BRM TYPE 15
“It was the first car to rev to 12,000rpm, which was enormous in those days,” recalls 16-time world championship grand prix winner Stirling Moss, who tested the BRM V16 extensively before racing it once. “It had fantastic brakes and a lovely gearbox, but it was so undriveable.
“You had nothing until 900010,000rpm. It was overcomplicated and had problems you’d never heard of on other cars!”
Created by Raymond Mays and engineer Peter Berthon, who had successfully teamed up in the 1930s on the ERA project, British Racing Motors brought together companies and support from British industry in an attempt to nurture national success in GP racing.
It was an ambitious project, and not least in the engine department: a two-stage centrifugal supercharged V16 of 1.5 litres.
Right from the start, delays and shortages – as Britain exported its way out of the economic problems created by the Second World War – dogged the project. Work began in 1946-’47, but the car had still not made its race debut when the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship began at Silverstone in May 1950 – it was demonstrated at that event instead.
The V-16 BRM by David Hodges and Harry Mundy pointed to the lack of resources despite the apparent support from many companies: “The design of the engine, chassis, transmission, in fact every detail, was in the hands of four senior designers and three junior draughtsmen; there was no development department as such. The project was far too ambitious in relation to the funds and facilities available.” Changes in specification were not unusual.
Nevertheless, expectations of the high-profile project were still great. Its appalling debut was therefore well publicised. One car was provided for Raymond Sommer for the 1950 Silverstone International Trophy. It wasn’t ready for practice, so Sommer started from the back. And the driveshaft failed off the line.
Reg Parnell then won two sprint races at Goodwood, but this was a long way from the world domination BRM had been created for. Moreover, the first true test – against Ferrari in the Penya Rhin GP – underlined the fact that although it was the quickest car in a straight line, its other failings meant it was off the pace. The BRM was still unreliable too, with both cars retiring.
Withdrawals beset the 1951 campaign, with the Type 15 making its first (and, as it would turn out, only) world championship GP appearance in the British GP. Reg Parnell and Peter Walker finished fifth and seventh, five and six laps down respectively. In contrast, Ferrari’s more simple, unsupercharged V12 375 model finally defeated Alfa Romeo’s hitherto pacesetting 158/159.
It was at this point that Moss first drove the car. Astonishingly, much of its testing had taken place on airfields rather than proper circuits, but the then rising British star did get the chance to give BRM some feedback after problem-riddled running at Monza.
Moss liked the brakes and the gearbox (based on that of the 1938-’39 Mercedes W154), but not a lot else. He felt the driving position was too cramped, the