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  Vanwall VW Grand Prix

  Article Image gallery (46) Chassis (3) Specifications  
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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced from:1956 - 1958
Numbers built:10
Designed by:Frank Costin
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:November 27, 2006
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Click here to download printer friendly versionFormula 1 has been the premier racing class for over fifty years and many enthusiasts would have little trouble naming a dozen past and present constructors, but very few would come up with Vanwall. This quite remarkable as the small team brought Grand Prix racing success back to Britain and won the very first constructor's world championship. Most important of all they did this in great style with a completely in-house designed and manufactured machine that was well ahead of its time. The success was the fruition of a decade of hard work of the team led by industrialist Tony Vandervell.

Shortly after WW2, a plan arose to take on the dominant Italians on in Grand Prix racing with a completely British built car. It had been almost 25 years since a British car last won a Grand Prix and there were more than a few (rich) enthusiasts who liked to end the drought. Among them was Vandervell, who had made a fortune with the production of Thin Wall bearings, which were used in many applications, including bright red racing cars. The group formed British Racing Motors and Vandervell even offered his vast premises to construct the cars. His enthusiasm rapidly decreased as things progressed very slowly because there was not a single strong leader, but a committee heading the operation. He left BRM in 1950.

Fortunately, Vandervell did not close the door on racing and instead entered a variety of Ferrari built single seaters. Painted green and fitted with a variety of upgrades like disc brakes, they were raced as 'Thin Wall Specials'. Especially the last of these, a Ferrari 375 F1, proved very successful in Formula Libre events. The desire to build an all-British car was still very strong and in 1952 work was started on a replacement for the successful Ferraris. Although his team had learned a lot from racing the Ferraris, they were not confident enough to design a new chassis from the ground up and instead had Cooper design and build them one. They did develop a new four cylinder engine, but more about that later.

When the design process started, the world championship was run under Formula 2 regulations, which meant a maximum displacement of 2 litres. By the time the first 'Vanwall' was ready to race, the rules had changed once again with the displacement limit stretched to 2.5 litres. Facing strong competition from Lancia, Maserati and above all Mercedes-Benz, and teething problems with the new engine, the Vanwall team did not leave a lasting impression in 1954. Before the season was over the Cooper based machine was crashed beyond repair. For the next season four more chassis were constructed along the same lines, but again there was little the Brits could do to challenge the Germans and Italians.

By chance, a very young Colin Chapman visited the Vanwall factory and after taking a good look at the chassis, he suggested so many changes to Vandervell that he was hired to design a new chassis from the ground up. It was a great opportunity for the young engineer, who had previously only designed small sports cars for his own company Lotus. He came up with a very rigid and lightweight spaceframe, which was quite a departure from the Italian tubular ladder type frames that were prone to flex. Due to the rigidity of the frame, the suspension could be set up with softer springs, greatly increasing the predictability of the handling. Suspension was by double wishbones and coil springs at the front and a DeDion axle at the rear with a transverse leaf spring. For 1957, the leaf spring was replaced by 'Chapman struts' with coil springs. While the conservative Italians still used drums, the Vanwalls were already fitted with in-house developed vented disc brakes.

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  Article Image gallery (46) Chassis (3) Specifications