First Time Out

BRM, Folkingham, Raymond Mays, klemcoll

It is a wintry day on Thursday, December 15, 1949 at Folkingham Aerodrome in England for the presentation of the first BRM V16  supercharged 1.5 liter Grand Prix car which has been under construction and development since 1945. Folkingham was a former RAF field which had been closed in 1947 and where BRM was permitted to conduct tests of their prototype car which was to contest the new Formula 1 in 1950. The BRM project was backed by major companies of the British automobile industry. Members of the BRM project group are here collected with the prototype BRM for a press photo. In the car is Raymond Mays who was the “patron” of the BRM project which had replaced his prewar ERA activities. To the left of Mays leaning on the right rear wheel of the prototype is Peter Berthon who acted as a sort of chief operating officer for the BRM effort. Also in the photograph are BRM stalwarts Frank May, Eric Richter, Harry Mundy, test driver Ken Richardson, Aubrey Woods and Alec Stakes.

BRM, Folkingham, Raymond Mays, klemcoll

Mays did a few medium speed demonstration runs along the airfield runways, seen at left, hitting perhaps 140 mph although the BRM would be capable of almost 200 mph on the main runway in subsequent tests. Just the noise of the V16 was enough to astound the press and members of the governing BRM Trust who had been invited.

One effect of this day at Folkingham was to kindle what became a virtual firestorm of demand to have this result of British sophisticated engineering appear in a Grand Prix as soon as possible. Both the public and the industry were anxious to see their BRM defeat the all-conquering Alfa Romeo Alfettas. This led to what became irresistible pressure to enter the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in the coming Spring. The first BRM did appear there, but not to race ,and was demonstrated by Mays for a couple of modest speed laps. In effect, this demonstration just increased the pressure which soon reached a crescendo, demanding that BRM actually race at BRDC Trophy non-championship Formula 1 race at Silverstone in August.

However, that happy day at Folkingham was only the herald of endless difficulties to come. Most critical was that the BRM engines kept destroying themselves for reasons that the very overworked, somewhat disorganized and poorly managed BRM staff could not ascertain. In a sense, the true situation became evident at the Silverstone International Trophy on August 26, 1950 which BRM was effectively forced to enter without practice and at the last minute with a car containing an engine assembled the night before from two recently blown up units. Raymond Sommer had been retained to drive the car. He took three practice laps on race morning and started from the back of the grid. But both driveshafts to the rear wheels sheared when he let out the clutch and the day was over. This BRM embarrassment was unfortunately not to be the last over the immediately ensuing years.

Photos by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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