Looking superbly relaxed, Juan Manuel Fangio sits on a rear tire of the 1.5-liter V16 BRM that he is about to drive. The race course is Goodwood, a former RAF airfield in the south of England, on September 26, 1953. The race will be the Woodcote Cup, a five lap Formula Libre affair. Most of the field were two-liter F2 cars, such as Cooper-Bristols and Connaughts, plus an old Maserati 4CLT supercharged F1 car. BRM entered this V16 for Fangio and a second BRM V16 for Ken Wharton. Mike Hawthorn would drive Tony Vandervell’s Thinwall Special, based on an old 4.5-liter Ferrari F1 car. Hawthorn was really on fire at his home circuit and set a new lap and race record, leading both Fangio and Wharton to the finish.
Fangio drove a BRM V16 on several occasions in 1952-53 and loved the great difficulty in driving such a powerful car, even though its reliability was ever questionable. With its centrifugal supercharger, the BRM produced more and more “boost” the faster the engine ran. By 1953 their V16 was producing almost 600 hp at 11000 rpm. With the narrow, hard racing tires of the early 1950s. the challenge was to be able to use that power effectively, which required a very sensitive foot on the throttle.
Fangio was perhaps the one driver who could tame the V16, but the car, and sometimes its equally over-stressed tires, often gave up before the finish. The BRM motor was very complex and produced huge internal stresses. As originally organized, the BRM operation was incapable of developing the car and correcting the causes of its many failures. But the sound of a BRM V16 on full song remains one of the most ear-shattering in racing history.
Photo by Alan R. Smith ©The Klemantaski Collection