For six days, so the story goes, he plonked himself on the sofa in the reception area at the Cleveland Graphite Bronze Company, Cleveland, Ohio. Guy Anthony Vandervell was a determined man. Eldest son of the founder of the vast CAV electrical empire, his early years bore the tell-tale marks of a wealthy, overactive underachiever: good at games, at Harrow; a speed freak on bikes and in cars, racing both; seemingly disinclined to follow his father’s footsteps.
He did steady down, but it was bhp, not amps and ohms, that interested him, and his imaginative approach to technical problems allowed him to steer the O & S Oilless Bearing Co, a small subcontractor of CAV, through the Depression.
At that time big-end and main bearings were heavy, expensive, difficult to fit and quick to wear. Which is why, when GAV got word from America of a new bearing system that would revolutionise this aspect of engine design and build, he high-tailed it across the Atlantic in 1931. He desperately wanted the European licence for this product — hence the aforementioned sit-in.
Stuart Lewis-Evans on left with mechanic in 1958
Grand Prix Photo
This stubborn streak, intuitive grasp of the technical and eye for the future ensured that Vandervell Products expanded rapidly on the back of the success of the Thinwall bearing. And after the cessation of WWII, the self-same characteristics were manifest in GAV’s racing team.
He was one of the keenest supporters of the BRM project. But he was a doer, a seer-through and, as such, he soon became one of the most vociferous critics of this tortuous programme. Adamant he could better, his Ferrari-based Thinwall Specials spent four seasons going head-to-head with the V16 in minor British events. But he had bigger fish to fry: he wanted to create an all-British outfit that was capable of beating the Continental teams in their own backyard. To this end the first Vanwall Special appeared in 1954. But there was still a lot to learn and a long way to go, and it wasn’t until ’57, at Pescara and Monza, that this ambition was achieved.
The following year his team rubbed it in by scoring six victories to Ferrari’s two to win the first constructors’ world championship. By which time GAV was done-in. He had put his heart and soul into the project, to the detriment of his health. Driver Tony Brooks can remember only one meeting during his 1957-58 stint with the team that GAV did not attend, practice and race. And he was no dilettante permanently ensconced in the VIP tent — he was in the pits, he was warmingup his cars, he was resting his belly over his beloved engines, he was in the thick of it. His gruff manner caused people to tread warily around him, but his all-or-nothing approach instilled immense respect within his workforce, whom he showed a fatherly affection.