Posts Tagged ‘BRM V16’

(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.


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…



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


(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.



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…


brm m sport v16 cover

About 15 years ago, I got a phone call from my father, telling me that his brother, my Uncle Henry had passed away at his home in Derbyshire, UK…

I remember Henry from the early 1960s, my dad’s dashing brother, who never married, but whenever he visited, arrived on or in interesting machinery. My first ride on a bike was on his Vincent Comet and then on a legendary Black Shadow. A Mini Cooper was thrilling, even more so, a Cooper S.

We moved to Australia, but news came occasionally of the succession of Lotus, Porsche and latterly turbocharged Nissans of the Silvia and Skyline variety.

brm 1

BRM V16, Ken Richardson, Folkingham 15 December 1949. (Marcus Clayton Collection)

I was pleased to receive, as part of a modest inheritance from Henry, a packet of photos, reproduced here. They are obviously very early BRM shots, which I had never seen before. I thought they may have been taken by him as a young man, but 2 of them appear elsewhere on the interweb, so I can only assume they are part of a postcard pack, or press pack. I would date them around 1950/51.

(Contributor/Historian Stepen Dalton advises the photos are BRM Press Kit shots, the cars launch was at Folkingham on December 15 1949, Stephen suspects Henry may have been a ‘BRMA’ or ‘ORMA’ member, the BRM supporters groups. The members of those groups were perhaps provided with copies of the shots. See membership badges below. Stephen has also indicated the likely dates of the track sessions and drivers, i have changed the captions accordingly.)

brm 2

1488cc, centrifugal-supercharged, DOHC 2 valve V16. (Marcus Clayton Collection/Louis Klemantaski)

I have always had a fascination with the BRM. It has been written about extensively, so I can only add my personal take on this machine.

Mark Hales described it as like ‘The Victorians trying to build a moon rocket, and they very nearly succeeded’.

16 cylinders, each of less than 100cc, highly supercharged, spinning at 12,000 rpm, air suspension, disc brakes, with all this componentry, supplied by dozens of different companies, motivated to show ‘Johnny Foreigner’ that British engineering was still the best in the world. Inevitably, when there are so many suppliers involved, with so many radical parts, the project was delayed, time and time again, until the great day when the car had its first race start. It travelled about 3 feet, after breaking an axle at the start.

brm v 16 cutaway

Chassis was tubular comprising double-tube side members, 4 cross members, aluminium body. Suspension at front by Porsche type trailing arms and Lockheed air struts, de Dion rear axle located by a single radius rod each side and Lockheed air struts. Brakes Girling 3 shoe drums,(Mk 2 had discs) Wheels Dunlop centre lock wires with 5.25 inch wide x18 inch diameter wheels at front and 7 inch x17 inch diameter at the rear. BRM 5 speed gearbox with ZF ‘slippery diff, gearchange on RHS, transmission angled to pass to the left of the driver. Engine specifications with engine cutaway drawing below. Weight at the start line circa 862Kg. (Tony Matthews)

The cars were extensively sorted over 3 years before they became reliable. Exhausts changed from full length, to in front of rear wheels, to stubs behind the front wheels. Radiator intakes increased and decreased, oil cooling and filtration revised, nearly every part was altered and changed.

When some cars were being properly restored during the 90s, the original dyno shed was discovered, and on the walls were all the different firing orders tried. I don’t know that the final order used was ever identified.

Of course there is the sound.

I don’t know if it is the greatest sound in the automotive world, but it has to be in the running. I played a recording of the BRM to an engineering colleague, who makes drag racing engines. He thought the BRM sounded like an extremely angry Funny Car, and took some persuading to be convinced that all that fury came from only 1500 cc.

brm 3

BRM V16, Folkingham, Ken Richardson 15 December 1949. (Marcus Clayton Collection)

None of the drivers really liked the car, as it was unreliable and difficult.

‘The V16 was a thoroughly nasty car,’ said Moss. ‘The brakes were OK, the acceleration was incredible – until you broke traction – but everything else I hated, particularly the steering and the driving position. Handling? I don’t remember it having any…’

Raymond Mays, (Who I think is driving in the photos) ‘Before we went to Albi in ’53, I drove Fangio’s car at Folkingham Aerodrome and I had it up to 190mph on the 2000-yard runway. It was quite frightening, because you could re-spin the wheels at 9800 in fourth gear. I reached 11,800, with a high gear in…’


Ray Mays, BRM V16, Daily Express Int Trophy Meeting, Silverstone 26 August 1950 (J Wilds)

Mays again ‘By the end of that lap, though, Fangio detected a misfire, and, as Mays admitted, ‘When you got a misfire on the V16, it could have been 1001 things… We worked through the night, and at 3.30am it was decided that I would test the car. At that time of the day – early dawn – there were horses and carts about, farmers coming out of gates, but on this long straight road I had the thing up to 180, and I scared myself stiff.’ How wide was the road? I asked. ‘Narrow’. said Mays. ‘Narrow.’

So the cars were ultimately irrelevant, only winning races in Formula Libre after time ran out for them when F1 changed to the unsupercharged 2 litre formula.

brm 4

Handsome side profile undeniable.(Marcus Clayton Collection/Louis Klemantaski)

The world is a better and more interesting place for the BRMs having been made. It would be unlikely to happen today, as the risks were far too high, but they were, like so many of the automotive and other objects that we so treasure, a delightful folly.

The recording is of Nick Mason’s BRM in 1998, driven by Mark Hales, from ‘Into the Red’.

brm 5

BRM V16 Folkingham. Perhaps Ray Mays on the cars first trial run, 3 December 1949. (Marcus Clayton Collection)

Restoration and Maintenance of This Car, Type 15 Chassis #1 Owned by the British National Motor Museum…


brm 6

Another shot at what appears to the be the launch of the BRM Type 15. (Marcus Clayton Collection/Louis Klemantaski)

brm board

Raymond Mays at right doing a bit of ‘stakeholder management’.R>L: Mays leaning, behind him Peter Berthon. Beside Peter, publicist Walter Hill, to his left Bob Henderson Tate from the Ministry of Supply. Standing, still going R>L are members of the ‘British Motor Racing Research Trust’ Bernard Scott and Denis Flather of Lucas, Alfred Owen far left. Seated in front of the table is administrator and later company secretary of BRM James Sandercombe. The meeting is in the study at Eastgate House, Mays family home in 1948. (photo unattributed but caption details ‘BRM Vol1’ Doug Nye)

brm engine cutaway

135 degree all alloy, 1488cc V16 with cast-iron wet liners. 10 bearing crank. DOHC 2 valves per cylinder, Rolls Royce 2 stage centrifugal supercharger fed by 2 SU carbs. Ignition by Lucas coil and 4 Lucas magnetos.Mk 1 Type 15 power 330bhp@10250rpm 1950-460bhp@11000rpm 1951.(unattributed)

BRM V16 crank

BRM crankshaft, centre power take-off clear. (Stephen Dalton Collection from the ‘BRM Ambassador for Britain Booklet’)

BRM V16 Vandervell ad

(Stephen Dalton Collection from the ‘BRM Ambassador for Britain Booklet’.)


‘Owen Racing Motor Association’badge.


Scratchy ‘BRM Association’ lapel badge.

brm postcard

Photo and Other Credits…

Tony Matthews cutaway, Motorsport magazine, Stephen Dalton Collection, J Wilds, ‘BRM Vol 1’ Doug Nye