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Interview: How the Brabham BT62 supercar came to be

By Alex Inwood, 03 May 2018 News

Interview: How the Brabham BT62 supercar came to be

The $1.8 million supercar project had its genesis in Adelaide just over two years ago. Here’s the story of how it happened, in David Brabham’s own words

BRABHAM Automotive will soon start building the $1.8 million BT62 in a 15,000-square-metre factory in Adelaide’s Edinburgh Parks industrial estate ahead of the supercar’s first deliveries, expected late this year.

The Brabham BT62’s genesis has come from an unusual path, with investors approaching Brabham Automotive managing director David Brabham, the youngest son of three-times F1 Drivers’ Championship winner Sir Jack Brabham and himself an accomplished racing driver, about giving him the means to realise his dream of once more stamping the Brabham name on a race car.

 

Helping Brabham Automotive achieve that dream is Fusion Capital, an investment fund with a base in Adelaide. Christian Reynolds, a representative of Fusion Capital, is a skilled engineer who has previously worked for the likes of MG Rover, BMW, Lotus, and electric vehicle disruptor Tesla where he helped to establish the Californian carmaker’s production process.

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Before this, his most recent role was heading up the Australian offshoot of global automotive parts supplier ZF making vehicle components in Adelaide for Holden. Reynolds takes on a hands-on role with Brabham; he will head up the BT62’s manufacturing process.

Funds derived from the BT62 are expected to help drive Brabham’s tilt at another 24 Hours of Le Mans line honours. The race driver’s ambition to make a return to endurance racing was flagged by Project Brabham, an ambitious project sparked in 2014 to build a team via a global crowdfunding effort. The bid eventually closed with around 3000 backers pledging more than $500,000 to design, build and campaign a Le Mans entry, with anyone able to make input to the project’s design and engineering. But it was not enough, and the project stalled. From the ashes of that effort, though, the BT62 was born.

Wheels talked with Brabham about where the idea for the BT62 came from, and where he eventually wants to take it.

 

WHEELS: How did the BT62 project all start?
BRABHAM: How far back do you want to go? From my personal journey, 12 or 13 years ago I was 40 years of age and I thought ‘what am I going to do when I return’? Which I thought was going to be around 50. And I thought there’s something we can do with this iconic racing name that we have, I didn’t know what or how.

So the dream of bringing Brabham back to market actually started back then. I was still racing and of course then I got involved in a legal battle over the Brabham name, which has been well publicised, [and] which took about seven years to sort out. And since then it’s been slowly building up to the point where we’ve been ready to have robust conversations with people who are willing to have our involvement as such. So we got ourselves to that point when the guys in Australia and I got together, which was in early 2016, and that’s where it all started.

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W: Is there any Aussie connection?
B: The Australian connection is really deep. My father was born there [David Brabham currently lives in the UK], you’ve got the Repco connection in the ’60s when they won the world championship, and Brabham has always been in two places. It’s an Anglo-Australian brand. We’ve got roots in Australia and gone out into the rest of the world and done our business. So that concept of what we’re doing with this program is very much aligned with what we’re doing now. What happened in the ’60s is happening … now.

Why Australia? I think it’s a fantastic opportunity with manufacturing having left those great shores and has left a bit of a void with a lot of well-trained, talented engineers and people. A project like this can tap into that as and when it needs. And the link back to Australia for us as a family. The capabilities you have down there particularly with the [Fusion] Group with their manufacturing capabilities.

I’m a common sense type of person. If it makes sense to me, I’m in. If it doesn’t make sense to me, I’m out. It’s that simple. And to me, everything that this group is about, what we’ve done and how we’ve done it up to the launch has made all good very common sense.

W: How involved are you? What’s your title?
B: When we first met, and obviously there was a period of due diligence to find out who the [Fusion] Group is, what they’re about, what their capabilities are, we started to talk about visions and I said “look, I’m either involved or I’m not”. So for me this was all hands on deck.

We’re going to be producing a high-performance vehicle – it’s got to have Brabham, and David Brabham’s DNA in it. I’ve driven a lot of vehicles over 35 years, I know what I want from a car and this is what we’ve produced. So I’ve been very much involved in it.

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My title is managing director, and I’m helping bring the team, all the people and the resources, together. And we’re not just thinking about what we’re doing today, but what we want to do tomorrow. And I’ve got a really good core group of people beneath me and I’m sure you’ve had some good conversations with Christian about their capabilities and experience and for me that’s really, really important.

I have the responsibility of bringing the Brabham name back, I had to make sure that every box was ticked so it’s going to last. This is a long-term plan, this isn’t a “let’s build something and see how we get on”. We’ve got a long-term vision and I needed to make sure we had the resources, and the finances, to back that up. And we do have that.

W: Where has the financial backing come from?
B: That’s within the Fusion Group. They’ve got the money, the resources to be able to do this project, and they have to date as we’ve shown. We didn’t want to say, “oh look this is what we want to do in the future, here’s a rendering”, we needed to be demonstrable straight away and go bang, here were are, this is who we are, this is what we’re doing. No one has known about this for two years I think it’s taken everyone by absolute surprise. That was deliberate. To make a real impact in today’s world we had to come out looking really strong.

We’ve got a product, we can go to market and normally that doesn’t happen. So we’re doing things in a Brabham way, we’re doing things a bit differently, we’re being bold, we’ve backed ourselves, we’ve gone a direction with the car purely because that’s what we want out of the vehicle and it’s bloody exciting. Everyone is sitting there saying “where the hell has this come from!?” It’s drawn a tremendous amount of interest globally. I’ve shocked everybody, we’ve kept it water tight.

W: So what is the Brabham BT62 like to drive?
B: I’ve driven the car on quite a few circuits. It’s what I wanted. I’ve been driving for 35 years. I’ve done single seaters, I’ve done sportscars, I’ve done touring cars. If you look at sportscars I’ve done GT2, GT1, GT3, LMP2, LMP1, so I’ve got a very broad spectrum of vehicles. I know what I want out of the vehicle. I want something that’s a 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.

So in terms of a potential customer, we want someone to think “I want to challenge myself, I want to take myself to a new limit and this is the car to do it in”. And it’s such a great car to drive because it just does what you want, how you want it, and yet it challenges you at the same time. And you get the feeling of the rawness of a racecar as well, which was really important.

W: Why use an atmo V8? Why not hybrid or electric?
B: It’s not because we just plucked an engine out; there’s a strategy behind it. We’ve got racing in our sights. A lot of the architecture we’ve done around the car and the engine is based around where we want to go with that. We don’t want to be reinventing the wheel at this stage.

A lot of people like V8s. It sounds bloody awesome and from a packaging point of view and regulation of where we want to go from a racing point of view, it just fits. It works.

W: Will you be entering the BT62 in any racing categories?
B: The car’s not been designed for someone to go and race, this is just a pure track car. But because of the way the architecture has been put together it allows us to move quickly into the next variant which will help us to achieve what we want to achieve…

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W: Who heads up your engine development?
B: We have a group of engineers.

W: So it’s done internally?
B: There’s been a lot of work put on it. We’ve got a team that’s helped shaped that and we’ve obviously used external resources.

W: The car looks great. Did you have involvement into how it looks?
B: When I got there I saw some ideas and rendering of what this landscape would look like, and as we’ve developed we’ve fine-tuned and tweaked accordingly. I actually think it has an identity of its own, which is really important, and those design cues will flow through the next variant of cars so you’ve got that common thread; so it becomes “that’s a Brabham”

W: The Brabham will be built in Australia, so how much Aussie engineering is in the BT62, and how much of the workforce will be sourced from here?
B: We’ve already got the people we need right now and obviously as the business grows we’ll need to expand. Like I said earlier there’s a lot of great resources in Australia and in South Australia because of the manufacturing that’s been there for so long and the other businesses that tie into those manufacturers have reached a very good level. And I’ve worked with lots of Australians in racing, and in America, and they’re just really good, practical engineers. They’re just perfect for what we need.

W: Was Fusion Group already planning a car, and then approached you?
B: They approached me, I didn’t approach them. We were introduced by a mutual friend so they knew that I was trying to do something to get Brabham out there, and they obviously had a vision and it just made sense for us to come together. And that’s what happened. We ticked a lot of each other’s boxes. You go for years talking to lots of different people and we’ve been approached loads of times in the past and mostly they’re time wasters.

So when we got this approach the first thing I had to do was fly down to Adelaide and really get a good sense. It sounded good on the phone, but you’ve got to get down there and get a sense of what the capability is like, [what’s] the experience like? And I left there going “I think there’s an opportunity here”, and it evolved from there.

W: Are there plans to build a road car?
B: We have aspirations. We have a long way to go before we get to that point.

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W: Does a GT3 version of the BT62 make the most sense for racing, given where that category is?
B: What are we saying on this?
SPOKESMAN: Um… Le Mans is certainly in our sights…
B: Yes
S: ...and given our background that makes a lot of sense.

W: Would you race the BT62 yourself, David?
B: I have been driving it, but in terms of where we take the team? Let’s say hypothetically we do WEC, and do Le Mans, it’s too early to say if I’d be driving it. There’s part of me that would love to, having raced there 18 times and to go there driving a Brabham would be pretty cool, but it’s too early to make that call.

W: The car is named the BT62. Why not name it the BT61?
B: The fortunate thing I have is 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, they wrote what car model, what year and the specs and how many were built, etcetera. So every year I’ve got a list and it goes all the way to a BT61, but the BT61 was drawn but it was never built. So that’s why, to continue that lineage and honour Jack and Ron (Tauranac, Sir Jack’s former team owner) with the BT, it made sense to make this, journey and chapter, a 62.