Vanwall went back to front-line racing in 1960. Sadly, they got it a bit back-to-front
Tony Brooks was “thrilled” to re-sign with Vanwall for the 1960 season. It suited his new circumstances very well. Having just bought a garage in Weybridge he needed to spend more time at home while he learned the business. But there was more to it than that: he was also convinced that Vanwall would provide him with a race-winning package.
“I signed to drive a rear-engined Vanwall,” explains Brooks, “to be based around a Lotus 18. What I thought I was going to get was a beefed-up, properly engineered Lotus with a Vanwall engine in the back that was more powerful than the Climax motors the other British teams were using.”
What he actually got was the last knockings of the front-engined era.
Brooks drove a lightened ‘teardrop’ car at Goodwood’s Easter meeting. While Innes Ireland’s Lotus 18 ushered in a new era, he three-wheeled his recalcitrant mount round, comforting himself with the thought that things at Vanwall could only get better.
They did, too. But by nowhere near enough.
At Reims for the French GP in July, Vanwall finally turned out its new car. It was low, svelte, well-made — but still front-engined. Italian firm Colotti had designed a new rear end and gearbox for GAV’s beloved machine, which now boasted independent rear suspension and a five-speed ‘box mounted behind the diff. Brooks was dismayed, but duty-bound.
“It perhaps would have been kinder for me to tell him that he was wasting his time with this approach. But I had a good relationship with him and didn’t want to spoil that. I was doing my best to please the guy.”
His best was a qualifying time of 2min 23.3sec — just a tenth quicker than he had gone in 1958. Jack Brabham’s ‘Lowline’ Cooper was on pole with a lap in 2min 16.8sec.
“The car looked beautiful, but it was still too big and heavy. It didn’t have the manoeuvrability or road-holding of the new Lotus and Cooper. There were some big advances made that season by those cars.” Brooks knew this from experience, GAV’s stop-start programme having forced him to race a year-old Cooper for the Yeoman Credit outfit. “The pace of change was increasing and here was Tony thinking that there still was mileage in the front-engined car. When I signed I thought he had seen the light. Maybe he couldn’t bring himself to run a Lotus chassis. I don’t know, I never discussed it with him”
GAV’s motor racing had started as a hobby, become a business and now appeared to be ending as a hobby. The man who’d been so focused, driven, now seemed to be tinkering.
Brooks retired the ‘Lowline’ at Reims after a handful of laps, unsettled by an untraceable vibration and braking woes.
“That Colotti gearbox must have been better than the old unit but, to be honest, not a lot of features about that car are seared on my memory.”
What of the Lotus-Vanwall? It was entered for Brooks at Snetterton’s Lombank Trophy in September. He practised it (at promising speeds), but engine ills meant it did not race.