Many British enthusiasts fervently desired to break this Continental stranglehold on the most sophisticated form of motor racing and several, notably Raymond Mays of B.R.M. and Kenneth McAlpine of Connaught, tried and failed.
To Tony Vandervell of Van wall in Liverpool, goes the credit and fame of having defeated the red cars of Italy, on their hometerritory around the arduous road circuit of Pescara that combines mountainous tracts and a long arrow-swift straight, to the switch-back dips and dives of the wooded and oppressively sombre Nurburgring, and the tram-lines and traffic signs of Oporto.
In two short seasons, 1957 and 1958, Vanwall scored nine magnificent World Championship race victories.
When Stirling Moss at the wheel of the sleek, highly polished Vanwall took the chequered flag in the 1957 European Grand Prix at Aintree, not only did he fulfil for Tony Vandervell a lifetime's ambition, but he scored the first major Grand Prix win by a British car since Segrave's victory with a Sunbeam at Tours in 1923.
Guy Anthony Vandervell of Vanderv.ell bearings fame had been an enthusiastic supporter of motor racing for many years. He had contributed to the B.R.M. funds and had sat on the a.R.M. management committee.
His original motive in acquiring the latest and most potent Ferraris available to a private purchaser was to provide competitive opposition to the B.R.M.s that would test and help improve them. But is was not long before he found himself at loggerheads witli the other members of the committee which he considered hopelessly inefficient.
Vandervell began to race his Thin Wall Special Ferrari to beat the V-16 B.R.M.s whenever possible and he began to make plans to build his own Grand Prix contender.
While work was steadily progressing on the new car, Vandervell continued to race the Thin Wall Special.
After two supercharged Ferraris bearing his name which had made brief. and unsuccessful appearances at Silverstone in 1949 and 1950, Vandervell acquired a 4500 cc unsupercharged car for the 1951 season. Over the- next three years this car was progressively modified and developed until not only was it one of the fastest racing ca'rs in the world, but it bore very little resemblance to the original product that had emerged from the Maranello works.
When the Thin Wall was put into a well earned retirement at the end of 1954, it had won eleven races and had been handled by many of the world's leading drivers including Froilan Gonzalez, Nino Farina, Piero Taruffi, Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins.
Vandervell was an admirer of Ferrari design practice and so it was not surprising that the new Vanwall Special (as the car was known in 1954) should follow closely the general layout of the 4-cylinder Formula Two Ferrari that had appeared at the end of 1951.
The Vanwall engine was a 4-cylinder unit of 1988 cc (86 x 86 mm) evolved in collaboration with the Norton motor cycle company of which Vandervell was a director. Norton had been working on a water-cooled version of their single-cylinder twin-cam r~cing engine and the Vanwall unit was based on four of these cylinders.
The new car had valve gear that was identical to Norton practice, with. open upper valve stems and hairpin valve springs, and the camshafts and cylindrical tappets running in cam boxes above them. The cylinder block was based on one made by Rolls-Royce for military use and a modified Rolls-Royce crankshaft was also used. In accordance with motor-cycle practice there were four Amal carburetters. Power output in this original form was approaching 200 bhp.
The chassis of the new car was a simple tubular structure built over the winter of 1953 by the Cooper Car Company of Surbiton. ~n accordance with Ferrari practice suspension at the front was by double wishbones, with a de Dion axle at the rear, and transverse leaf spriQgs front' and rear. The most striking feature of the new car was the exterior surface radiaior, mou'nted on the nose, the purpose of which was to ensure that only cool air reached the'carburetters. Exclusive to the Van wall were the' special single-pad Goodyear disc brakes which at this time these were much more effective than the rival Dunlop product.First outing for the new car was at the Daily Express Trophy race at Silverstone in May, 1954 The driver was former Cooper-Bristol exponent Alan Brown. The Yanwall Special finished sixth in its heat and it retired in the final because of a broken oil pipe.
That the new car had considerable potential was beyond doubt and its fastest lap in the final in 1 min 56 secs (90.84 mph) was with Roll's Connaughtjoint quickest of the British cars.
The car did not race again until the British Grand Prix held on the same circuit in July. At the wheel was Peter Collins who was now the regular Yandervell driver while the car was now fitted with an interim 2237 cc engine and a ducting over t!1e surface radiator. Collins held eighth place ahead of Kling's Mercedes-Benz before he was forced to retire with a cracked cylinder head.
A full 2490 cc (96 x 86 mm) engine was prepared for the Italian Grand Prix, but this gave trouble in testing and so the 2.2-litre unit was again used. The exterior radiator had now been replaced by a conventional radiator block. Collins finished seventh despite a pit stop to cure an oil leak.
The car then ran in 2.5-litre form and with considerable success at the Autumn Goodwood and Aintree meetings. At both of these it was driven by Mike Hawthorn whom Yandervell hoped to sign up for the 1955 season. To round off the year the car was entered in the Spanish. Grand Prix, but withdrew after Collins had crashed in practice.
For 1955 the car became known simply as the 'Vanwall' and two revised examples were raced. Bosch fuel injection was fitted (retaining the bodies of the Amal carburetters as throttle slides), coil spring front suspension was substituted and the lines of the body were slightly re-profiled. To drive the cars Yandervell signed up Hawthorn and Ken Wharton.
The team's first outing was again at the Daily Express Trophy race at Silverstone where Hawthorn retired with oil leaking from a fractured pipe and Wharton crashed, suffering bad burns. Hawthorn drove the single car entered at Monaco and Spain, but it retired at both races.
The Yanwall had proved less competitive than Hawthorn had anticipated and so he was released from his contract to return to Ferrari.
As a replacement Yandervell engaged Harry Schell and by the British Grand Prix at Aintree Wharton was fit enough to drive again. Schell's car retired when the accelerator pedal broke off, but he took over Wharton's car after a lengthy pit stop. They finished ninth and last.
Following the Le Mans disaster several World Championship races were cancelled, and in order to give his drivers some racing experience Vandervell fielded the cars in a number if minor races. Schell took second place to Moss's private Maserati at Crystal Palace on August Bank Holiday Monday, and later that month Schell and Wharton finished first and second at Snetterton.
Two Vanwalls were fielded in the Italian Grand Prix, but both retired early in the race. There remained only the minor British events.
In the Daily Dispatch Gold Cup race on Oulton Park Irish driver Desmond Titterington was included in the team and he drove a fine race to finish third behind the works Maserati of Stirling Moss and Hawthorn's Ferrari-entered Lancia. The season ended with two wins by Schell at Castle Combe.
During the winter months an almost complete redesign was carried out. Lotus chief Colin Chapman was' called in as consultant designer and he evolved a completely new multi-tubular space-frame of low weight and great strength. The existing front suspension with the addition of an anti-roll bar - was retained and Chapman designed a new rear suspension layout with a de Dion tube of reduced weight ,and with a high-mounted transverse leaf spring.
To design a body Vandervell called , in Frank Costin, designer of Lotus bodies, who brought a new approach to Grand Prix styling. The new Vanwall body featured a long, penetrating nose, a cockpit with high sides, a high tail and a completely wrap-round perspex windscreen. The exhaust was recessed into the bodywork, there was a very small air opening in the nose and the the body was completely free of slots, louvres and bulges.
Now that Mercedes-Benz had withdrawn from racing, Yandervell was able to obtain the services of certain of their engineering staff, and also fuel injection specialists from Bosch. Careful development work on the engine boosted power output to 270 bhp, an output which matched that of any. of the Vanwall's rivals.
Another new development was a 5-speed gearbox built by Vandervell engineers.
Vandervell had hoped to sign up a team of leading Championship:class drivers for 1956, but this was not possible with an as yet unproven car. Harry Schell remained with the team and he was joined by Maurice Trintignant who had won the 1955 Monaco race for Ferrari. David Yorke, who had joined Yanwall in 1955, remained as team manger.
Yet again the team's season began with the Daily Express Trophy race at Silverstone. Maserati withdrew their entries from this race and Stirling Moss was free to drive a Vanwall. Moss scored a fine victory in the face of strong
Lancia-Ferrari opposition - Schell retired and so it was with great hopes that the team travelled to Monaco for the first Championship race of the season.
It was not a successful outing, for Schell crashed early in the race and Trintignant retired with overheating after the air flow to the radiator had been blocked off in a minor accident.
Next came the Belgian Grand Prix where the cars displayed tremendous speed along the Masta straight, but were rather unstable through the corners, but Schell took an encouraging fourth place.Three Vanwalls were fielded at the french Grand Prix. Trintignant had been released to drive the new Grand Prix Bugatti and Schell was joined in the team by Mike Hawthorn and Colin Chapman. After a practice accident had damaged two cars, only Schell and Hawthorn started the race.
The British driver on loan from B.R.M., had driven for Jaguar in the 12 Hours Sports Car Race preceding the Grand Prix and was completely exhausted. After Schell had retired his own car with engine trouble, he took over from Hawthorn, and worked his way back through the field, mixing it with the Lancia Ferraris and holding second place for a short while, before falling back with fuel injection trouble.
Argentinian Froilan Gonzalez joined the team for the British Grand Prix. While he was eliminated by drive-shaft failure on the starting line, both of the other cars retired with fuel feed trouble caused by the lining of the fuel tank dissolving.
Three cars were then fielded at the Italian Grand Prix and 'guest driver' here was the veteran Piero Taruffi. All three cars retired, but not before Schell had led the race briefly and held second place until half-distance.
The only important change made for 1957 was the adoption of coil spring rear suspension and the team concentrated on building extra cars so that the same ones would not have to be fielded in successive races. Steady development work on the-4-cylinder engine had now boosted power output to 290bhp. Stirling Moss joined the team partnered by Tony Brooks.
In the early part of the 1957 season the Vadervells continued to be plagued by mechanical unreliability. The team first appeared at Siracusa where the Yanwalls displayed more than enough speed to cope with the Lancia-Ferrari and Maserati opposition, but Brooks retired with a split fuel injection nozzle.
It was much the, same story at Goodwood where both cars suffered from throttle linkage trouble, a persistent fault that had plagued Yanwall since the adoption of fuel injection. Moss retired after leading the race and Brooks finished in last place.
At the Monaco race the Yanwalls appeared with short nose cowlings with a reinforcing bar across the front to prevent a repetition of the accident that had eliminated Trintignant in 1956 and the perspex screens had been cut right down to aero-screen size. Important changes were the fitting of aircraft-type reinforced flexible fuel injection pipes and the control rod between the throttles and the injection pump was now made of the same material - this completely cured the earlier throttle troubles.
Moss led the race initially, but was eliminated in a multi-car crash and for the remainder of the race Brooks held a safe second place behind Fangio's Maserati.
Because of the cancellation of the Dutch and Belgian races, the Vanwalls did not race again until the French Grand Prix at Rouen. Moss was suffering from a nose infection and Brooks had not yet recovered from a crash with an Aston Martin at Le Mans.
Weakened, the team engaged former Connaught driver Stuart Lewis-Evans and Aston Martin, Cooper and Maserati driver Roy Salvadori.
Both of the new drivers were slow to accustom themselves to the very light and, perhaps, over-sensitive steering of the Vanwalls. Neither car lasted long in the race, for Salvadori missed a gear, over-revved and blew up the engine, and Lewis-Evans eliminated by overheating and stiffening steering.
The following week was the non-Championship Reims Grand Prix and the same drivers appeared for Vanwall. Lewis-Evans had now mastered the Vanwall's handling and he led the race until the car developed an oil'leak and the oil spreading over his goggles and gloves forced him to ease off. The young Welshman eventually finished third and Salvadori took fifth place.
In practice at Reims Vanwall tried out a streamlined body designed by Frank Costin. At the front it resembled a Lotus II sports car narrowing off at the cockpit and the fairings above the rear wheels.
Moss was back in the team for the British race at Aintree, as was Brooks, although not yet fully recovered from the accident. Lewis Evans was now included in the team on a regular basis.
The Van wall team leader headed ,the race until his car developed a mis-fire and then he and Brooks swapped cars. Moss rejoined the race in ninth phlce, but after a chase through the field and the retirement of the leading Maserati driven by Jean Behra, he took the .lead to score Britain's first major Grand Prix victory since 1923. Lewis-Evans was in second place when a ball-joint in the throttle li-nkage failed and after he had stopped to repair this out on the course, he finished seventh.
Because of the lack of previous experience at the Nurburgring, and the failure to carry out tests there before the race, the Vanwall's handling and ride was not set up to suit the circuit and the drivers had a most unhappy race. Moss and Brooks struggled round to finish fifth and ninth, but Lewis-Evans crashed as a result of his gearbox seizing up.
An additional Championship race in 1957 was the Pescara Grand Prix in which Moss scored another magnificent victory, Lewis Evans took fifth place, but Brooks retired on the first of the 25-kilometre laps with engine trouble.
It was much the same story in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza where Moss scored :another victory after a tustle with the Maseratis. Brooks was seventh after two pit stops and Lewis-Evans retired with a cracked cylinder head.
In one season Vandervell's cars had achieved more success than any other British Grand Prix car since racing had begun. Now the team faced the difficult problem of converting the cars from alcohol based 'dope', to run on 130 octane 'Avgas' fuel which was compulsory in 1958. A power loss was unavoidable and the Vanwall team was more than happy with the 265 bhp at 7400 rpm achieved with new valves and pistons.
Apart from power loss problems the engine 'relied on alcohol for internal cooling and relief of internal stresses ensuring that the drivers now had to watch their rev limit very carefully.
The shape of the tail was changed slightly and Vanwall experimented with cast alloy wheels of the so-called 'wobbly web' Lotus pattern. Because race distances were now shorter, it was not anticipated that wheel changes would be needed and so bolt-on wheels were fitted at the front; knock-on hubs were, however, retained at the rear. It was found however, that the increased stiffness of the alloy wheels at the front affected the Vanwall's sensitive handling and so the team reverted to wire wheels at the front after Reims.
Vanwall missed the Arge~tine race at the beginning of the season and did not appear until the Monaco Grand Prix in May. Here all three Vanwalls retired, but eight days later Moss scored a fine victory at Zandvoort.
Moss retired with valve trouble in the Belgian race at Spa, but despite last-lap gearbox trouble, Brooks scored a fine victory from Hawthorn's Ferrari and Lewis-Evans finished third, creeping across the line because of a broken front wishbone.
In the French race at Reims, Moss could not match the speed of Hawthorn's Ferrari and finished second, while both Brooks and Lewis Evans retired.
At Silverstone it was Collins (Ferrari) who had the legs of Vanwall and Moss was in second place when he retired with engine trouble. Lewis-Evans finished fourth and an off-form Brooks was a poor seventh.Because of a shortage of engines only two cars, driven by Moss and Brooks, were fielded in the German Grand Prix. It soon became clear that the team had sorted out all the problems that had troubled the cars at the Nurburgring the previous year and Moss took the lead on the first lap of the race, pulling away from the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins until he retired on lap four with magneto failure. Then Brooks came through to pass the Ferraris and it was while trying to stay with the flying Vanwall that poor Peter Collins crashed with fatal results. At the chequered flag Brooks was three minutes ahead of Salvadori's Cooper.
Because of worries about the high oil temperature being attained by the Vanwall engine the cars appeared at the Portuguese Grand Prix at Oporto, with a new cooling system. Instead of having the radiator divided into three compartments, with the upper and lower ones for water and the centre for oil, the whole of the radiator was now for water and there was a separate oil cooling system mounted above this, combing the gearbox and engine systems with a ducted air entry and exit on the nose cowling.
Moss scored yet another fine victory and Lewis-Evans finished third behind Hawthorn's Ferrari. Brooks retired when he spun and stalled and was unable to restart his car. Both Moss and Lewis-Evans retired early in the race, But Brooks, after a pit stop to sort out an oil leak, steadily worked his way through the field to take the lead and victory from Hawthorn's Ferrari.
The final round of the World Championship was on the Ain-Diab circuit at Morocco. Provided Moss won the race and made fastest lap (for which at that time one point was awarded), and Hawthorn finished lower than second, Moss would win the Drivers Championship. Stirling did accomplish all that he hoped for, but Hawthorn finished second and just pipped him for the Drivers' Championship by the margin of one point. Vanwall did, however, win the Manufacturers' Championship.
At Morocco the engine of Lewis-Evans' car seized up on a bend and - the driver, losing control, slid off the track and crashed. The.car caught fire and Lewis-Evans suffered serious burns to which he later succumbed. Tony Vandervall felt a great sense of personal responsibility for this accident and was convinced that but for his own personal ambitions to beat the Italians, Lewis-Evans would still be alive. This together with the fact that Vandervell took personal responsibility for much of the team's racing activities and his health was clearly deteriorating, resulted in his decision to retire the Vanwall team.
On a limited scale development work still continued at Vandervell's Park Royal works, and new and improved cars appearing in both 1959 and 1960. The first of these lighter Vanwalls, still closely resembling the Championship-winning design, ran in the 1959 British Grand Prix where it was driven by Tony Brooks.
The following year there appered a completely redesigned car, still with the engine at the front, but new in almost every other respect. Brooks drove the car at the Easter Goodwood meeting and in the French Grand Prix, but the new Vanwall was only too obviously no match for the latest rear-engined Coopers which dominated the season's racing.
An experimental rear-engined Vanwall powered Lotus was seen briefly in 1960 and from this was developed the last example of a great marque. For Inter-Continental racing Vanwall produced their own rear-engined car with a 2.7-litre version of the familiar 4 cylinder engine and, after a spin, this was driven by Surtees into fifth place in the 1961 Daily Express Trophy race.
As the Inter-Continental Formula petered out altogether, Vanwall had no intention of starting from scratch building cars to comply with the new 1500 cc Grand Prix Formula.Tony Vandervell died in 1967, but two of the 1958 cars together with the 1961 rear-engined model are still lovingly cared for at the Park Royal works by the mechanics who worked with them in their racing days.