BRM Type 15
British Racing Motors' first car, the Type 15, was conceived during World War II. Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon dreamed of building a fully fledged British Grand Prix car for the post-war era as a national prestige project.
With the support of Lucas, Girling, Rolls-Royce, Vandervell, Rubery Owen, David Brown, Standard Motors, and many more, the British Motor Racing Research Trust was formed and work began in earnest in 1947.
Berthon designed a revolutionary and highly complex supercharged 1.5-litre 135° V16 engine intended to meet the 1947 "Formula 1" regulations that would go on to become the formula for the Drivers' World Championship in 1950.
Britain has found a winner!
The first car was not ready to start running until December 1949, and though Mays had wanted to keep the car under wraps while development continued, he was overruled.
When the Type 15 was revealed for the first time a major public relations operation was mounted in the press with a Pathé newsreel even pre-emptively declaring...
Seldom has so much money been better spent... In the BRM Britain has found a winner!"
With a complex engine, a torturous supply line, a convoluted organisational structure, and wartime rationing still in effect, BRM found themselves well behind schedule as the new World Championship began at the British Grand Prix in May. The V-16 BRM was not yet ready to race, but Mays gave the car a demonstration run in front of a large and enthusiastic Silverstone crowd.
The team decided on the 1950 BRDC International Trophy as the car's first full race meeting, in part due to pressure from the team's backers and the press. But the much anticipated debut of the Type 15 could not have gone any worse.
After all the hype, and expectation, Raymond Sommer's BRM broke its driveshaft as he tried to power away at the start of the race, and the car managed to travel no more than a few inches. Boos rang out in the Silverstone crowd.
The car's second race meeting at Goodwood a month later was much more encouraging, with Reg Parnell winning not only the Woodcote Cup but also the full Formula One Goodwood Trophy. But in truth the cold conditions had masked overheating problems that would later come back to haunt the team.
The next year was a little better but not much. Two new cars were entered in the team's first full Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone, finishing fifth and seventh. This, in spite of severe overheating problems for the drivers, caused by exhaust pipes in the cockpit.
Later in the year, two Type 15s set eighth and tenth fastest times in qualifying at Monza, but were withdrawn because of gearbox problems.
With Alfa Romeo withdrawing from the World Championship in 1952, and BRM providing little competition to the other main entrant Ferrari, the FIA bowed to pressure from race organisers and decreed that the World Championship Grands Prix would be run to Formula Two regulations for the next two years.
The Type 15 would no longer be admissable for World Championship events, so with their car no longer eligible, BRM had to content themselves with various non-championship Formula One, Formula Libre and minor British races.
It wasn't really until it was all too late, that the BRM Type 15 finally started to produce some consistent results.
At the 1953 Easter Goodwood races Wharton was second in the first race ahead of Parnell in fourth, with Wharton winning the second race. He also finished third at Charterhall. At Albi the Type 15 struggled with tyres throwing their treads but managed first, second and fifth in the heat, with González second in the final as the other two cars dropped out. At Silverstone for the Grand Prix meeting Fangio came second with Wharton third. Wharton then won three races in succession at Snetterton and Charterhall, and after three podium places in two races for the team at Goodwood, Wharton won the last race of the year at Castle Combe.
But of course it was all too little, too late. The car that was going to show continental Europe what Britain could do, ended up as a failure, and an irrelevance, simply because it was three years late, and the world had moved on.
In spite of this, the Type 15 is probably one of the best known BRM cars ever, and is still celebrated today. Perhaps that has something to do with the overarching ambition of the project. Maybe it was something about the complex and unique V-16 that attracted the fans. Could there be something in the idea that us Brits love a plucky underdog, especially one that's been lauded as a hero, only to be castigated as a villain when things don't go to plan?
It may well be all of those and more, and it is certainly a tale worth telling. We'll leave you with a quote from Autosport...
Racing enthusiasts will remember the sound of the BRM V16 long after memories of modern racing cars have faded - the pitch and sheer volume of its 16-cylinder scream, which reputedly distracted seasoned drivers in cars alongside on grids in the 1950s, has never been matched. Deeper memories will be of a promise which soon gave way to fiasco.