Ken Wharton and BRM’s Grand Turismo South in 1954…

Posted: November 18, 2019 in F1
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(VC Browne)

Ken Wharton, BRM P15 V16 during the 1954 Lady Wigram Trophy…

Alfred Owen started what became a long commitment to race his BRM’s in Australasia to further the Owen Organisations commercial interests with a trip by the stupendous, stunning and thoroughly nutty P15 V16 to New Zealand in 1954.

Its fair to say the car underperformed as it usually did, but the impact it made on all who saw and heard the marvellous machine at both Ardmore for the NZ GP and Wigram has endured for far longer than a more reliable but less memorable beast.

Wigram (VC Browne)

 

Such free and easy days- Wharton warms the car up before the NZ GP start at Ardmore (J Short)

The 1954 New Zealand International Grand Prix was the second in the history of the race, the first was won by local, John McMillan’s Ford V8 engined Jackson Special in 1950.

The Kiwi organisers leapt over their Australian neighbours across the ditch in attracting an international field to their Formula Libre race including Wharton, Peter Whitehead’s Ferrari 125, Horace Gould in a Cooper Mk23 Bristol as well as Jack Brabham’s similar car, Tony Gaze, HWM Alta, Stan Jones in Maybach 1- the eventual winner, Lex Davison’s ex-Moss/Gaze HWM and others.

Wharton had the race won in P15 chassis ‘2’ but suffered complete front brake failure- vaporised brake fluid streamed from the front brake cylinders coming down the main straight so Wharton slowed and came into the pits.

Repairs were impossible so the front brake pipes were disconnected with Stan Jones in Maybach 1 winning the race, and subsequent protests about lap-scoring. Stan had more than his share of those post-race contests over the years but he won this one, perhaps at Gould’s expense.

Wharton was second ‘…in what must have been one of the greatest drives of his career to bring the BRM home and to complete the longest race in the cars history’ wrote Doug Nye- Tony Gaze was third, Horace Gould fourth, Ron Roycroft fifth in an Alfa Romeo P3 and Jack Brabham sixth.

Wharton’s problems were caused by a bit of circuit grit lodging in one of the calipers preventing a piston returning fully and causing the brakes to overheat through constant friction, eventually popping off a brake hose union and releasing fluid onto the scorching disc.

(CAN)

At Wigram (above) Wharton again started from pole from Peter Whitehead’s Ferrari, Tony Gaze’s HWM Alta and Fred Zambucka in a pre-war Maserati 8CM.

Whitehead won from Gaze and Wharton, then John McMillan in an Alfa Romeo Tipo B the first local home. Wharton bagged the fastest lap and lap record- as he had at Ardmore.

The BRM had a fresh engine installed between the meetings the car exceeding 150mph on the back straight- shrieking and bellowing in the most audio-erotic fashion in all of motor racing.

(M Hanna)

‘Wharton more or less had the race under control until he had to pit around lap 42 and took on a gallon of oil, the car eventually quit short of the finish line, Wharton pushed it across the line home for third place’ wrote Bob Homewood.

‘The long-distance venture had not proved to be the prestigious demonstration Owen Racing Organisation had hoped…The car was shipped home on the SS Karamea…Ken Wharton flew home via Hawaii…while (mechanic) Gordon Newman decided that New Zealand was such a pleasant country he eventually settled there’ Doug Nye wrote in ‘BRM 1’.

(BRM 1)

Ken Wharton pushed the big, beefy BRM a quarter of a mile over the line just as fourth placed man McMillan’s Alfa Romeo P3 commenced its last lap, encouraged by the BRM mechanics.

(B Homewood)

Gold dust- a Lap Chart from Bob Homewood’s collection ‘…from my BRM in NZ stuff, I make no claim that the pencil lap times are correct’ he quips.

Whilst the Mk2 P15 returned to the UK the team would return many times to Australasia, on the next occasion with a P25 for Ron Flockhart in 1959, shown below at Wigram- he won the prestigious Lady Wigram Trophy from Brabham and McLaren’s Cooper T45 Climaxes that day, a story for another time…

(CAN)

Credits…

VC Browne & Son, Classic Auto News, Bob Homewood Collection, Winton Bristow via Roger Dowding, Merv Hanna Collection, ‘BRM 1’ Doug Nye, sergent.com

Etcetera…

(BRM 1)

Jack and Ken at Ardmore.

Brabham in the cap looks across as Wharton sets off for some screaming but sonorous 1.5 litre V16 supercharged practice laps, Cooper T23 Bristol ‘Redex Spl’ looking suitably modest alongside its more aristocratic but far less successful countryman.

(BRM 1)

Lotsa plugs and lotsa plug changes…Newman and Southcott set to it, which of the two airfield circuits is unclear.

(unattributed)

 

Beast at rest in the Wigram pits

 

(W Bristow)

Roger Dowding wrote ‘…sketch by Winton Bristow…I have about eight of them, some finished some not (love to see ’em!) but interesting cars, I have Win’s notes too. Win was a car enthusiast…’. Luvvit!

Pity the long distance travelling race mechanic in 1954, read Nye’s account of Gordon Newman and Willie Southcott’s trip from Lincolnshire to the other end of the world in December 1953.

’…the adventure began at 8am in Bourne, when they caught the bus to Peterborough.

This was followed by a train to King’s Cross, London to report to KLM’s Sloane Street office at noon, a bus to Heathrow and then a 5pm flight to Amsterdam, thence to Auckland via Sydney, Australia.

They had a worldwide Letter of Credit with them, value £130, comprising 50% of 15 weeks wages (£60), expenses at £3 a week (£45) and an extra £25 for contingencies. The NZ GP was…run on January 9 and…Wigram…in the South Island on February 7 with sundry exhibition dates in between.’

No rest for the wicked…

The mighty supercharged 1.5 litre V16 engine (Vic Berris)

 

Wigram again (unattributed)

Tailpiece: Wharton, Wigram 1954- not exactly a light car, just ask Ken…

Finito…

Comments
  1. Brian Simpson says:

    Congratulations on another ripper article Mark . If you get the chance then read Doug Nye’s 3 volume series on the BRM history . In volume 2
    Alfred Owen ( at the start of the 1962 season) called in Tony Rudd , Peter Berthon , Raymond Mays & ” A grim faced accountant ” to tell them all that said accountant had told him he had spent just over a Million pounds to date with just one World championship race win . Charles & John Cooper he continued , spend just Ten thousand pounds a year & had won 2 World championships ! . Tony Rudd took over complete control of running the race team & they won the 1962 World championship . Without doubt the best books I have ever read on our favourite sport .

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Brian,
      I do have the set, mind you I’ve lost Vol 3 which I must replace…
      Tony Rudd did brilliantly ‘keeping it simple’ then things went awry with the H16! Still, whilst unsuccessful, like the V16, it was an amazing piece of engineering I would love to see running.
      Mark

  2. Jonny'O says:

    Thanks for this post Mark. Yes or BRM v16 draws attention anywhere to talk about it, is a legend, activates the passion of any car enthusiast, in the 80s was an almost impossible prospect for an admirer here in Brazil, save an internet !!! !!

    • markbisset says:

      Yes Jonny,
      Must listen to my ‘Into The Red’ cd again soon- now where did I put that?!
      Mark

      • Ross McAlpine says:

        Mark, Into the red, what a sleeper of a book, bought it for I think $10, in one of those pop up bargain book stores on the Central Coast. Not until I got home did I realise there was a CD included. After the 1st run through was looking for 11 on the volume dial for the BRM and DFV tracks. Can’t be played in the car for obvious reasons. Just need to add a F3 HWA Merc and it would be complete 😉

        Ross Mc

      • markbisset says:

        Yes Ross,
        It was and is a great book, I bought it when it first came out 20 or so years ago, I must re-find it.
        My young sons and I on occasion amused ourselves by frightening the shit out of neighbours walking along our street by opportune enormous applications of the home stereo volume with the shrieking V16 in full song- the stereo was ‘top gun’ and its proximity from front room to the street close, the ‘WTF Is That’ looks and pirouettes always gave us a laugh.
        Small things amuse small minds of course!…
        Mark

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