Only the GP pulls bigger crowds to Silverstone. Marcus Pye explains why the biggest ever BRM gathering is just one of the reasons you should attend.
Fifty years of BRM is the central theme of the British Racing Driver’s Club’s Coy’s International Historic Festival, presented by Chrysler, from July 30 – August 1, and by an extraordinary coincidence the final day of this great celebration would have been BRM co-founder Raymond Mays’ 100th birthday. Many of the marque’s surviving drivers – including Froilan Gonzalez, Stirling Moss, Peter Gethin and Jean-Pierre Beltoise – will lead the celebrations.
Mays it was who demonstrated British Racing Motors’ first car, the rasping V16 prototype, before an expectant and partisan audience, at Silverstone in May 1950. Fifteen years and a World War had passed since his previous brainchild, the perpendicular ERA voiturette, had made its debut This time, however, the project was simply too ambitious.
Massively complex, the centrifugally supercharged 1.5-litre V16 was designed with a target output of 585bhp at an equally staggering 11,800rpm. It burst into life with shattering ferocity at Folkingham Airfield, near the Lincolnshire town of Bourne, in November 1949. While performance figures were optimistic, it was always a difficult beast to harness, monstrous torque spinning wheels and frying tyres in an instant.
Following the car’s ignominious failure on its race debut at Silverstone, with Raymond Sommer at the wheel, the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Gonzalez, Reg Parnell and Ken Wharton found little success in the P15s. Their sole World Championship appearance, in the 1951 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, saw Parnell finish fifth. Two years later, Alfred Owen, then owner of BRM, ordered lighter, smaller, chassis but outings were confined to Formule Libre races where, at last, the V16 actually met with some success.
BRM did not return to front line racing until 1956 when it launched the P25 model, an evolution of which claimed BRMs first Grand Prix victory when Jo Bonnier was first past the flag at Zandvoort in 1959. Three years later, Graham Hill beat Lotus’ Jim Clark to the World Championship in a rear-engined P578. The histories of the BRDC and BRM were intertwined until the marque ceased to be a force in Formula One 25 years later, by which time it had claimed a total of 17 Grand Prix victories.
The original V16 car (owned by the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu), the Dutch GP-winning P25 (the only original one left) and the P578 with its distinctive exhaust stacks will be among 30 BRMs on display at Silverstone, together with the Yardley-liveried P160 in which Peter Gethin won the fastest (and closest) Grand Prix of all time at Monza in 1971. This actual car is the subject of an extensive track test in this issue, starting on page 80. Also promised for Coys are P261, P126, P133, P153, P180 and P201 models, and an HI6.
Forty-seven years after he contested the 100-mile Formula Libre race at Silverstone in a V16, 76-year-old ‘Pampas Bull’ Gonzalez will be back at the scene of both his Grand Prix wins – with Ferraris in 1951 and ’54 – to head the BRM parade from behind the wheel of a V16. Other chassis will be paraded by their original drivers, and some raced, within the Festival.
Among these will be Paul Alexander’s ex-Hill/Jackie Stewart P261 – which was subsequently converted into a V12 car for the 3-litre Formula One – in the Historic Grand Prix Car Association’s Autostorica Pre-’66 race. Rivals include Allan McGregor’s slim ex-lnnes Ireland BRP-BRM, and Alan Baillie’s LotusBRM P24, the chassis of which which later served as the first Formula Ford Dulon. Robs Lamplough’s gorgeous Lotus 33 and talented American Duncan Dayton’s Lola-Climax Mk4 will fly among the interlopers.
Nigel Corner’s V12 Ferrari Dino will take some catching in the Pre-61 field, while the Ferrari 625s of Alex Boswell and David Vine make their event debuts. A host of ERAs, led by Ludovic Lindsay’s R5B ‘Remus’, provide a timely reminder of Mays and Peter Berthon’s previous endeavours in the Pre-War pack.
Bobby Bell’s ex-Jo Siffert BRM PI53 and an ex-Siffert P160 will hopefully lend V12 might to The Force’s Classic Grand Prix event, alongside the ex-Brian Redman Cooper-BRM of 1968. The unique Brabham BT34 will call to mind Graham Hill’s last F1 victory (at Silverstone) in the 1971 International Trophy, and Bob Tabor’s magnificently restored ex-Jimmy Clark Lotus 48 will be the talk of the F2 class.
Inter-marque rivalry is the order of the day in Bob Wood’s Pre-War sportscar clash, while arguably the greatest age of GT racing is recaptured by Ferrari GTOs and Aston Martin Project cars of the early-1960s. Sports prototype fans can thrill to the Group 4 circus, which includes glorious Alfa Romeo T33s, Lola T70s, Ferrari 512s, a Porsche 917 and straight-six Abarths among the exotica.
Sportscars of the ’50s are always highly spectacular at Silverstone, with Cooper Monacos aiming to outhandle the usual Jaguar brigade, and tiny Lotuses darting around among at the big boys. The Ferrari Challenge series has been enhanced this season with the addition of Maseratis.
The Historic Rallysprint – a big success last year – will run again on the Friday evening with Tony Pond aiming to defend his title in the Triumph TR8. The Footman James Retro Run rolls in on Saturday afternoon, with hundreds of cars and drivers touring the track.
Special demonstrations of Jaguar, Lagonda and Porsche cars are scheduled, while – weather permitting – vintage aircraft and masses of hot air balloons will play in the skies overhead. On the ground be sure to visit the Owen Brown exhibition of motoring fine art and myriad trade stalls. And, if the glittering stars of Saturday’s Coys auction are beyond your dreams, it’s still worth keeping your eyes open for any bargains to be found among the many rare breeds on dozens of car club stands.
Little did the BRDC think, when it ran its inaugural International Historic Festival in 1990, that the event would grow – with the wholehearted support of Coys of Kensington and Chrysler – into Silverstone’s second-biggest event of the year. Now attracting 65,000 people over three days, it is eclipsed only by the RAC British Grand Prix, a fortnight earlier. Be there.