Nothing pleases me more at this point in my jaded career than to see the precious purists--and you know better than anyone else who you are--get their indignant standards stomped on by well-placed combat boots. To today's point, I've been reading occasionally the holier-than-thou drivel poured forth by Bimmer fans and fair-weather Brabham fans regarding new kids Brabham Racing.
Brabham Racing launched publicly at last December's Essen motor show--a former possible rival to our SEMA show but now just another semi-significant show--with the three dark blue bastards you see here on these very pages. Witness the X6 xDrive50i-based BT 71, the M6 convertible-based BT 64, and the ultimate BR poster child, an M3-based BT 92.
How did we get here, though? How did the Brabham family feathers get so ruffled? What has Michael Trick, German bossman at BR, got to do to navigate some hostile waters and make sure his new baby thrives in spite of a world with no money?
Short story made pleasantly shorter, Aussie F1 champeen Sir "Black" Jack Brabham and family in recent years simply had never renewed the proper trademark rights they had held over the various Brabham businesses and the statute of limitations gave anyone the right to jump in and take the name with full legal process. No dirty business about any of it, folks, as so many would like to think. The only black mark seems to have been created by the Brabham family and their legal reps who basically had no case but that they had unfounded fears of their name getting tarnished by idiots selling glow-in-the-dark license plate rims or something.
These Ain't No Glow-In-The-Dark Rims.
So, Michael Trick, ex-broker and banker, bought up the rights in 2004 for Germany and purchased global rights to it all in 2005. Fair and square. So, chatroom hounds and forum wheezers, cease and desist your little wars against perfectly fine things. After all, just look what those dastardly Germans did with Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and MINI. Isn't success a bitch?
We begin with the E64 M6-based BT 64--for purely personal reasons, since I'm one of the seeming few who is left utterly frigid by the 6 Series' blah unisex lines, at their most blah on the shaky soft top. This member of the trio had a string attached: the Brabham Racing 597-hp 5.5-liter version of the S85B50 5.0-liter V10 was not yet mounted in the pretty blue BT 64 but was in a standard looking E60 M5, so I had to extrapolate a little. Everything else for the BT 64 up-do was present and accounted for and I was secretly happy to try the delectable engine in the M5 body versus the "ageing gigolo" M6 ragger.
Whereas the BT 92 M3 I save for last is a major piece of work in almost every aspect, this BT 64/60 falls just below that level of labor since none of the main body panels changed at all. In keeping with the BMW M strategy of just losing two cylinders from the V10 to create the S65B40 V8 in the M3, what is 4.4 liters in the BT 92 becomes 5.5 liters in the BT 64 and future M5-based BT 60. Bore and stroke get toyed with, from the stock 4,999-cc at 92.0mm x 75.2mm to 5,477cc at 93.25mm x 80.20mm.
This is a good time to talk about the legacy behind the assembled Brabham Racing engineering team. The man in charge of heavily modifying the V8s and V10s goes, for our super-secret purposes, by "O.N." and has been altering Bimmer powerplants in his workshops near the Nrburgring for many years. His father was mentor also to "Camshaft" Paul Rosche who, among other things, engineered the 6.1-liter BMW V12 for the McLaren F1. That's good pedigree and the agreement to carry out this work is exclusive.
The ties with "O.N." and Rosche then spiral back to McLaren's Gordon Murray when he was hooked up directly with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone after Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac (the "B" and the "T" in the car designations) sold Ecclestone all of their involvement in their two chief companies, Brabham Racing Organisation and Motor Racing Developments. So, Herr Trick is simply reigniting an awful lot of the incest-y race-engineering heritage that worked before.
The project for the 5.5-liter and 4.4-liter engines took two years to get to where it is today. I have to tell you that the larger-volume V10 is a dramatic experience. Everything from the airbox to the intake/exhaust flow to the crankshaft and exhaust system has been altered and redline has also been let go to 8450 rpm. Top speed, though still limited, reaches at least 205 mph and acceleration to 60 mph takes just 3.6 seconds. On the Spanish autovia I managed a fairly secure 165 mph and the attitude is big German muscle.
Driving the BT 64 with everything but the new engine then, I appreciate the coilover suspension and brake work Brabham Racing has done on its own through the purchases of ITS for brake sets and wheels, and of damper scientists Neuefeind.
Even though we were under control the whole time, the momentum this engine and chassis setup allows through the whole rev range is pretty astounding. The 20-inch forged three-piece wheels are not much my cup of tea, but Brabham Racing needs to attract attention and the lightweight wheel designs on all three cars I drove over two days are meant for just that. The hard Dunlop Sport Maxx extra load treads legitimize the lot.
The specific rectangular four-barrel exhaust on the BT 64 is also meant for attention since it explodes under throttle with the Power setting on. I was therefore shocked when Trick said to me that he felt it needed to be louder. The system from the manifold back is built by Stber, which normally makes aftermarket motorcycle exhausts. It sounded like the thing had straight pipes mounted. Stber worked directly with Mr. "O.N." to make sure the approach was holistic and not just tacked on.
Customers can get the engine/exhaust upgrade put into their existing M6 with SMG III transmission for a cool $100k or so.
Brabham Racing BT 64
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
5.5-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Modified ECU, new crankshaft, camshafts, conrods, pistons, air filter, intake and exhaust flow, headers, valves by Brabham Racing
Six-speed SMG III sequential manual
Brabham Racing coilovers, anti-roll bars
Eight-piston aluminum fixed calipers, 380mm cross-drilled and internally vented rotors (f), six-piston calipers, 360mm rotors (r)
* Wheels and Tires
Three-piece forged alloys, 8.5x20 (f), 10x20 (r)Dunlop Sport Maxx, 255/30 (f), 265/30 (r)
Peak Power: 597 hp @ 8250 rpm
Peak Torque: 417 lb-ft @ 6250 rpm 0-60
mph: 3.6 sec.
Top Speed: 205 mph
This is the Brabham Racing model that carries the company philosophy squarely on its shoulders and is therefore under a lot of pressure to perform. Only 50 of these are destined to be produced at (by literal euro-to-dollar exchange rates) $300,000 a pop and, though I really liked what I drove, this price is the car's prime obstacle. Hammer that 3 into a 2 and maybe you've got a deal.
Nonetheless, it's noticeably more evil than an E92 M3, as well it bloody should be. Good ol' "O.N." has had his way to perfection on this 4,382cc resizing of the 3,999cc S65B40 V8. Power now rests at 494 horses at 8300 rpm, while torque takes off to 354 lb-ft. A manually-equipped E92 was used as the initial prototype I'm driving here and I can't wait for the new seven-speed dual-clutch ZF box to be applicable at these stress levels. (The company is presently working on its own dual-clutch gearbox with racing mavens Xtrac, too.) On the other hand, when the car was speaking to me so constantly as in this Brabham Racing M3, I started thanking the gods that I had manual control over it all. Getting so involved in the forward progress is sort of what it's all about anyway.
Aside from the heartily massaged engine, adding lots of zeroes to the price is the full set of carbon-fiber body panels created to beef up the stance and lighten the body shell alone by 110 pounds. All I noticed--how could I miss it?--in the workmanship as far as flaws was the massive gap right up front at the hood. Looks like the wind could get in there at high speeds and knock that feather-weight lid right off. Besides that, I couldn't help but comment that even though I adore the autoclave workmanship of the BT 92, unless I have an M3 parked right next to it I see little difference aesthetically between this and BMW's factory car apart from the steroid wheel wells shoved outward. Same problem the Ruf-Studiotorino Porsches have had.
Curb weight drops 330 pounds overall, so you're looking at 3,375 pounds and a weight-to-power ratio of 6.83 pounds per horse, and it's felt in the side-to-side dynamics. The guys opted for forged two-piece 19-inchers (don't mind the tacky carbon-fiber swatches bolted onto the spokes) because Brabham Racing aspires to, well, race, and big Miami wheels with no sidewalls do not a track car make.
The full compliment of Brabham Racing performance brakes and coilovers bring a much-needed nimbleness to the M3 chassis. I was on-ing and off-ing a lot through the Spanish hills, and the BT 92's calibrations all flowed naturally into one another. I felt freer to fling the car around on these fairly familiar roads versus the sometimes advance notice needed for the bulked up M3 with its standard brakeset and added curb weight.
And there's another Stber sport exhaust that may as well be run straight through the cabin between the front passenger's legs. You can order a silencing kit for it, too, but I'll smack you silly if you do. This was the only car with a fuller interior treatment as well so as to show what could be possible for clients. Very solid work, though a step shy yet of TechArt or MTM. Or, dare I say it, Alpina's BMW craftsmanship.
So, the BT 92 needs to refine a few execution details, but the overall package is outstanding stuff already. The big plan for Trick is to get a squad of BT 92 clubsport cars using the new Xtrac gearbox into the Nrburgring 24 Hours in 2010. Before that, at this year's race, the plan is during that long May weekend to attempt the GT class lap record of below 7 minutes and 20 seconds.
Looking at the engineers and team involved, I have a feeling they'll nail it.
Brabham Racing BT 92
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.4-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Modified ECU, new crankshaft, camshafts, conrods, pistons, air filter, intake and exhaust flow, headers, valves by Brabham Racing
Brabham Racing coilovers, anti-roll bars
Six-piston aluminum fixed calipers, 380mm cross-drilled and internally vented rotors (f), four-piston calipers, 350mm rotors (r)
* Wheels and Tires
Two-piece forged alloys with carbon composite core, 10x19 (f), 12x19 (r)Dunlop Sport Maxx, 265/30 (f), 305/30 (r)
Custom carbon-fiber body panels
Brabham Racing custom leather/Alcantara, sport seats
Peak Power: 494 hp @ 8300 rpm
Peak Torque: 354 lb-ft @ 5700 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.1 sec.
Top Speed: 189 mph
This should be relatively brief. Though I admire certain aesthetic explorations on the X6, I think it's one of the least responsible designs of our times. Sales were fine apparently while the economy was floating atop that bubble. Starting in late September 2008 X6 sales dropped like an X6 dumped off a bridge.
Regardless of my soapboxing, though, the X6 is a stunning bit of raw material for tuners to doll up and I really love this "Russian oligarch" trim design. Those black one-piece forged monsters are of the 10.5x22-inch variety and if you don't look too closely they are beautiful. Sitting still and up close they're chunky work. The low profile of the 295/30ZR22 Dunlop Sport Maxx tire set lends itself to the mass of the BT 71 and this is the one of the three cars that looks best in the Brabham blue paint that changes its hue with every passing change in light.
Power and torque change only a bit here as no "O.N." transformation has been done to the twin-turbo N63B44 4,389cc V8. With 434 hp now up between 6200 and 6400 rpm, and 479 lb-ft of torque peaking slightly between 3200 and 3400 rpm, top-end performance changes imperceptibly, but mid-range throttle response in all six gears of the Steptronic automatic has improved nicely. This politically incorrect hunk is perfect for overtaking and oppressing slower traffic. It's still not as good as the twin-turbo xDrive35d, which renders the X6 practically acceptable.
Power and torque come from finer breathing capacity from the high-flow performance air filter, better intake and exhaust flow, and modified intercooling using the stock units as base material. Aside from these periphery tweaks, we have the larger Brabham Racing brake assemblies for better stopping of this dense machine and the mandatory (in this case subtle) ECU remapping.
Estimated price for the BT 71 falls around $125,000 by today's exchange rates. By the by, the basic product strategy for Brabham Racing is, according to Trick, to make a BT version of every M and X model in the BMW lineup.
Brabham Racing BT 71
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
5.0-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, turbocharged. Modified ECU, augmented intakes, larger intercoolers, free-flow air filter by Brabham Racing
Six-speed Steptronic automatic
Strut-type BMW front, multilink rear, anti-roll bars
Eight-piston aluminum fixed calipers, 420mm cross-drilled and internally vented rotors (f), six-piston calipers, 380mm rotors (r)
* Wheels and Tires
One-piece forged alloys, 10.5x22Dunlop Sport Maxx, 295/30
Peak Power: 434 hp @ 6200 rpm
Peak Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.3 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph