Motorsport memory: Tyrrell P34
Six-wheeled surprise inspires an enduring love affair with motorsport
Dad passed the newspaper across the kitchen table. “Look,” he said, “there’s a story ’ere about a racing car with six wheels!” My eight-year-old, car-mad self didn’t know much about motor racing save that it existed and there was a place up the road called Brands Hatch where said activity took place. I hadn’t even been given my first set of motorsport-themed Top Trumps at this point – I’d find them under the Christmas tree a few months later. But what I did know was that racing cars should have four wheels, just like the family Austin
1100 and grandad’s Ford Popular.
That probably explains why I was so taken by the grainy black-and-white images before me. The date was September 23,
1975 and the photographs’ subject referred to something as a Tyrrell. It is properly called the P34, of course, but to me it will always be the six-wheel Tyrrell. The story from the launch of the six-wheeler the day before was the starting point of my love affair with motorsport.
I can’t tell you that I was on tenterhooks awaiting the start of the 1976 Formula 1 season and I also admit that Jody Scheckter’s victory at Anderstorp in the P34 in June of that year passed me by. My first glimpse of the P34 was the spark for a smouldering interest, which would be fanned by a world title battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda that was barely out of the papers later on during the blazing summer of ’76.
Motor racing rarely seemed to make the nationals before Hunt, F1’s first pop star, became big news that year. It needed something special for our sport to be deemed worthy of more than the odd column inch. Something as out-there as a six-wheel racing car was just the shot in the arm required.
It helped that the P34 had a proper launch, a rarity for the day, at a posh Heathrow hotel. Its impact was maximised because the futuristic Tyrrell’s design and build had taken place in near-total secrecy.
Tyrrell maintained the cloak of secrecy on the day – quite literally. Sitting underneath the covers and atop each pair of the P34’s tiny 10-inch front wheels was a cardboard cut-out mimicking a conventionally-sized rim.
I can only imagine the gasps of surprise from the press pack when those covers came off. My imagination will also have to do when it comes to remembering my own reaction on seeing those pictures.
All I know is that you’re reading this now thanks to the Tyrrell P34.
“CARS SHOULD HAVE FOUR WHEELS, JUST LIKE GRANDAD’S FORD POPULAR”