championship), and a month later, he scored a victory with the car in the Canadian Grand Prix. The United States Grand Prix ended in another DNF, but in Mexico, Ickx finished second. His performance in the 1969 season was good enough for him to finish second in points behind Jackie Stewart, and Brabham-Ford ended its season second in the constructor points, behind Matra Ford. It wasn’t exactly redemption for Brabham and the BT26, but it was a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Rule changes for the 1970 season rendered the BT26 and BT26A obsolete, and chassis BT26A-3 was sold to Douglas Champlin, who enlisted driver Gus Hutchison to run the car in SCCA Formula 5000 competition. He finished second at the December 1969 L&M F5000 Championship at Sebring, and contested the first six races of the 1970 season with BT26A-3 before switching to a Lola chassis. Brabham BT26A-3 made one final Grand Prix start, at the October 1970 U.S. Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, where Hutchison’s day ended with a fuel leak and a DNF.
According to Race-Cars.com, BT26A-3 was sold by Champlin in 1985, and was subsequently restored to its appearance at the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix. It retains this livery today and has been run at a variety of vintage events in North America over the past three decades.
Just five BT26 / BT26A chassis were ever constructed, and four remain today. Of these, three were raced in-period, with BT26A-3 being one of two with Grand Prix wins; with this history in mind, Bonhams has set a pre-auction estimate of $1.0 million to $1.3 million.
The Amelia Island Sale takes place on March 7, 2019, at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club in Fernandina Beach, Florida. For additional information, visit Bonhams.com.