September 25, 2022

Tooele Historics: Brabham F1 Restoration

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Out in Tooele, at a shop at Miller Motorsports Park, is a man breathing life back into a pair of F1 chassis.  They aren’t ground breaking achievements in the sport, they’re a pair of chassis that more often than not finished poorly or failed to qualify.  They were made by a historic name, during an uneventful time in their history.  They are a pair of Brabham chassis, a BT59 and a BT60, and they’re being restored by Steven Costello, a man who knows more about putting these together than any of us ever could.

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I say he knows more about this because he does.  He has had a long career in motorsports, both driving and turning wrenches.  In the nineties he was one of a handful of Americans working as mechanics in Formula 1.  He was employed by Equipe Ligier, and now he’s using those years of knowledge to bring yet another Brabham chassis to life for Race Co.

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These chassis were bought at auction by a pair of brothers.  Included in their purchase were all manner of spares, fasteners, and paperwork including spec sheets for individual practices, qualifying sessions and races.  The brothers plan to race these things, against each other, at Miller upon their completion.  When I stopped in on Halloween Steven had the BT59 on stands, with the Judd V8 mounted.  It was looking like a race car, while the BT60 was still in pieces.  The 59 was more complete, but still nowhere near done.  It was waiting on some components to be shipped back from being rebuilt.  You can’t easily find some of these parts, and you can’t just drop it off at your local shop to be rebuilt or tackle it yourself with your handy dandy socket set.

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And some of the parts had to be sent off for inspection.  Those suspension arms you see next to the blue tote?  They were x-rayed to ensure they weren’t cracked.  And they aren’t powder coated.  It’s a special compound that you see on every major open wheel car, because it’s lighter and doesn’t hinder inspection processes.

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Speaking of lightness, do you see all of those containers?  They’re full of fasteners.  Fasteners made of titanium.  This is a back marker team.  A team that finished 9th in the Constructor’s Championship in 1990, and was doing so bad in the first half of 1991 that the FIA made them pre-qualify for races in the second half of the season.  And they outright failed to qualify twice!  They finished 9th in the Constructor’s Championship behind a struggling Lotus, and then collapsed.

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After a team collapses things go up for sale.  Sometimes the people who buy the team’s assets use them in their own attempt to race.  Others buy the big, showy pieces (engines, cockpits, nose cones, spoilers, etc) and display them or piece together a shell of a car for display purposes.  And sometimes a privateer buys them, and takes them to a place that has experience with rebuilding old chassis, in an effort to bring them back to life so they can go race them.  Thankfully those brothers took the latter route, and took them to a great shop who brought in an extremely knowledgeable man to bring them back to life.  Hopefully we’ll see the cars back together, out pairing off with the BT60 chassis Race Co already restored this year, in our own historic gathering.

Words and photos by Michael Chandler
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