The Ex – Charles Vögele 1963 Brabham BT4

The Ex – Charles Vögele, Swiss Champion

1963 Brabham BT4

It is difficult not to get swept up in the passion and history that surrounds Jack Brabham and Brabham cars. Jack Brabham is one of the great names in motor racing history. Three times world champion, a true racing hero; he epitomises probably the most iconic eras of Grand Prix racing, not only for his achievements behind the wheel, but also for his incredibly successful career as a race car manufacturer. In 1966, he became the first man ever to win the Formula 1 World Championship in a car bearing his own name. A force to be reckoned with from their outset in 1962, Brabham cars went on to dominate across the Formulas; from Formula Junior through Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula 3.

Jack Brabham had long been a regular of the series of Formula Libre races held in European wintertime across Australia and New Zealand, with Brabham himself of course having originated from Australia. A long time Cooper pilot, the winter of 1962/1963 was to be the first time that he made the trip with his own cars. With Brabham’s first 1.5 Litre Formula 1 model, the BT3, having proved successful in 1962 with Jack Brabham taking second place in the Mexican Grand Prix, the Australasia bound car was dubbed the BT4.

Using much the same design principle of the BT3, the BT4 featured a well triangulated space frame, double wishbone independent suspension front and rear, and was clothed in sleek bodywork of the smallest frontal area possible. The BT4 was built to Intercontinental Formula rules which allowed for an engine capacity of up to to 3-litres. Coventry Climax had developed a large 2.75-litre variant of their twin overhead cam aluminium racing engine for Brabham to use in the Cooper T54 at the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and this was refined to 2.7 litres for the FPFs which Brabham went on to use in the BT4. 

The first three of the BT4s were completed at the end of 1962 and went to the southern hemisphere for the races from November onwards, with Brabham winning the Levin International early in the BT4s career, before winning the 1963 Australian Grand Prix in a sister chassis in February.

This car, chassis F1-4-63, was the only one of the BT4s which remained in Europe, and was sold new to Swiss racer  Charles Vögele in April 1963. Finished in Vögele’s familiar livery of red with two white stripes, F1-4-63 debuted in the first round of the Schweizer Meisterschaft, or Swiss Championship, at Montlhéry, France in April 1963. Vögele qualified the new Brabham in pole position for the race on the partly banked circuit before ultimately retiring from the race.  

The second round consisted of a slalom event at Payerne, Switzerland, where Vögele won the racing car class, taking  second overall. Subsequent rounds yielded further class wins, and at the international hillclimb of Mont Ventoux he finished 7th overall. This was followed by a class win at St. Ursanne-Les Rangiers. Vögele continued taking fine results with class wins at Macon-Solutré and Schauinsland, along with overall victories at Reisdorf, Marchairuz, Urcy, Mitholz-Kandersteg and the season finale at Monza. His form of 1963 with the BT4 secured the Rennwagen class title of the Swiss Championship for Vögele.

For 1964, Vögele continued to campaign F1-4-63 with great form, winning at La Roche-Samrée in Belgium, Payerne, Mitholtz-Kandersteg and led at Monza in the Coppa BP from pole position, with fastest lap before retiring just before the end. Brabham then delivered Charles Vögele’s latest car, a BT11A, mid season, and the BT4 was present at the St. Ursanne – Les Rangiers hillclimb in August as his spare car. 

During 1965, the BT4 was bought by Gérard Pillon, another Swiss hillclimber. Pillon went on to fit a 3.5 litre Buick V8  engine, complete with stack pipes, into the BT4. This followed a trend which saw many Formula 1 and 2 chassis being fitted with the larger sports-car engines in hillclimbing. In 1966, Pillon campaigned the BT4 through France and Switzerland, achieving victory at Faucille in September, with the car remaining in Vögele’s red and white livery.

Charles Schuster bought the BT4 from Pillon in 1967, and went on to compete with the car in France and Switzerland. The Buick V8 was retained, and the livery modified to a single centre stripe with nose band. The BT4 didn’t compete with Schuster in 1968, and was next in competition with Jean-Pierre Adatte at Cruseilles – Le Salève in June 1971. Adatte is seen to have used the BT4 on a few occasions in 1971 before it is thought to have been retired from service.

In 1985, a French architect called Thierry Charles bought the  BT4 in Mulhouse, France. Complete as a rolling chassis, but having not been used in some time, Charles thought that the car had been converted to a Formula 5000 with Buick V8 engine in 1975. Charles did not undertake any work on the car in his ownership and in 1999, John Harper went to view it but was unable to reach a deal with Charles. One year later, Charles ran into financial difficulties and the car was sold at a local auction, where it was bought by Christophe Pund of Galerie Des Damiers. He then sold it on to Simon Hadfield, who brought it to England. 

On arrival to England, John Harper went to see the car and bought it promptly. Harper then restored the BT4, finding that the chassis was still very solid, and finishing it in the colours of Charles Vögele with 2.7-litre Coventry Climax FPF engine and Colotti T32 gearbox. Harper raced the BT4 with widespread success for a period of around 10 years in the HGPCA, before selling the car to the current owner in late 2013.

On buying the BT4, the current owner commissioned HiTech Motorsport with restoring the car during 2014. The engine was fully rebuilt by Ray Buckley, and the Colotti gearbox was gone through by PDS with new internals. The current owner has enjoyed racing the BT4 over four seasons, and asked Miles Griffiths to race the BT4 again at Zandvoort in 2015, taking pole position with a 1:53.7. He proceeded to win the second race convincingly ahead of Andy Middlehurst’s Lotus 25 and Peter Horsman’s Lotus 18/21.

Griffiths also raced the BT4 at Spa-Francorchamps in 2015. Griffiths took pole position, then took a second place and won the second race by 36 seconds, setting a hugely competitive time of 2:42.0. Another indication of the pace of the BT4 came at Donington Park in testing with Griffiths at the helm, setting a very fast time of 1:13.9.

The BT4 has been subject of a continued maintenance at HiTech Motorsport, with Peter Denty stripping and repairing the chassis where necessary at the end of 2017. Most recently, the Coventry Climax FPF engine has been rebuilt by Ray Buckley, and the Colotti T32 gearbox by PDS, or Hewland Classic as they are now known, ahead of 2019. As such, the BT4 is fresh with the engine and gearbox at 0 hours.

The full history of F1-4-63 has been thoroughly researched by Allen Brown of Oldracingcars.com and outlined within a dossier which is within the history file. With new 2019 FIA HTPs and in date safety equipment, it is accompanied by spare wheels and assorted running spares. 

One of just four Brabham BT4s built, and the only one to remain in Europe for its entire life, F1-4-63 has been a regular victor both in period with Charles Vögele, and in historic racing during the last two ownerships. Benefitting from no expense spared care in the current ownership, the BT4 is arguably the most competitive car for the popular HGPCA series which visits many of Europe’s legendary circuits, and should make for an excellent choice for racing in 2020.