Thin Wall Special 1952

Chassis Type F1 Engine No, 375/010

While the Ferrari factory supplied the major components the car was assembled, modified and completed by the Vandervell racing team and many original components were replaced by improved ones manufactured by VP Ltd. It was a V12 Ferrari in concept but virtually a Vandervell by construction, and by the end of its short but active career it did not owe much to Ferrari origins as far as mechanical internals were concerned. If anything broke, Vandervell had it redesigned and remade in England, and from the start it had an English-built body.

Its first appearance was in Northern Ireland at Dundrod for the Ulster Trophy, which it won at 81.43 m.p.h. with a fastest lap at 91.12 m.p.h. driven by Piero Taruffi. The some driver then won again at Silverstone at 93.07 m.p.h. with a fastest lap at 96.67 m.p.h. In Scotland, on the Turnberry airfield circuit, it broke its gearbox when being driven by Mike Hawthorn. In the autumn it finished second in a race at Goodwood, driven by Farina, but broke its rear axle as it approached the finishing line. VP Ltd. made the, own crownwheel and pinion for the car and s the next meeting, at Charterhall in Scotland, this new component stood the strain of the 400 horsepower the engine was developing, but the aluminium Ferrari casing did not, and burst asunder.

Before the 1953 season the whole rear end of the car was redesigned and “made in England”, and a new innovation appeared in the shape of disc brakes to replace the Ferrari drum brakes. These were a joint effort by Vandervell Products Ltd. and the Aviation Department of Goodyear, and were a major breakthrough in the early days of disc brakes. Taruffi drove the car at the East, Goodwood meeting and netted a second place the Glover Trophy and then the car was run in the Albi Grand Prix in south-west France, driven by Farina, but a broken oil pipe put it out. In midsummer Farina drove it in the Formula Libre race at the British Grand Prix meeting Silverstone, which he won at 96.79 m.p.h., and an doing he achieved the first 100 m.p.h. lap on the airfield circuit, recording 100.16 m.p.h. It had two more outings that season, one at Charterhall where Farini was put out with magneto trouble and the other at Goodwood, where Mike Hawthorn won two races, the Woodcote Cup at 92.11 m.p.h. and the Goodwood Trophy at 92.70 m.p.h., with a fastest lap at 94.53 m.p.h.

All this time the Vandervell Racing Team were hard at work on their new Vanwall Grand Prix car and the poor old Thin Wall Special was getting neglected as far as maintenance was concerned. At that final meeting in 1953 the engine went “off song” by the end of the day. In 1954 everyone at VP Ltd. was flat-out on the new Grand Prix project and the Thin Wall Special was kept running with the minimum amount of man-hours to let the new team driver keep his hand in while awaiting the first Vanwall Special. This new driver was Peter Collins, and he raced the Thin Wall Special at Aintree, Goodwood and Snetterton, winning at Goodwood twice and Snetterton once but retiring with engine trouble at Aintree on both occasions. The Thin Wall Special’s last race was at Aintree on October 2nd in 1954 but the valve gear disintegrated and that was that, The poor old warrior was pushed into a comer of the factory and forgotten, for everyone was at full-steam on the Vanwall Grand Prix car, a protect that was to put Britain on the Grand Prix map and win the manufacturer’s World Championship for Tony Vandervell in 1958.

After Tony Vandervell’s death in 1967 VP Ltd. were absorbed by the industrial giant GKN, the Acton factory was closed down and everything Vandervell was moved down to the new factory that “the old man” had built at Maidenhead. The tired old Thin Wall Special was also taken there, and in 1972 the GKN management instigated a complete rebuild for this famous old “one-owner” car. Some of the original racing team were still working at the factory and mere put on the job, and one of them said later how he had forgotten just how “knackered” that poor old 4½-litre V12 engine was by the end of its life. It wasn’t broken, just completely worn out; almost everything that moved had to be replaced, most of the parts being manufactured in the GKN-Vandervell tool-room. The whole car was refurbished to “as new” condition, both outside and in, and in 1973 at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Tony Vandervell’s youngest son Colin, gave a demonstration with the car to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Farina’s 100 m.p.h. lap, a landmark in Silverstone history. That the This Wall Special had been rebuilt “as new” was shown by young Vartdervell lapping effortlessly at over 90 m.p.h. Today the can is still maintained in pristine condition by GKN and recently it mason display in the Silverstone paddock at the VSCC meeting, looking as good as ever it did. Next year, 1983 will not only be the thirtieth anniversary of its 100 m.p.h. lap record at Silverstone, it will also be the 25th anniversary of the Vanwall team winning the Manufacturer’s World Championship and, in addition, the British Grand Prix will be held at Silverstone. Hopefully the BRDC will honour this important occasion and GKN-Vandervell Ltd. will let us see the Thin Wall Special in action again, for apart from being an historic racing one with its own laurels, it played an important part in the development of the great Vanwall team. — D.S.J.

N.B. For further reading about this historic car we recommend “Vanwall, the story of Tony Vandervell and his racing cars” by Denis Jenkinson and Cyril Posthumus published by PSL of Bar Hill, Cambridge, and Autocar July 19th 1973 an article by Edward Eves.