Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Modern Vanwall Venture Revives 1958 Construction Championship Race Car for Continuation Run

Photo Credit: Vanwall Group

Despite operating in Formula 1 for a short period of time, the Vanwall name’s contribution to British motorsport history is significant. 

Set up by an early supporter of BRM (British Motor Racing), industrialist Tony Vandervell established the Vanwall team in 1954 with a Formula 1 debut coming at the British Grand Prix. Starting with a race car propelled by a four-cylinder powerplant derived from combining Norton motorcycle engines, Vandervell’s organization would quickly hit on success. In 1957, the Vanwall VW 5 became a winning platform placed in the hands of a driving team consisting of the late Sir Sterling Moss, Tony Brooks and Stuart Lewis-Evans. The team’s first Formula 1 win was achieved at the 1957 British Grand Prix in a performance where Moss and Brooks shared a vehicle. The Vanwall VW 5 race car powered by an inline-four engine would win 9 of the 15 grand prix events the group entered during its two-season run including the first-ever Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship in 1958.

While the team was unable to propel a driver to an individual championship (Moss was just one-point short of 1958 drivers’ champion Mike Hawthorn), Vanwall won Formula 1's first-ever awarded Constructors’ championship. Fending off Ferrari for the 1958 honours, the British team is also recorded as the only constructors’ title winner to accomplish the feat campaigning a front-engined vehicle. Despite the success for Vanwall, the team withdrew from contention for a Formula 1 constructors’ title defence running just two more grand prix events in the series before shuttering the organization in 1960.  

Obtaining the rights to the Vanwall name in 2013, Iain Sanderson has been working to bring the historic British racing brand to modern relevance. Sanderson’s Vanwall Group first major attempt to revive the past accomplishments attached to the name is to recreate its successful grand prix contender.

Photo Credit: Vanwall Group

Announced on October 19th (the 62nd anniversary for when the Vanwall Formula 1 collected its 1958 championship), a total of six examples of the Vanwall VW 5 race car will be produced to emulate the vehicle that raced on classic circuits against Juan-Manuel Fangio’s Maserati and the Ferrari wheeled by Mike Hawthorn. Being assembled with the aid of the original blueprints and drawings, every vehicle will be hand-built as a completely accurate continuation example of grand prix racing roadster. The Vanwall VW 5 continuation machines will be constructed under the expert craftsmanship of Hall and Hall based in Lincolnshire, England. 

Exactly matching the power source that propelled Tony Brooks wheeled to victory at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix or Sir Sterling Moss took to glory in the Dutch Grand Prix, the continuation versions of the Vanwall VW 5 will feature a faithful recreation of the original 2.489-liter displacement inline four-cylinder engine. The fuel-injected, 1958 Formula 1 engine was initially created by combining a Rolls-Royce block with a cylinder head similar to those found on Norton motorcycles designed by Harry Weslake. Producing 270 horsepower, the engine of the VW 5 race car is supported by a chassis that was constructed under the engineering guidance of Colin Chapman. 

Photo Credit: Vanwall Group

Beyond the brief existence of the Formula 1 team, Vanwall’s history in auto racing also serves as the spring board for several other major influencers that would define motorsports for decades. When Tony Vandervell’s organization was preparing its own car in 1954, they sought a chassis from Cooper Car Company. In the same year that Vanwall won the constructors’ world championship, a Cooper-built rear-engined Formula 1 scored its first victories ultimately sparking a revolution that would see vehicles with front-mounted powerplants rapidly become obsolete including the Vanwall VW 5. Cooper won the 1959 and 1960 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship while team driver Jack Brabham took the drivers’ championship. The before-mentioned Harry Weslake would achieve a grand prix victory as an engine manufacturer in 1967. Weslake’s V-12 powerplant propelled Dan Gurney’s Eagle Mk1 race car to a win in the Belgian Grand Prix. Harry Weslake also contributed cylinder heads to the Le Mans-winning Ford GT40s for 1968 and 1969. 

Historically becoming the biggest name employed towards the construction of the Vanwall VW 5 is Colin Chapman. Debuting in 1958, Chapman’s Team Lotus would claim seven constructors’ championships and 74 grand prix wins. While launching his own Lotus Cars company, Chapman consulted with Vanwall on the chassis for the race car. Vanwall would also provide Chapman his only attempted Formula 1 start as a driver in the 1956 French Grand Prix where he qualified fifth but crashed his car before the race. 

Out of the six examples of the Vanwall VW 5 continuation models being produced, only five will be available to the public at a cost of £1.65 million (2.836 million Canadian dollars). The sixth production model will uphold the honour of the first Formula 1 Constructors’ Champion as part of the Vanwall Historic Racing Team.  

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