The green shoots of sponsorship

As the first fully-backed team in Formula 1, the British Racing Partnership was envied by the works teams – who finally shut them out

It’s what every team manager dreams of: a generous sponsor, a big budget, top cars and someone the press can call the world’s best driver. Today it’s the standard objective. Fifty years ago, when sponsorship meant little more than free tyres and oil, it seemed – to the teams who weren’t getting the deal – like not playing the game. But this hoisted the flag of the modern era, and that flag was pale green.

The British Racing Partnership was that fortunate outfit, at a time when you could buy a Grand Prix car in (almost) factory spec and employ the best driver who was free that weekend – if you had a decent reputation. And BRP did. After all, the Boy Wonder was part of it: Stirling Moss, his father Alfred and his manager Ken Gregory were the principals, with respected engineer Tony Robinson heading a top-line crew. Racing in a distinctive livery – Meadow Green, Alfred’s choice – BRP from time to time boasted impressive pilots. Graham Hill, Tony Brooks, Dan Gurney, Denny Hulme and Phil Hill all sat in BRP cars when Stirling was busy elsewhere. And the business made profits. In an era when race organisers paid start as well as prize money, you were quids in if you could bring a big name to the grid.

As a privateer team you had first to buy cars, which is where BRP made its big splash. At the time there simply were no complete team sponsors, until BRP announced that a motor finance company called Yeoman Credit would cover all its expenses for 1960.

“They approached us,” says Ken Gregory, the man who made it work. “My friend Peter Pilsworth from Yeoman asked if we would allow them to sponsor the team.” Yeoman was a small concern but saw the press coverage racing received as a rapid publicity route. Ken knew Yeoman’s Samengo-Turner brothers through his repair company Express Coachcraft, based in Lots Road, Chelsea – a link which would both smooth the courtship and trigger the divorce.

“They asked for a proposal and I aimed high,” says Ken. His negotiating skills had already made Moss the biggest-earning driver, with profitable supplier contracts, so pitching £40,000 for cars and £20,000 for costs was typically bold. Yeoman accepted, as long as they kept any entrants’ trophies. BRP, though, would retain prizes and bonuses. And no name appeared on the cars – entry lists and adverts would be the sole exposure.

“This was substantially more than the works teams had,” adds Gregory, “and with start fees and bonuses it went up again.”

Stirling agrees: “It was an impressive amount of money. Far more than Rob [Walker] had!”

It was also a quirky decision: the Samengo-Turners could have funded Lotus, Cooper or BRM, but BRP had brought good results for Stuart Lewis-Evans in 1958, while Moss himself had chosen to drive a BRM P25 in ’59 - as long as BRP prepared it, not its makers. Belying their Italian descent, the brothers took the British line, favouring the bold outsider.

Tony Robinson now had money to spend as the team moved into Lots Road. Lavish equipment, three Cooper T51s and shelves of Climax parts. “I think I had the biggest spares store outside the factory,” he says today. “Transporters, vans, plenty of everything. We could do it properly, and we were doing it very well until bad luck came into it.”

Bad luck hardly describes the toll of drivers at this time, and BRP had been hard hit in its first two seasons. Formed late in 1957 when Gregory and Alfred Moss decided it would be fun to run their own team, BRP started out with an F2 Cooper T45-Climax crewed by punchy Welshman Lewis-Evans. Back then drivers and cars constantly crossed formula and team boundaries, Evans impressing in F2 races for the new team while also driving Vanwalls in Grands Prix. After Moss won the ’58 Argentine GP in effectively a bored-out F2 Cooper (a deal arranged with Rob Walker’s team by Gregory – more border crossing), it seemed that BRP had the right car. And it was making money – until Lewis-Evans’s fiery death at Casablanca in a Vanwall. Coming after the death of Peter Collins, whom Gregory also managed, it was a hammer blow.

But racing goes on; there was a team to support and a British F1 drive to find for Stirling, Tony Vandervell having withdrawn Vanwall. Gregory turned to BRM. While it was delighted to get Moss in its car, his only works outing, earlier in 1959, led him to doubt the even-handedness of Peter Berthon and Raymond Mays. So Alfred bypassed them, negotiating the P25 with overall boss Sir Alfred Owen – as long as it was prepared by BRP. “Stirling didn’t trust BRM,” says Robinson succinctly. It wasn’t the technical side, states Gregory: “We got good spares support and got on well with the mechanics. The bad feeling was with the top brass.”

BRP had also gone a brave route over its F2 engine, an exotic 16-valve twin-cam four from Borgward. “Lovely little engine,” says Robinson. Not that having double Le Mans winner and Connaught pilot Ivor Bueb aboard hurt either, while BRP’s other signing was the wild but promising Chris Bristow. The expanding team was on the edge of a full GP campaign, and the Samengo-Turners were watching. No one could see the two terrible blows coming.

At the unforgiving Clermont-Ferrand in July Bueb went off. Thrown out of the little Cooper, he suffered multiple injuries and died a few days later. Then at AVUS the pale green P25 was destroyed when a brake pipe fractured. Though Hans Herrmann (the AvD’s requested driver) got away with this famously huge accident, it led to more BRM unhelpfulness, as Robinson recalls. “We’d flown the car out but we couldn’t load the bits on the plane, so we offered to fly a works car back if BRM took our wreck in their truck. Lou Stanley said ‘let them sort it out’. I was so angry I went to their hotel and shouted and swore at Big Lou until he gave in.”

However, Robinson had now fitted a 2.5 Climax to one Cooper, and Bristow, rallying after losing his friend Ivor, came third in the Formula 1 Oulton Park Gold Cup. Grands Prix beckoned, and so did Yeoman Credit.

Which brings us back to that 1960 season. With Enzo stalling over going rear-engined, the Cooper would again prove the title winner, though Walker also bought the new Lotus 18 for Moss to race, while Gregory signed Franco-American firebrand Harry Schell to partner Bristow. One experienced hand, one upcoming, three Coopers, albeit ’59 cars, and a packed international calendar of F2 and F1; BRP was now big-league, and Yeoman was pleased. “The Samengo-Turners were real enthusiasts,” says Tony. “They came to all the meetings.”

But in May came a test of that enthusiasm: in wet practice for the International Trophy at Silverstone Schell aquaplaned off and overturned. He died instantly. Ken Gregory, shaken by having to identify the body, still had responsibilities and brought in F2 star Henry Taylor. Surprisingly, the large Yeoman budget now grew even larger as the brothers offered extra cash to tempt Tony Brooks on board as well. Rated then and now as one of the great drivers, the ex-Vanwall and Ferrari pilot made this British triple a coup, and his fourth place at Monaco seemed a rebuff to fate. Then came Spa, a roller-coaster metaphor for the team’s fortunes. First the seemingly inviolable Moss had a huge crash due to suspension failure on his Walker Lotus, breaking legs and back; then Bristow failed to appear. He had died instantly when the Cooper left the road at Burnenville for unexplained reasons (though Gregory says “I suspect Willy Mairesse did a Schumacher while passing him”).

Five laps later another rising Lotus star Alan Stacey also died. That Olivier Gendebien, standing in for Taylor, turned in a fine third for BRP barely registered as Gregory glumly packed up Bristow’s effects.

Brooks and Gendebien could pull in good start money, so the cash flow was strong, but for the previous year’s runner-up champion it was a frustrating season. “BRP was very professional,” Brooks says today, “but we had a lot of retirements. And we were in the ‘sit up and beg’ cars where the works had the Lowline - it was the next decade. We had a good relationship and the Samengo-Turner brothers put heart and soul into it, but when the works has a more advanced car…”

Worse things were happening at Lots Road. A director of Express Coachworks had been diverting funds, from Yeoman Credit among others, and as proprietor Ken Gregory, while unaware, had the ultimate responsibility. As 1960 closed a court case loomed, and plainly BRP had lost its backer who now switched to Reg Parnell’s team. Having lost two drivers and friends, seen his golden boy Moss end up in hospital, and undergoing a divorce as well, Gregory might have shut up shop; instead he kept his foot down, went straight to Yeoman’s chief rival and asked them for the same deal. They agreed. “I knew UDT’s Bob Gibson-Jarvie through Laystall [the engineering firm UDT owned] and he was brave enough to say yes to me and argue it with the board later,” says Gregory. Suddenly there were two sponsored teams in Formula 1.

However, only one of them would get new Coopers. “Charlie Cooper took me to lunch and he was agitated and very cagey,” Ken recalls. “He said they couldn’t supply until June.” That was useless to Gregory. BRM was not supplying cars, so it was three Lotus 18s which turned up at BRP’s new Highgate premises. Gregory has his own theory about this. “I had approached both Jim Clark and Bruce McLaren to drive for me, and I think both Lotus and Cooper were nervous. I have no proof at all, but I was told that there was an agreement not to supply us so both drivers would stay. Once Jim was safe Colin was happy to sell cars.”

More than happy, says Robinson, now running three 18s, three 19s for sports races, plus an Elite, and 10 staff. “We had all the help we wanted, even from Colin. He would come to Highgate and talk trials cars, and when we wanted a different shape for our 18 – Stirling always loved something different – he came with me to Williams & Pritchard. The two of us shaped a lower, slimmer body. Then the 21 appeared, but I call it the BRP body.”

They had cars, Henry Taylor and Cliff Allison to pilot them, and two plush transporters (“Even Chunky Chapman was envious of those,” says Robinson) but they didn’t yet have the engines they wanted. Climax struggled to get its dainty V8 ready for the new 1500cc formula, so for a space everyone ran with the good old FPF Climax. Everyone except Ferrari, who nailed the new rules in one, dominating the season with the delicious 156, despite Moss’s Monaco opener victory which briefly made it look as though BRP had ended up with the right car after all…

There were no shock GP wins for BRP in 1961, but there was a lot of start money and just about every time Stirling got in the 19 he brought home the laurels. They even ran the Elite at Le Mans fitted with a 750cc Climax, leading the Index of Performance until the oil pump broke.

Pleased with the enterprise, UDT-Laystall also backed the purchase of the top-rank GT car – a Ferrari GTO (see p40).

In fact BRP was doing so well commercially that Stirling now became a partner – “I’d been too involved with my own racing when it first started,” he says – which further blurred the borders with Rob Walker’s team. That’s why Stirling’s plans for 1962 included a Walker car in BRP colours – and a works Ferrari in Walker blue, a face-saving rapprochement which would at last put Moss in one of Enzo’s GP machines. Meanwhile BRP ordered five of the latest Lotus, the 24. When the Climax V8 arrived and with Innes Ireland on board after his sacking by Chapman, BRP was on par with Lotus. So they thought…

But the Glover Trophy, Goodwood’s non-championship season opener, would disrupt everything. The catastrophic accident which ended Stirling Moss’s career would bring UDT-Laystall the worst type of publicity and shake both teams to their roots. Gregory in particular was trying to deal with Moss’s affairs as he lay in hospital, as well as run a team and cope with hundreds of letters to the injured driver. There was also his new magazine publishing enterprise and the start of his air taxi service. The single blessing was that the High Court had decided he was liable for only a small part of the Express Coachworks default.

“I was almost out of my mind with stress and worry,” he says, “and I developed ulcers.” Yet a week after the crash UDT cars raced at Aintree, and in May the promised works Ferrari appeared in the International Trophy; that it carried a tartan stripe and had Ireland aboard was something of a tribute to the team from Maranello, as opposed to the slap in the face from Lotus. Once the privateers had their 24s, Chapman revealed one of the great leaps forward in racing – the monocoque 25. And sorry, but you couldn’t buy one. The special relationship was over. So also was the fiscal one; while UDT was content with its exposure, Laystall felt it was time to realise its mechanical assets. There would be no further sponsorship for 1963.

By now a recovering Stirling was getting involved in business affairs and was not very interested in BRP. His father too would have been happy to close it and divide the assets. Remarkably, BRP’s bank account was extremely healthy, thanks to Ken’s astute management, and after selling the GTO at a £500 profit the team could afford to buy the UDT cars. But while the 19s might go on winning in ’63, the 24s would not. Although it was BRM, not Lotus, which took the 1962 makes title, it was clear that a monocoque was vital for F1, where the money was. And no one was selling.

It was Robinson who said ‘I can make one’. “I made up some cross-sections and took them to a board meeting in Alfred’s dental surgery,” he remembers. “I was sure I could build something that wouldn’t break in half and hurt somebody.” Somehow his confidence and Gregory’s energy won a ‘yes’, and Robinson began work from scratch. Fitted with the BRM V8 and Colotti ’box, the result was a tough if heavy machine, which took Ireland to a brace of fourth places, backed up now by Jim Hall in the 24. Ireland was convinced that their V8s lacked the power of the works entries, which made a lighter car vital, and Robinson obliged with the BRP/64 – thinner-skinned and slimmer. But the team’s funds were draining away fast.

For 1964 start money was to be allocated by the new Formula One Constructors Association, comprising Lotus, Cooper, Brabham and BRM. FOCA drivers would get the prime cut, privateers the rest. And only a manufacturer could join. When Robinson proposed the BRP he heard the accusation which still galls him – that it was merely a Lotus 25 copy.

“No,” Tony says firmly. “We used Lotus suspension spares on the ’63 car, but the monocoque had tapered sides, not parallel like the 25, and the later cars had our own geometry. We made as much of the ’64 cars as anyone else.”

But the ranks stayed closed; with neither an inspection nor even a reply from FOCA, BRP ran a second season strangled for finance and beset by crashes. “I must have built five or six monocoques,” says Robinson ruefully. “If Innes didn’t bend it, Trevor [Taylor] would.”

“Sheer jealousy,” says Gregory of the black-balling. “At another time I’d have gone to court but after Stirling’s accident I’d had a nervous breakdown. I was tearing myself to pieces.”

One person, though, accepted that BRP were race car builders. Masten Gregory, a frequent BRP pilot in ’61 and ’62, asked if they could build him a pair of cars for the Indy 500, and in April 1965 they appeared at the Brickyard – tougher, broader versions of the F1 car with Ford V8s. Masten was running fifth when the gearbox failed. But while it kept the crew employed a little longer, this would not save BRP.

Now officially retired, Moss was gradually taking over his own affairs, and though he’d been their Indy pit manager he sidestepped BRP to start his own SMART race team. His father, while always close to Gregory, naturally wished to support his son. Exhausted, pressured by his other businesses, and by now on strained terms with Stirling, this time Gregory did not fight. Once the Indy cars left, the doors closed on the British Racing Partnership.

“By 1964 there were no more funds, and I was juggling too many things,” says Gregory. “And I got too close to people – losing all those drivers and then Stirling unnerved me.”

Yet both men remain proud of BRP.

“We stopped too early,” says Robinson. “We’d had a win [Innes in the non-title 1963 Daily Mirror Trophy] and several pots. In two more seasons we’d have been into the tobacco money.”

“We had a phenomenal success rate over the years,” Gregory concludes. “We ran four World Champions, and we were streets ahead on monocoques – even Cooper asked us to help them design one. It was only thanks to fate and FOCA that BRP never achieved its potential.”