OF THE FIFTIES
mid-range torque weak and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the suspension and chassis were not capable of dealing with the immense power. Its complicated steering linkage also led to poor feel.
In Stirling Moss: My Cars, My Career (written with Doug Nye, ISBN: 9780850599251), he wrote: “When it was running on song it was fantastically powerful and far and away the fastest thing I had yet driven, but they expended all their energy persuading the engine to keep running and hardly any on making the chassis handle.
“The car needed steering all the time, even on the straights. It felt unstable and alarming.”
Even today, Moss considers it the worst car he ever drove: “A centrifugal blower is not beneficial for racing and the front wheels would flap.”
The choice of a centrifugal supercharger, as used in aircraft, rather than Roots-type superchargers as employed by most other racing car manufacturers, meant the power kept going up and up as revs increased. The BRM thus lacked the mid-range torque of its main rivals and suffered from colossal wheelspin on the narrow tyres.
Engine breathing also failed to match the supercharger performance, adding to the poor mid-range torque. It also helped explain why an engine theoretically capable of 600bhp achieved more like 485bhp once actually on-track.
Moss only raced it once – on the demanding Dundrod road course – with reigning world champion Juan Manuel Fangio as his team-mate. By the end of lap two, Moss’s BRM was overheating and the gear lever knob had come off in his hand.
After retiring from the race, Moss walked away from the project, but international motorsport changes were even more important.
When BRM scratched its Turin GP entry in early 1952 – in order to allow Fangio to test the car – the firm also contributed to the dropping of Formula 1 from the World Championship. With Alfa Romeo already having withdrawn and BRM apparently incapable of providing Ferrari with any opposition, the decision was made to make Formula 2 the World Championship category for 1952-’53. The V16’s raison d’etre had gone, but still BRM pressed on in F1 and Formula Libre events.
“They got the money later and I think when they realised how bad it was, they changed it,” recalls Moss.
Alfred Owen bought the ailing concern and gradually the car’s gremlins were addressed. The team might even have beaten Ferrari in the non-championship 1953 Albi GP had the V16s not started throwing treads as they topped more than 180mph.
Success in Formula Libre races did come between 1953 and 1955 and there was even a lighter, smaller Mk2 variant.
But by then it was way too late. The V16’s main contribution to British GP efforts, apart from providing arguably the greatest-sounding racing engine ever, was to show how not to do it. Tony Vandervell, who had initial involvement with the project, ended up racing his Ferrari-based Thinwall Specials against the improved BRMS. From there, he moved into GP racing with Vanwall, which went on to beat Ferrari to the inaugural F1 constructors’ crown in 1958.
By that time, BRM was running the much simpler P25. And was still waiting for its first world championship race win…