Historic Grand Prix Cars

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MANY years ago the situation in Grand Prix racing was the reverse of what it has been in recent years, as regards engine capacity and supercharging of the induction. In 1938 a new Formula was introduced which equated a 3,000 c.c. engine with forced induction to a 4,500 c.c. engine with atmospheric induction. At the time Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were ruling the scene in Grand Prix racing and they both built supercharged V12-cylinder engines for the new Formula and continued to hold sway. Feeble attempts to challenge them with unsupercharged engines were made by Delahaye and Talbot-Darracq, but they were ineffectual. The Great Britain versus Germany military conflict porn stop to motor racing and when it resumed again a Formula for Grand Prix racing was drawn up equating 1,500 c.c. supercharged engines with 4,500 c.c. unsupercharged engines and this was done in the light of knowledge from the years 1938-1940. By now Alfa Romeo were ruling the scene with their Tipo 158 with supercharged straight-eight engine, supported by Maserati with their supercharged four-cylinder engine. ERA and Alta were making attempts to join in and BRM were battling with their complex supercharged V16 car. Almost left over from 1939 were Delallaye and Talbot with rather pedestrian unsupercharged 4,500 c.c. cars, their only hope of success lying in their having better fuel consumption than the supercharged 1,500 c.c. cars. Ferrari appeared on the scene with Grand Prix cars bearing his own name for the first time, and these were supercharged 1,500 c.c. cars. No-one in their right mind contemplated trying to win Grand Prix races with anything other than a supercharged 1,500 c.c. engine, and there were four, six, eight, 12 and 16 cylinder versions on the scene.

A young Italian engineer named Aurelio Lampredi changed everything. He was working for Enzo Ferrari and the Commendatore could see that in the world of supercharging he was behind Alfa Romeo, and every move he made was merely towards more cost and more complexity, only to remain one step behind Alfa Romeo as they moved forward on the supercharged path. Talbot had an occasional success by reason of a “tortoise and hare” act with their slow but economical 4,500 c.c. six-cylinder cars, but theirs was no more than a compromise. Ferrari felt that a properly designed 4,560 c.c. unsupercharged engine could match the 1,500 c.c. supercharged Alfa Romeo and Maserati opposition and beat them on equal terms, regardless of fuel consumption and pit-stops, and he set Lampredi to work.

Starring with a 3,300 c.c. V12 engine, the writing on the wall was there for all to see. The engine was then enlarged to 4,100 c.c. and ultimately to the full 4,500 c.c. and Alfa Romeo’s days of supremacy were numbered. The unsupercharged Ferrari could match the Tipo 158 on power and speed and everyone waited with excitement for the day when Ferrari would beat Alfa Romeo fair and square. It was just like in recent years when Renault came on the scene with their turbocharged 1,500 c.c. cars to combat the umsupercharged 3,000 c.c. Cosworth, Matra, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari opposition. It had to happen one day. The day we were all waiting for in the era being described, came in 1951 at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, when Froilan Gonzalez trounced the Alfa Romeo team with an unsupercharged 4,500 c.c. V12 Ferrari.

In England at the time two industrialists were very involved with Grand Prix racing, one of these being G. A. (Tony) Vandervell whose firm VP Ltd. were supplying bearings for most of the industry’s engines, including Ferrari. Tony Vandervell had backed the BRM project whole-heartedly to start with, but when he saw the incompetence of many of the people involved, he left them and set up his own racing team as part of his Research and Development department at his Vandervell Products factory. As Ferrari was the only firm selling racing cars that even looked competitive, Vandervell negotiated with the Commendatore to acquire one of his latest Grand Prix cars. He never actually got the latest, for by the time his purchase arrived in England Ferrari had built something better. When Vandervell floss supercharged V12, Ferrari was already on to two-stage supercharging. When Vandervell got a two-stage supercharged car, Ferrari was already away on his unsupercharged line of development and so it went on. By 1951 Ferrari had a twin-ignition version of his 4,500 c.c. V12 engine and a longer wheelbase improved chassis, by which time Vandervell had a single-ignition car with the earlier chassis. This big Ferrari ran under the name That Wall Special as it was part and parcel of VP Ltd. and their research into lead-indium shell bearings. In 1952 the International racing scene was suddenly emasculated by the withdrawal of Alfa Romeo and Grand Prix racing reverted overnight to the Formula 2 category of 2-lities unsupercharged. Vandervell had just completed his dealings with Ferrari to have the latest and best 4,500 c.c. car. As British, and some European race organisers were planning to run events under the moribund Formula, and Sir Alfred Owen was continuing with his 1,500 c.c. V16 BRM team, Tony Vandervell went ahead with his second 4,500 c.c. V12 Ferrari ThinWall Special. The simple distinction between the two types of Ferrari was 12 sparking plugs or 24 sparking plugs, abbreviated to “12 plug” and “24 plug”. Vandervell’s 12-plug car was broken up, the engine being mounted on a stand in a corner of the workshop, all the useful bits like brakes, suspension, steering, tanks etc. being stripped off and the bare chassis and body being ascribed to the scrap-heap. Some years later this chassis and body was discovered and eventually found its way into Tom Wheatcroft’s Donington Collection. However, we are concerned with the entirely new 1952 car built up around a new and improved chassis frame and fitted with a 24-plug engine, and still called the Thin Wall Special.