A Tribute to Vanwall

A review of their most successful season

In spite of much comment, Mr. G. A. Vandervell refused to bring his 1958 team to the starting line until the first of the events for the World Championship series was held in Europe, which was the Monaco Grand Prix. During the winter months the cars had undergone much detailed lightening, new wheels were designed, new exhaust systems, and new tails for some of the bodies. The biggest problem had been changing the four-cylinder engines to run on 130 octane Avgas in place of the alcohol fuel used previously, this new regulation fuel being demanded by the F.I.A. Without the cooling properties of the alcohol the Vanwall engines were running much hotter, temperatures around the valve seats being up by as much as 20 deg. C., and this called for a great deal of work to be done on valves and pistons, while head joints were also suffering. Another problem which caused much thought was the fact that the engine required a weaker mixture on full throttle than it did at three-quarter throttle, so that the accelerator linkage to the Bosch injection pump had to have a system of levers that allowed the metering slide to go to full rich and then return back a little bit as the air throttles went on up to full open. There was plenty of work to do on the engines alone, while the chassis were undergoing many detail changes, the front hubs, for example, being redesigned to carry an alloy wheel which contained roller races, there being no actual hub, while alloy rear wheels were designed to have a splined hub pressed in. In addition a change was being made to Dunlop tyres, as the Pirelli firm had stopped making racing tyres, and this necessitated much track testing to find the best combination of tyre design to suit the car. One thing VanwaIls did not have to worry about was driver choice, the three from 1957 remaining with them, being Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans.

On Sunday, May 18th, three cars started in the Monaco race, all of them having the new alloy disc wheels, short radiator cowlings, steel tube bumpers across the radiator and cut-down Perspex screens. The cars were the equal of any of the opposition, but the race was a complete fiasco for Vanwall, for Moss retired when leading, a valvecap jumping out due to over-revving, while Brooks had a sparking plug unscrew and come out; he stopped to investigate the trouble hut having done so on an uphill section of the course, could not restart and had to retire. Lewis-Evans had a cylinder-head joint leak and this pressurised the water system, which caused overheating and the header tank, mounted in the scuttle, to expand and bind on the steering column. In a way this acted as a safety valve to stop the engine blowing up completely due to the head joint going, for Lewis-Evans stopped as he felt the steering getting heavy. On top of all this, a spare engine which was being flown out to Monaco was destroyed when the ‘plane that was carrying it crashed.

At Zandvoort on May 26th, at the Dutch G.P., things improved for all three cars were on the front row of the start, after having been in complete command of practice. The alloy disc wheels were discarded on the car Moss drove, though he retained the rear ones. The major reason for this was that the front brake discs were distorting due to the solid wheel interrupting air flow and causing a wide temperature difference on the two sides of the discs. The result was grabbing brakes. In addition, one driver thought they altered the steering characteristics, while another thought they made no difference. The cars had reverted to their long streamlined nose cowlings and full wrap-round windscreens after the Monaco town race. Moss drove an impeccable race and won with ease, though the other two retired, Lewis-Evans with a broken valve-spring holder, and Brooks due to being unhappy with the handling of his car. Of six cars started up to this point only one had finished a race, which was not at all encouraging from the reliability point of view, the only consolation being that the one finisher had finished in first place.

At Spa on June 15th, for the Belgian G.P., the team suffered a severe challenge from Ferrari during practice, only Moss managing to get on the front row of the start. On the opening lap, while in the lead, Moss missed a gear-change and the resultant revs, allowed the pistons to hit the valves, which bent them all, and he was forced to retire. However, Brooks stepped into the breach and drove a very immaculate and fast race to notch up Vanwall’s second victory, while Lewis-Evans finished third. Although two cars finished they were not without their troubles, for Brooks’ car was losing oil, and as the gearbox is lubricated by oil from the engine system, on a low-pressure line, it meant that the gearbox was getting starved of oil, and he was lucky to finish the race before the gearbox started to seize. Lewis-Evans broke a wishbone as he completed his last lap, and this was probably due to fatigue, the wishbones having been lightened. In consequence, after this race these wishbones were all replaced by a heavier and stronger pattern.

From Spa they went to Reims, for the French Grand Prix, where the cars were running on full throttle for longer than they had ever done before, and throughout practice there was a lot of trouble with cylinder heads warping due to the high temperatures brought on by the use of Avgas petrol. Oil temperatures were running high all this time, and at Reims the cars were fitted with new oil tanks, mounted directly behind the radiators instead of being done in front of the engine. These new tanks had fillers that were accessible through hinged flaps on the nose cowling. In the search for ever improved road-holding Moss had bracing struts fitted to his car, running from the top of the kingpin diagonally back to the chassis frame, while Brooks tried his car fitted with new rear hubs that gave vertical wheel position instead of the normal 2 deg. of lean-in, or negative camber. Both drivers were satisfied with their own experiments, but not convinced about each others ! The start of the race looked very black for the team, as they did not have a single car on the front row, the best being Brooks in row two. However, Moss managed to get second place in the race, though the other two retired. Brooks due to another gearbox seizure, and he then took over Lewis-Evans’ car, but that retired with a broken inlet valve. All the time valves were a problem, due to the regulation fuel not being able to keep the temperatures down, and many experiments were being tried with different materials, methods of construction and design, but it all took time and quite often a heavy toll of cylinder heads.

At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 19th the learn suffered another fiasco, for Moss went out with a wrecked engine, after the valves had touched the pistons once too often; Brooks was right off form and just did not drive fast, being seventh; and Lewis-Evans could only manage fourth place. At least two cars finished, which improved the score, but confidence in the superiority of cars was beginning to wain. Experiments with engines on the test-bed had proved rather disastrous, so that when the German Grand Prix came along on August 3rd, at Nurburgring, only two cars were entered. In accordance with Mr. Vandervell’s rules, there was a complete spare car available but it was not raced; when three cars were raced, four were taken to the meeting, and so on. In the chassis department experiments were still going on, Moss now being converted to upright rear wheels in place of the negative camber, this allowing the tail of the car to slide more .smoothly, even if at a slightly lower speed than before. The driver now had more feel to the back end and the car was more sensitive to being steered by the application of power. Thinner roll-bars were fitted at the front on both cars and Moss tried a telescopic steering damper on his car. While well in the lead, Moss was forced to retire with a dead magneto, a small part of the contact breaker mechanism flaking off and making a dead short. This was a chance in a million, and a completely unforeseeable happening. Brooks came into his own at this meeting, driving superbly and more than making up for his team leader’s misfortune, and he won the race in a most convincing manner, putting the score to seventeen starts, seven finishes, and three wins.

For the Portuguese Grand Prix on August 24th all the cars were converted to upright rear wheels, fitted with steering dampers, and kingpin bracing struts. In the engine department an attempt was made to reduce the engine temperature by having a separate oil radiator, whereas previously part of the main radiator block was used for oil cooling. The new oil radiators were mounted on top of the nose with a cowling over them and a direct air flow through and along the top of the bonnet. This allowed the whole surface of the main radiator to cool the engine water. Following Brooks’ magnificent win at the Nurburgring, Moss had an even more convincing first place at Porto, while Lewis-Evans finished third. The cars were now greatly improved from the reliability point of view and Brooks was running perfectly when he spun and stalled his engine, being unable to restart, outside assistance being forbidden of course.

From Portugal the team went by road direct to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix on September 7th, and in practice Moss tried an aerodynamic experiment in the form of a completely enclosed cockpit, the normal wrap-round Perspex screen having a top clamped on of the same material. All three ears were going perfectly and were in the front row of the start, and Moss was battling for the lead when his gearbox showed signs of seizing one of its bushes, due to the old trouble of lubrication. Many experiments had been tried during the season to cure this trouble : different materials for the bushes, different clearances, increases of oil pressure and so on, but no complete cure was found. While the cars were being raced so frequently it was exceedingly difficult to make design and manufacturing alterations, let alone do adequate testing on a circuit. and much of the experimenting to overcome known troubles had to be done in the next race. Once more Brooks stepped into the breach left by the retirement of the team leader, and he went through and won the race, admittedly only because the opposition was also in trouble, but nevertheless he scored the fifth victory of the season for the Vanwall team. Lewis-Evans was in trouble with a leaking head joint which caused overheating, and he retired before the engine was wrecked.

For the final race of the season, for the Grand Prix of Morocco at Casablanca on October 19th, the cars were changed yet again as regards the oil coolers, these now being back as part of the main radiator, the nose cowlings once more being smooth and unbroken. The engines were developing adequate power, but still the internal temperatures were too high for comfort, and valve heads were showing signs of warping and breaking. Moss having one break in practice, and Brooks having one go in the race. A new type of front wheel was tried out in this race, on Brooks’ car, these being wire-spoked but having the hub and roller-races integral with the wheel, the single nut holding the hub on to the stub-axle also holding the whole assembly in place. This did away with the heavy splined hub and female splined wheel centre, reducing unsprung weight considerably, and the Dunlop tyres proving 100 per cent. reliable there was never any need for a quick wheel change. Moss drove one of the best races of his season on this occasion and won the race handsomely, making the total number of victories for the Vanwall team up to six, but the number of finishes was not increased greatly as Brooks retired with a wrecked engine and Lewis-Evans had a fatal crash, the first time that the team had suffered such a loss in all their years of racing.

The score for the whole season, in which the Vanwall team competed in nine races, was six wins, one second place, two third places, one fourth place and one seventh place. Of twenty-six starts only eleven finished, which is a very high rate of breakages and retirements, but these were more than compensated for by the six wins out of nine races; a record which everyone connected with the Vanwall Racing Team can be justifiably proud, for it brought to them the Manufacturers’ Championship title. In this brief review of the Vanwall 1958 season. tribute is paid to Mr. G. A. Vandervell for creating these most successful cars, the first Grand Prix Champion from Great Britain, and the most successful Grand Prix car from this country since the early 1920s. All readers will, I ant sure, enhance the thanks that we give to the Vanwall team, to the owner and creator, the drivers, the team-manager David Yorke, the chief mechanics, Cyril Atkins, Norman Birkenshaw and Stan Elsworth, the many mechanics who work with them both at the races and at home in the workshops and test-houses, and the design and manufacturing staff connected with the Vanwall car, which must number scores of people. In addition, the accessory manufacturers who give unstinted support to this successful team, such as Dunlop, K.L.G., Bosch. B.P. and many others. To all who have had any hand at all in bringing success to the Vanwall team, endless thanks are due, for 1958 has been a year to remember for Vanwalls have put the ” Great ” back before Britain .— D. S. J.