GRAND PRIX CARS FROM THE 50's
VANWALL '58 season
EIGHT YEARS ago one of the most dynamic men in the British motor industry, wealthy Tony Vandervell, an engineer and manufacturer of bearings, decided it was time Britain had a Grand Prix team able to win races. Out of his own pocket, he financed the Vanwall venture. Motor racing, to Vandervell, is still a sport, but a sport that can mean nationwide prestige for his country. Until 1954 the name Vanwall was unknownn but today these machines are reckoned to be the fastest Formula I cars in Grand Prix racing and respected by competitors on every circuit in Europe..                                                       

On several occasions the Vanwall team has been robbed of almost certain victory by the poor handling of its cars. These problems are gradually being sorted out as Tony Vandervell's organization acquires more first hand experience of roadholding difficulties peculiar to each of the many and varied circuits used in Grands Prix today.

The cars are built in modest workshops adjoining the Vandervell factory at Acton, within 10 miles of London; only 15 mechanics are employed full time on the racing side, and organization is in the hands of team manager David Yorke. 

Tony Vandervell has a way of getting things done, and he is not afraid of using the best outside brains when they can be of real help to his organization. Before building his first car he looked around to see what the opposition was doing and bought a 1.5 liter Grand Prix Ferrari for experimental and development purposes, as well as to give his newly created organization actual racing experience.

Vandervell then purchased a 4.5-liter F-I Ferrari, and the best Continental drivers were engaged to pilot the cars, now called the Thin Wall Specials. Such men as Ascari~ Farina,Taruffi, Hawthorn, Collins and Parnell all drove the 4.5-liter Thin Wall with some success. In May 1954 the 'first Vanwall appeared; it was driven by Alan Brown at Silverstone and powered by a 4-cylinder, 2-liter engine of Norton motorcycle origin and layout. It is no secret that the chassis and suspension of the first Vanwall bore a striking resemblance to a Ferrari. Roadholding and handling were by no means perfect but they did at least provide a known and workable basis ready for development and possibly saved years of experimental work in this field. 

Another factor that has contributed a great deal to the performance of every Vanwall is the use of self-adjusting disc brakes. These are of Goodyear aircraft pattern built to Tony Vandervell's special requirements. They are the lightest and among the most successful disc brakes in the world.

In an attempt to improve the roadholding, the front suspension was changed from transverse leaf to helical springs enclosing Armstrong dampers for 1955. This effected a worthwhile improvement in handling, but still the roadholding was not good enough, nor was the car winning races. So Colin Chapman was called in.

Chapman was responsible for much of the design of the 1956 car and current machines, other than the engine. Typical of his layout was the lightweight, small diameter-tube space frame. Front suspension by helical springs enclosing telescopic dampers was still favored, as were double wishbones, those at the top being linked by an anti-roll bar. Although Colin Chapman wanted to use coil springs at the rear, he was overruled and transverse leaf springs were retained. A 5th speed for starting was added to the gearbox, which is in unit with the ZF limited-slip differential; behind the electron casing a de Dion tube was located laterally by Watts linkage and fore and aft by double radius rods. The disc brakes at the rear were brought inboard.

The chassis was enclosed by a new low-drag body designed by Frank Costin, the specialist in aerodynamics; its long\nose aimed at good air penetration and the shape, more functional than beautiful, allowed air to pass smoothly around the sides of the body.

Two cars were completed just in time for the Daily Express'International Trophy at Silverstone in May of 1956. The second, given to Stirling Moss, was finished only the day before the race. "Can't possibly win," he told me, "The car has not really been tried." But win he did, beating the factory Ferrari for the first time and ,setting a new

Silverstone record average race speed of 100.47 miles per hour. At Silverstone, where the Vanwall was reaching no more than 135 mph, the handling seemed quite satisfactory, but it was a different proposition at Spa, where for the first time the cars entered the realms of very high-speed motoring. The Vanwall lacked essential steadiness through fast corners, and Harry Schell found that although he could easily hold such machines as the 250-F Maserati along the fast Masta straight, the better handling of the Italian machines enabled them to pull right away through the fast 150-mp.h curves that followed. By much hard work plus the knowledge gained at Spa, the Vanwall mechanics managed to improve high-speed roadholding in time for the French Grand Prix over the fast Rheims circuit. Harry Schell ably demonstrated this fact by challenging the entire Ferrari team single~handed, and - swooped past at 175 mph on the approach to the acute Thillois corner, to their intense discomfiture.

After a tremendous wheel-to-wheel battle with Fangio for a few laps, the fuel injection control rod sheared on the Vanwall, putting it out of die race, but it had proved fast and manageable.

The final 1956 race for Vanwall was the Italian Grand Prix. On arriving at Monza, the team found the bumps on the banking fa! worse than they had been led to suppose. The first few laps were enough to reveal rear suspension bottoming. Before practice ended, stronger de Dion tubes had been fitted, but during the race the suspension could not cope with the buffeting the cars received on the banking.

Drivers in the British team had no trouble in holding off Ferrari or Maserati factory cars at high speed. along the straight. But as the Vailwall drivers swept on to the banking, they had to ease the throttle for the bumpy portions of the track, whereas the Italian. cars carried on at full speed. Despite the lack of high-speed roadholding, Schell kept his car among the leaders until the excessive movement over the bumps caused a rubber lubrication-retaining boot on one of the driveshafts to split. The final grive unit tightened as the oil drained away, and the other cars in the team retired for the same reason.                                                                       .

Stirling Moss joined the team early In 1957, but before doing so he insisted on exhaustive tests at Silverstone and Oulton Park. He also persuaded Vanwall to change over to helical springs at the rear, and afterwards proved his point by trying two of the cars with different rear suspensions at Silverstone. The model with coil springs was almost 1.5 seconds faster than the older car with transverse leaf spring and Stirling's suggestion-the same as Colin Chapman's of a year before-was therefore immediately adopted.

In their first race at Monaco, Moss was eliminated by the famous shunt, but teammate Brooks went on to finish an easy second to Fangio. Neither Moss nor Brooks was fit enough to drive in'the French Grand Prix at Rouen, or at Rheims; at the latter race a newcomer to the team, Lewis-Evans, brought his car into third place after leading for almost half the distance. However, in the Grand Prix d'Europe at Aintree, Vanwall scored its first big success with a car shared by Moss and Brooks. Its handling was good over a circuit which was quite smooth in comparison with many on the Continent.

Elation over their first grande epreuve victory at Aintree was short lived. The rugged surface of the Nurburg Ring that twists its way over 14 miles up and down the Eifel Mountains brought them back to earth with a jolt. The inherent understeer characteristics of the Vanwall were completely unsuited to the many tight turns of the Ring, the back end would not break away quickly enough, and the front wheels bounced badly. Mechanics slaved day and night to produce reasonable roadholding, but they were faced with an impossible task in the short time available and the drivers had to use machines which were completely out of phase with the road surface even worse, chassis frames fractured and bodies split.

However, the Vanwall organization learned a great deal about dampers and spring rates from this outing, and the cars went on to win the next two races at Pescara and Monza, with roadholding that gave them clear superiority over their Italian rivals. The banking at Monza, just as bumpy, as ever, held no terror this year for Vanwall drivers.

Before the end of the 1957 season the 4-cylinder, twin overhead-camshaft engine with bore and stroke of 96 x 86 millimeters, giving a capacity of 2490 cubic centimeters, had been further developed by Harry Weslake to develop 285 brake horsepower at 7400 revolutions per minute, using a compression ratio of 12.2:1. Uhlenhaut, of Daimler-Benz, and also engineers from Bosch had given Vanwall a great deal of help with the Bosch injection system, while the British aircraft industry had shown the team an effective cure for, the long series of broken throttle rods and fractured pipes to the injector nozzles. But then, for 1958, all Formula I competitors were compelled to use 100/130 aviation gas which called for a lower compression ratio, and of course this meant some loss in power.

The Bosch fuel pumps were sent to Stuttgart to be recalibrated for the new fuel, and compression ratios were reduced to 10:1. During 1958 the engines have been developing around 260 bhp. Handling has been improved again by fitting dampers to the steering. 

The first outing of 1958 was at Monaco. Stirling Moss complained of poor handling during practice: something was obviously wrong with the steering and brakes, although the other two cars seemed much better. During practice a new type of electron-alloy disc wheel was tried, but none of the drivers cared for it and wire wheels were used for the race, where all the Vanwalls retired.

At Zandvoort, the disc wheels were again tried. Eventually both Lewis-Evans and Moss used them on the rear wheels only, turning in faster lap times than when they were used on all four wheels. Possibly this was because wire wheels at the front allowed more flexing on corners. Moss won this race with ease.

The team arrived at the very fast Spa circuit with only one set of wire wheels. The rest were the new alloy discs referred to by the drivers as "dustbin lids." Although the new wheels reduced unsprung weight, drivers complained that handling was not good and that they caused locking brakes. Stirling Moss secured the set of wire wheels for the race, while Brooks and Lewis-Evans had to be content with the others. During the Grand Prix, Moss went out when valves and pistons collided after his accidentally over-revving his engine. Brooks won from Hawthorn, whose Ferrari showed greatly improved handling, and made a record tour with a speed of 132.36 mph, whereupon the engine blew up as it reached the pits on its last lap.

As it was obvious at Spa that the Maranello engineers had at last found the right handling characteristics for the Dino Ferrari, it came as no surprise when Mike Hawthorn won the French Grand Prix at Rheims, leading from start to finish.

Moss's Vanwall finished second, 24.6 seconds behind, the poorer roadholding of the British car never once allowing him really to come to grips with the Dino Ferrari.

Moss used electron disc wheels at the rear but wire wheels at the front again, supposedly to help suppress wheel flutter. A new feature of this car was, the use of bracing struts at the front, between the upper wishbone link and the frame. What surprised many people was the lack of stability shown by the Vanwalls in their next event, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, where the cars had a difficult-to-manage oversteer. This race was really a test of the suspension for the important Nurburg Ring race to follow, although totally different handling characteristics are needed for these two circuits. Peter Collins led this race from start to finish. During the earlier stages, Stirling Moss heroically cornered the unstable-looking Vanwall in full-lock slides, using a great deal of road but making no impression whatever on the leJding Ferrari. It steadily drew away, gaining ground through each of the fast, sweeping Silverstone curves. The engine of the Moss Vanwall eventually blew up. Salvadori in the 2.2-liter Cooper, seized his opportunity and overtook Lewis-Evans Vanwall as they left the tricky right-hand corner at Copse. Although their duel lasted for the remainder of the race, during which time Salvadori felt violently ill through lack of cockpit ventilation, the more correctly matched (for Silverstone) roadholding of the Cooper enabled it to finish a single car ahead of the Vanwall, in second place.

There were many long faces in Britain after the poor display by Vanwall, but not at Acton, for they had real hopes of a victory in the German Grand Prix, although the Nurburg Ring is reckoned to be a Ferrari circuit.

Many weeks earlier Vanwall had been quietly experimenting with new settings for their Fichtel and Sachs dampers, on the advice of Dr. Uhlenhaut of Daimler-Benz at Stuttgart. He had also advised Vanwall on spring rates and gear ratios most suitable for the Ring. Consequently, when the Vanwall team arrived for the German Grand Prix, its cars had exactly the right handling characteristics for this notoriously tricky circuit. The Vanwalls were not quite so highly geared as the Ferrari and were naturally a little slower along the one comparatively short straight, but they were faster through the innumerable bends and curves which comprise about 90% of the course.

Vandervell was astute enough not to reveal his hand to Ferrari during practice but as the race started, Moss went straight into the lead and began putting in a succession of brilliant record laps. He handsomely beat Fangio's terrific lap record of the previous year (9 minutes 17 seconds) with a final time of 9 min 9.2 sec before he went out with magneto trouble, leaving Brooks's Vanwall to surprise most people with a magnificent victory.

The Ferraris, despite greater bhp, had more understeer and so just could not compete with the more suitable handling characteristics and roadholding of the latest Vanwall over the more difficult sections of the circuit. It was another interesting lesson in the importance of correct handling characteristics for each individual course.

The last three races, Portugal, Monza and Casablanca, were all won by Vanwall cars. Moss won at Portugal and Casablanca, and Brooks at Monza. Lewis-Evans finished third behind Hawthorn at Portugal; his was the only Vanwall other than the winners to finish in any of the three events. The retirement of the cars, in every case except one was due to engine or gearbox trouble and not handling characteristics. Lewis-Evans' tragic accident at Casablanca made him the exception. 

This last season, as predicted in our July 1958 cover story, has indeed shown the Vanwall cars to be formidable opponents for Ferrari, Maserati and BRM. What will happen next year cannot be foretold, but Tony Vandervell's cars are on top now, and you can bet that he will endeavor to keep them there.

Author: ArchitectPage

Vanwall

Vanwall 3

Bugatti Type 251 1956

Lancia D50 1955

Gordini Type 32 GP 1955

BRM P25 GP 1955

196 Mercedes

Maserati 250

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