Motor Sport News - - Monsters: 1950s Cars -

“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

BRM’S only cham­pi­onship race in 1951 Bri­tish GP

Ray­mond Mays (r) helped cre­ate BRM

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