Back to the point

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

A Brabham BT52 is set to run again after BMW breathes fresh life into its sharp and shapely form
Writer Alex Harmer

When BMW sold its Formula 1 team back to Peter Sauber in late 2009, it was a poor finish to a programme that had promised much.

Its hand forced by a collapsing economy, the company left the sport with only one Grand Prix win under its belt as a constructor: Montréal 2008, courtesy of Robert Kubica.

But BMW’s F1 history is long and it won’t let recent disappointments cloud past successes.

Since last October, in a corner of one of BMW Group Classic’s Munich workshops, a group of retired engineers has been working without fanfare to rebuild the company’s F1 zenith: the 1983 Brabham BT52. Bernie Ecclestone’s team worked with BMW from 1981 to 1987, peaking in ’83 with a world championship for Nelson Piquet in Gordon Murray’s striking car. It was the first world F1 title for a turbocharged engine, designed by Paul Rosche and his team of engineers.

Murray and Rosche gathered with the marque’s motor sport director Jens Marquardt, designer Adrian van Hooydonk and the crew of former engineers and mechanics who put the car back together. The latter group worked under Rosche during the company’s time with Brabham (“We’re like the Buena Vista Social Club!”) and to celebrate the car’s 30th birthday they’re aiming to run it up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, with Piquet scheduled to take the helm.

Before this particular BT52 got anywhere near asphalt, it needed serious work. Several parts were missing and required fabrication. That’s where BMW Classic came in.

“Everything here needs a project code,” says BMW’s Group Classic boss Norbert Knerr, “but the BT52 didn’t have one – it was under the radar. We didn’t have a blueprint or a plan. But it’s a big deal to get this car rebuilt for its 30th anniversary and we realised we had the capability to do everything in-house. We wanted to be able to run the car and so we created some space for the guys to work. We could also give them access to our design department, so we could scan the older parts and rebuild them using modern F1 technology.”

Working ‘under the radar’ is familiar territory for BMW engineers; Rosche’s department was always run on a tight budget, occasionally ignoring orders to stop pushing, carrying on work secretly in the evenings. The restoration was familiar territory for this bunch. Getting to grips with new equipment was part of the job during one of F1’s technological booms. During the early ’80s BMW developed the first modern telemetry system in F1 and experimented with fuels, leaving its rivals scrabbling to keep up. Such work paved the way for this project 30 years down the line.

“We scanned the car without having to touch it,” says engineer Werner Mühlbach, “taking a 3D image with 15 million digital reference points.” New parts can then be machined using that data and the original specifications. “In the old days, you’d have tech drawings on the back wall of the workshop. Now it all fits on a USB stick. The nose section and the rear bodywork are newly built.” Carbon fibre technology was still in its infancy when the BT52 was created, so the car is a mix of new and old weaves. Not that you can tell from the outside. “This is still a championship-winning car,” says Mühlbach, “just thoroughly reworked and refreshed.”

The BT52’s turbocharged 1.5-litre inline four powerplant was something altogether more familiar for Munich’s finest. The engine was painstakingly refurbished and rebuilt before being run through BMW’s rigorous tests. Like the body it is running with both old and new parts, some of which were hard to find. New end pipes had to be made for the enormous turbo and the team had to find a company willing to sell them five fuel filters, the smallest usual shipment being 2000.

The engineers were relaxed when talking about rebuilding the turbo lump, a process to which they needed little acclimatising. They were content to reminisce about old times and the trials they faced as they developed the car. At times it could be painful.

An early telemetry device took the form of a balloon that had to be placed at the highest test area to receive transmissions, but could not be secured. If the car hit a bump or cornered too fast, the measuring equipment would have to be recalibrated. At least for this project the technology already existed.

Murray once asked Piquet how he coped with the power. “I don’t drive,” he replied, “I get the car in the middle of the circuit and press the accelerator.” The engine was capable of putting out up to 1500bhp, and Rosche remembers the ’80s as a relentless quest for bigger numbers. “We knew the car had too little power to begin with, but after a while it had too much. It was addictive. We had a great working atmosphere and, although we went home to sleep a little, most hours were spent in the workshop. To win, that was a given.”

They all agree on the effect Piquet had.

“I think Nelson was of paramount importance,” says Murray. “He was a world champion and when things didn’t look good he was always committed. Nelson was always up for testing, he just wanted to be in the car. He was also the only one who could really handle Bernie.” The many pranks he pulled – a briefcase full of spiders here, a plate of snakes for dinner there, sealing a napping Rosche in his car with a burning rag – are discussed fondly, more so than they were at the time.

Murray and BMW ended up having a long association, working together again on the McLaren F1 road car in the mid ’90s, but they’re all still proud of the BT52. “Designing this car is something that’s stayed with me all my life,” Murray says. “I even built my niece a soapbox in the same shape.”

Marquardt, quiet for most of the day, puts it simply: “I’ve never seen this car looking so good.” At the Festival of Speed everybody else will have the chance to see it too, with that distinctive red and white helmet on board.

Related articles

Related products