News and views on motorsports

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Revolutionary Brabham BT55

The following video shows us some footage from testing at the Jacarapagua circuit in Rio de Jeneiro.

The Brabham BT55 was a very revolutionary car. Designed by Gordon Murray, it was the first ever Formula 1 car to feature a "flat-iron" design. This meant a very low profile that theoretically produced aerodynamic advantages, not least reducing drag through a lower frontal area. Up until the BT55 and later the McLaren MP4/4 of 1988 (also by Gordon Murray), cars were relatively tall, with drivers sitting upright in the seats. The Brabham was so low that drivers Riccardo Patrese and the late Elio de Angelis had to literally lie down in the cockpit. The low line design also necessitated in a lie-flat BMW turbo engine. Normally installed upright, the 4 cylinder engine had to be installed tilted to one side.

Whilst the car was revolutionary, it did have a host of problems. Transmissions being just one of them. Again, because it had such a low profile, it necessitated a new transmission design from transmission specialists Weismann. As with many technical innovations, the transmission kept breaking. Also, the car experienced cooling problems which necessitated bigger and repositioned radiators and additional vents which in turn increased drag and reduced downforce and because of the repositioning altered the weight balance. The resulting plumbing modifications also affected the turbo pipes which further reduced horsepower. All that theoretical aero advantage simply went out the window as a result.

In the end, the BT55 can be considered a failure and it was perhaps the last contribution of the once famous Brabham team to Formula 1. After that, team owner Bernie Ecclestone (yes him!) was too busy with FOCA to give a damn I suppose. But Gordon Murray would give the design concept another try at McLaren. The lessons learned from the BT55 would be applied to the all conquering McLaren MP4/4 of 1988 that took 15 out of 16 races that year. Significantly, Honda had produced a much lower RA168E turbo engine that didn't require any lying down design. But then again it was a V6 and that made things a lot easier.

After the MP4/4 everyone else would be using the low line concept and this continues till this day. For more info on the BT55, visit: and

Enough about the Brabham, watching the video one notices a few amusing things. Gordon Murray being interviewed in the pits half naked for instance. And so were the rest of the Brabham boys. My god, such things would never be allowed these days. Especially if it was Bernie who owned the bloody team.


Auto Racing said...

Great video!

Enrique Moreno said...

It's a shame the video is no longer available...

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