NZ Classic Driver
Vanwall: The Story of Britain’s first Formula 1 World Champions (Porter Press)
Denis Jenkinson & Cyril Posthumus with Doug Nye
ISBN 978 1 913089 25 2 Reviewer’s own copy
Readers with long memories may remember a modest-sized but fascinating book on Vanwall, published in 1975, written by two doyens of motor sport history, Denis Jenkinson and Cyril Posthumus with the involvement of a young Doug Nye.
Well, the book has re-appeared but in unrecognisable form. Superbly presented by Porter Press, this new edition comprises the original, well-researched and written text with very minor updates. However, it’s now a very large format 288-page production, with photos supplementing the authoritative and very readable text. The ‘extras’, sourced from the company’s archives, are truly fascinating. They contain correspondence with race organisers, component suppliers, and drivers seeking an opportunity to drive the cars (including one from Piero Taruffi asking Vandervell to consider providing a car for him to race at the NZ GP in 1954). There’s also detailed material on prize monies, accident reports and insurance claims, plus a polite letter from a 14-year old future Beatle George Harrison asking for photos of the Vanwall for his collection.
The story behind Vanwall is reasonably well known, with industrialist Tony Vandervell deciding to strike out on his own “to beat the bloody red cars”. Initially he developed racing Ferraris known as Thin Wall Specials (he was very unhappy with the cars initially sold to him by the Scuderia), then funded the creation of the Vanwall Special whose motor was based on four single-cylinder Norton racing engines. Slowly during the mid-1950s the team gained credibility, helped by chassis and aerodynamic development via Colin Chapman and Frank Costin. As someone responsible for a major manufacturing company, it’s amazing to see the extent to which Vandervell involved himself personally in every aspect of the team’s activities.
Many top drivers played various roles in the steady march of Vanwalls towards the front, from Giuseppe Farina to Harry Schell. By 1957, the cars became front-runners in the hands of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks. Interestingly, one of the shortest parts of the book covers the successful 1958 F1 season when six championship GPs were won by Vanwall, along with the Manufacturers’ title. For Vanwall, sadly, the gloss was taken off this magnificent achievement when third driver Stuart Lewis-Evans died from burns sustained at the Moroccan GP, the last race of the year. Vandervell made a couple of half-hearted returns to racing but he had effectively lost the desire and the pleasure from being involved.
Former Vanwall ace Tony Brooks has written a new foreword for this and I can’t recommend it highly enough.