Born in Gillingham, Kent Ron moved with his family to Australia when he was three years old. During World War 2 he trained as a fighter pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force, rose to the rank of Flight Sergeant but never saw action before the end of the conflict. He obtained employment as a draughtsman while studying business management and psychology in the evening, all of which were to stand him in good stead when he returned to England in 1960 to join Jack Brabham’s new business. In fact Ron’s first involvement in motor sport, both as a driver and constructor, was in Australia in 1950 with his younger brother Austin. Ron having absorbed all the technical literature then available about the theory of design the brothers’ first car, powered by a 500 cc Norton engine, enjoyed not a little success with Ron behind the wheel, on one notable occasion defeating Australia’s leading driver of the time, a certain Jack Brabham. The car was called the Ralt by deploying the brothers’ initials (Ron and Austin Lewis Tauranac).
In 1953 Ron and Jack shared a Holden in the first Redex Round Australia Trial. Two years later Jack headed for England but did not forget Ron’s talents and kept in touch by letter seeking his friend’s thoughts on ways of improving the Coopers which he was then driving. In 1959 Jack won his first World Championship and set his sights on establishing his own racing team. He encouraged Ron to ‘come over and join him’ and so it was that in 1960 Ron returned to the country of his birth with his wife Norma and daughter Jann. A second daughter, Julie, would be born in 1962.
At first Ron worked for Jack Brabham Conversions improving the performance of road cars such as the Sunbeam Rapier and Triumph Herald but by 1961 Motor Racing Developments had produced its first Formula Junior designed by Ron. Initially called the MRD until it was pointed out that this had unfortunate connotations when pronounced in French, the prototype became the Brabham BT1. The ‘BT’ designation was to be the closest acknowledgement there ever would be of the Tauranac name in the cars which he was responsible for. The promise shown by the MRD in the latter part of the 1961 season in the hands of Gavin Youl attracted orders for a production run of 11 BT2s for the 1962 season. Driven by the likes of Frank Gardner and Jo Schlesser, the BT2 was an immediate success and the Brabham/Tauranac partnership was on its way as a manufacturer of racing cars.
While masterminding the production of the BT2, Ron was also designing his first Formula 1 car, the BT3, which made its debut in the 1962 German Grand Prix from which it retired with throttle linkage problems. The BT3’s second outing was in an almost full strength Oulton Park Gold Cup in which Jack finished third behind Jimmy Clark’s Lotus Type 25 and Graham Hill’s BRM P57, that season’s two principal World Championship contenders. Dan Gurney joined for the 1963 season and stayed for the next three years, to the end of the 1500 cc Formula 1, giving the Brabham marque its first World Championship race win in the 1964 French Grand Prix at Rouen with the BT7. Jack had already won non-championship F1 races at Solitude and Zeltweg in 1963 with the BT3.
With the advent of the 3-litre Formula 1 in 1966, Ron produced the relatively simple Repco V8-powered BT19, BT20 and BT24 designs to give Jack his third world title in 1966 which Denny Hulme followed in ‘67. In 1968 an unreliable new Repco engine meant that the hoped for success with Jochen Rindt did not materialise. Jacky Ickx replaced Jochen for 1969, winning the German and Canadian Grands Prix. Until now, all Brabhams from Formula 1 through to Formula 3 had been designed with spaceframe chassis but for 1970, Jack’s last season, Ron came up with his first monocoque design, the BT33. A winner first time out in the South African Grand Prix, the BT33 also came close to winning at Monaco, Brands Hatch and Jarama and give Jack a fourth World title but it wasn’t to be.
At the end of 1969 Jack sold his shareholding in MRD to Ron who took on full responsibility not only for the Formula 1 effort but also the flourishing customer car side of the business where Brabham had become the car of choice in Formula 2 and formula 3 for a galaxy of future Formula 1 stars. Given that Brabham was operating in a competitive market, unlike today where there are very few manufacturers of single-seater racing cars, it was an extraordinary achievement that 79 F3 cars were made in 1965 in addition to a further 12 F2 cars. Similar production figures were achieved in the next few years, speaking volumes both for the race-winning performance of Ron’s designs but also their dependability. When Bernie Ecclestone offered to buy the company from Ron in 1971, he agreed a deal on terms which he soon came to regret and within a year he had left the company of which he had been such an integral part.
For the next few years, Ron undertook various freelance projects with other F1 teams including Ligier, Williams, Trojan and Theodore Racing, the last of which resulted in the Theodore TR1 which famously won the 1978 Daily Express BRDC International Trophy in the hands of Keke Rosberg. However, the urge to produce customer cars had not gone away. Having come to know fellow Australian Larry Perkins in 1974, and working with him to sort out his F3 GRD 374, Ron was convinced that he could do better and drew up what became the Ralt RT1 with which Larry won the first European F3 Championship in 1975. Between 1975 and 1979, 165 RT1s were manufactured to be followed by 160 of its successor, the RT3, from 1980 to 1984 and over 130 of the Formula Atlantic version and 115 of the Formula Super Vee variant. A relationship with Honda had begun in the mid ‘60s with the 1-litre Formula 2 BT16 and BT18 with which Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme totally dominated in 1966 and it was revived for the 2-litre Formula 2 of the 1980s. In 1981 Geoff Lees won the FIA European Formula 2 Championship with a Ralt-Honda RH6, a feat emulated by Jonathan Palmer in 1983 and by Mike Thackwell in 1984.
Ralt continued to produce championship-winning cars in Formula 3 in particular throughout the 1980s so sales remained strong. However, competition from relative newcomers Reynard and Dallara in F3 and from Swift in Formula Atlantic and Super Vee, coupled with the cost of Formula 3000, led to Ron’s company being swallowed up by the March Group from which Ron disengaged himself in 1994. This was not the end of his involvement in motor racing. By now in his 70s, he was contracted by Honda to design and develop a school car along F3 lines. He also designed a Formula Renault car, the Ronta, and in 1996 was a consultant to Honda for its touring cars in the Japanese and British Touring Car Championships.
In 2002, following the death of his wife Norma after 49 years of marriage, Ron returned to Australia. In the words of his family: ‘Active, healthy and independent until the end, he constantly felt the need to achieve something and always had the next goal in mind.’ To his daughters Jann and Julie and their families the BRDC offers its deepest sympathies.
Colin - Jack - Ron - very different people, very different approaches, but what a treasury of sheer world-class talent....
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