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Lots of people go to great lengths to keep thieves from stealing their cars. However, it turns out all you really have to do is have a manual transmission. This one standard car feature – yes, it was literally referred to as “standard shift” – is now effectively an anti-theft device. Some thieves recently tried to steal a collectible vintage Formula race car known as a Brabham racer. The thieves left disgraced. 

vintage formula 3 racer in black and white
James Hunt driving the Team Rose Bearings car | Nigel Snowden/Grand Prix Photo/Getty Images

Thieves ruin race car heist because they couldn’t drive stick

The Drive reports that the attempted theft happened in Toorak, a wealthy suburb of Melbourne. The vintage race car belongs to a private owner who planned to take the vintage Brabham BT21 open-wheeled race car to compete in the Phillip Island Classic last weekend. However, the car never made it to the race. 

Sometime between last Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, the car was stolen – well, sorta. 

The two under-skilled thieves never got the stolen race car that far. Because they weren’t able to drive the car, they eventually abandoned the booty for more equipped thieves or anyone else who happened across it. The vintage race car was found only a few streets over unharmed except for a worn-out clutch. 

“I don’t think they knew how to turn on all the switches to be able to start it properly,” owner Peter Williams told listeners of ABC Radio Melbourne on Friday.

Do race cars drive like regular cars?

Ok, to be fair, most people would probably struggle with this particular car. While it’s common for your average person to assume they can drive anything, it turns out that vintage race cars are a different animal than your Uncle’s Camaro. 

This BT21 was built for Formula 3 racing. Formula 3 is not Formula 1, but it wasn’t a cakewalk either. The vintage racing gearbox is as simple and as light as possible, and with that comes some added finesse needed to drive it. The Drive explains that this gearbox doesn’t have syncros, which means you must employ careful rev-matching and some mechanical sympathy to drive the car at all. Unless you’re familiar with this car, you can forget about driving it anywhere fast. And, as the owner said in the statement, getting all the switches in the right position to provide fuel and ignition requires some knowledge to get right.

How rare is this vintage race car? 

Vintage racers are a rare breed in general. However, vintage Formula 3 cars can be quite rare indeed. There were 110 BT21s racers ever made. Today there are only six remaining. The one here was actually driven by Formula 1 legend  Sir Jack Brabham himself. 

Now that we understand how rare and unique this car is, the smart money would guess that this was a calculated job. This isn’t your average Honda Civic lift. But then that begs the question, “ if this was a pro job, why wouldn’t the thieves know how to drive the car?” 

Whatever the reason for the ill-equipped thieves, Williams feels “very lucky” to have his prized racer back in the stable.