The historic name of British Racing Motors, Britain’s original F1 team, is set to once again build racing cars. The Owen family, in conjunction with famed historic racing specialists Hall and Hall, has announced it is to commission a reconstruction of its fearsome Type 15 MK1 BRM V16 racing car – a machine widely celebrated as one of the most ambitious and innovative F1 cars not just of its day, but in the history of the sport.
BRM was founded in 1945 by Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon who had formed the successful English Racing Automobiles (ERA) marque before the war. The objective was not just to beat manufacturers like Ferrari in the newly-established Formula 1, but also to win as a nationalistic endeavour – numerous elements of the British motor industry were involved in the design and manufacture of the car, and the effort was funded in part by the public.
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Rather than simply create a racing car in the contemporary mould, the BRM project was awesomely ambitious. The Type 15’s power unit essentially combined two V8 engines end-to-end, with the cam drivers in the centre of the engine to create a single 1487cc V16. Rolls-Royce was commissioned to design a two-stage centrifugal supercharger in a similar vein to the one fitted to the Spitfire fighter plane, and later versions produced over 600bhp at a howling 12,000rpm. The power curve was vicious, and tyre technology (narrow 10-inch wide rims) simply couldn’t contain the forces being generated. Even so, what most remember is the shattering noise of the engine – a demonic howl unlike any other.
The Type 15 that BRM will bring back to life was not just innovative under the bonnet either, as it also featured a raft of chassis technology that was ahead of the times, including aeroplane-derived Oleo pneumatic strut suspension, disc brakes and a five-speed manual transmission. Overall, the result was astonishing performance, with 60mph reached in under 4sec and a top speed of over 190mph
Sadly, the reliability of the V16 engine was simply not good enough, eventually leading to one BRM’s driver at the time, Stirling Moss, writing to Mays and leaving his post until the engine’s reliability had been improved. BRM did just that but with a change in the rules the mighty V16 never did get to prove its true potential. Instead, BRM’s struggled on and the racing company as a whole was sold to one of the principal players in the project, industrialist Sir Alfred Owen. The team continued to compete in Formula 1 until 1977, entering a total of 197 races, winning 17, and finally achieving its long-awaited glory whenGraham Hill became F1 champion in 1962 at the wheel of a BRM P57.
Now, 70 years after its conception, BRM has announced it will commission three ‘new’ Type 15s based on 20,000 technical drawings still owned by the Owen family. The build will take place in in Lincolnshire, only a few miles away from the Type 15’s original birthplace in the town of Bourne. In fact, Rick Hall (of Hall and Hall) joined the BRM team in 1972 and became chief engineer before eventually going into business independently. The first example will be given to the Owen family, with the two further chassis available for purchase; all will be built to FIA standards, meaning they’ll be eligible for competition. Four original cars remain in existence.
Sir Alfred’s son John, now 81 years old, first heard the unique sound of the V16 as a ten year old boy. “Watching the likes of the Pampas Bull (Gonzalez) and, in particular, Fangio, master the power of the V16 was very special”, says John. “And the fabulous noise of the engine still rings in my ears 70 years on! “In a selfish way, I have always dreamed of hearing that sound again, but now I’d also love to share that sensation with others. To hear the V16 screaming at full tilt for the first time is something special – something you never forget.” With the ‘new’ BRM Type 15 V16 due to hit the circuit in 2021, that wish is about to come true, giving a whole new generation an unforgettable experience.