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THE BRITISH MOTOR TRUST had high aspirations for its BRM 15 Grand Prix car described in Part 1. The car’s engine, especially, was replete with innovation. However, as motoring journalist extraordinaire Laurence Pomeroy said, “The first instance of novel principle is invariably defeated by the developed example of established practice.” And, as we see today in Part 2, changing regulations play a role too.
The BRM 15’s Engine Technicalities. A Lucas-supplied ignition (non-transistorized, of course) had a coil with four distributors. In The Grand Prix Car, Pomeroy notes, “At maximum engine r.p.m., the formidable number of 85,000 sparks per minute has to be delivered, the firing order being 1, 10, 6, 13, 2, 16, 5, 11, 8, 15, 3, 12, 7, 9, 4, 14.”
The choice of hairpin valve springs in lieu of the conventional coil type was to forestall valve float at high rpm. According to Wikipedia, “… test figures from Rolls-Royce suggested that the engine would be able to run at up to 14,000 rpm.”
The BRM V-16 was essentially two V-8s back-to-back with gear drive mounted between them. Four separate heads were part of the layout. Cylinder banks were aligned at a wide angle, 135 degrees, thus reducing the overall height of the engine.
In general, centrifugal superchargers have a narrower range of efficient operation and more peaky boost than Roots-type blowers. The BRM’s displayed this to a fault. In refusing a factory ride, Mike Hawthorn, future Formula One World Champion, said, “It was no use—every time I came to a corner and went below the 8000-rpm mark, the power went right off. Then, suddenly, as you reached the 8000 mark the full power would come in and you had a job to hold the car straight…. but the steering was nothing to write home about.”
Pom’s Adage Prevails. The BRM 15 had the inevitable teething problems of a new race car, together with its peaky supercharging. In its debut at the 1950 Daily Express race at Silverstone, the car had universal-joint failure at the drop of the flag. Its engine screamed, but the car never left the grid. Later in the year, the BRM won two short sprints at Goodwood.
This was followed by troublesome runs at the more lengthy 1951 British Grand Prix, where drivers of the two cars had to wrap their legs in burn dressings (exhaust plumbing had been routed within the bodywork).
For the 1952 season, Stirling Moss joined BRM. According to Wikipedia, Moss was later to call the car “without a doubt the worst car I ever raced—it was a disgrace.”
Yet, Juan Manuel Fangio, Moss’s future Mercedes-Benz W-196 teammate, said of the BRM 15, “I consider it to be, basically, the best Formula One car ever made. All it needs is improvement in certain details.”
A Changing World. But changing regulations made BRM improvement rather a moot point. Because of Alfa Romeo’s retirement and Ferrari’s domination of Formula One, the World Championship in 1952 and 1953 was run to Formula Two regulations (2-liter normally aspirated, 750-cc supercharged). Even in improved form, the BRM 15 had only non-championship events to contest. (And a future of modern demonstrations.)
It does so with brilliant sounds. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020