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Vanwall: The story of Britain’s first Formula 1 World Champions

2022 review by James Loveridge

Porter Press have, to their usual very high standards, done a great service to Motor Sport history by issuing an updated version of Jenkinson and Posthumus’s book Vanwall, first published in 1975. This sumptuous 288-page book has benefitted from considerable additions by the authoritative Doug Nye, thus producing what must be one of the most detailed histories of any racing car. One significant addition is a foreword by Tony Brooks who, of course, was one of the drivers of this very successful team, so his words are of inestimable value.

This is not, of course, a biography of Tony Vandervell but the Vanwall was his creation and we learn a lot about him as the story progresses. The son of a wealthy and successful engineering family he had a privileged upbringing and exploited all his advantages to the full. An early interest in motor sport, competing on both motorbikes and cars, was continued into adult life. An ardent patriot, he served in the Army in WW1.

He became almost obsessed with building a racing car that would beat the world. He early participated in the ill-fated BRM project but quickly became disenchanted and it was then that he determined to build his own. In 1931 he came across the US-originated Thin Wall Bearing, acquired a licence to make it and built up his business with it so he was in a position to do what he wanted when the time came.

Progress from the original Thin Wall Special, a 12-cylinder 1.5-litre Ferrari 125 in 1951, through the various iterations and to the World Championship-winning  Vanwall in 1958 is covered in the greatest detail. To maximise his chances of success and to gain experience of motor racing at the top level in the early stages Vandervell employed some of the top foreign drivers to race the car: Ascari, Taruffi, Gonzales and Farina, as well as leading British drivers. The technical work done on the various cars which became Thin Wall Specials and then the Vanwall itself are exhaustively covered, including his revolutionary decision to use four Norton motorbike engines on a single crankshaft,  and the niggling problems that engine caused with vibration (he was a director of the Norton Company).

A great deal of the story is complemented by many pages of facsimiles of letters, reports and correspondence. Amongst this body of documents, as well as in the book itself, are Vandervell’s dealings with Enzo Ferrari, both very self-determined men but striking up a perhaps surprisingly amicable relationship.

All events in which Vandervell’s cars competed are dealt with in greater or lesser detail but the glorious years of 1957 and 1958 are fully recorded, and the trials and tribulations of the two British drivers, Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks, are given coverage. Also covered is the accident to Stuart Lewis Evans at the Moroccan Grand Prix, the devastating effect this had on Vandervell and his grief at Lewis Evans’s death despite all the care Vandervell had made sure he received. This tragedy clearly played a major part in the end of the Vanwall project. Sadly, such an incident, not uncommon in the 1950s, was one aspect of motor racing which he had not factored into his decision to go motor racing.

This is an outstanding book and an absorbing read so it may seem a little churlish to ask why, on page 33, we are told the first Ferrari was brought to England in a Bristol Freighter whereas, as a copy of the relevant documents on page 42 show, the company had already chartered a Miles Aerovan to do the job (too small?). Again why, as the aircraft landed at Bovingdon in Hertfordshire, did Mr Vandervell have to be taken to Blackbush in Surrey to see it unloaded? If something is significant enough to be mentioned then please fully explain it.

This very worthwhile book is available direct from Porter Press at £90 or from the usual sources and priced from £71.35 to £85.

Price: £90.00 – available from Porter Press International: www.porterpress.co.uk

Description: hardback with dust jacket (30.6 x 30.9 cms), 228 pages with colour and black & white photos.

ISBN: 978-1-913089-25-2


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