A Churchillian figure, blimpish in stature and occasionally attitude, Britain’s Guy Anthony “Tony” Vandervell – GAV for short in print, but “The Guv’nor” to his hardworking mechanics – was a patriot with a global view, an overbearing bearings tycoon capable of acts of great thoughtfulness.
Having been a staunch supporter of the post-WWII BRM V16 grand prix project, he became the convoluted program’s sternest critic. Instead, although weary of “those bloody red cars!” from Ferrari and Maserati, he would join them before beating them; for six years he ran a sequence of open-wheel Ferraris so heavily modified that even Enzo, a customer of his, didn’t bleat about their Thin Wall Special nomenclature.
This enlightened despot who gave Britain’s racing revolution the green light – without providing its blueprint, exactly – was a doer with an intuitive technical grasp. He stubbornly oversaw every aspect of his beloved Vanwall racecars and the well-drilled team that built and operated them. His heart and soul came at a cost, however. On doctors’ advice, he throttled right back just as he had Ferrari by the throat, the lingering death of team driver Stuart Lewis-Evans in the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix having already caused him to question the value of his quest.
This was indubitably cruel, yet timely. The young thrusters and their like-minded associates, men who’d played key freelance roles for Vandervell’s organization, were about to turn Formula 1 front-to-back, and make obsolete its traditional ideas and methods. The toolmaker-fit-and-finish Vanwall – the very best of British (and Europe where deemed necessary) – would have been swarmed by the ugly-bug machines of Cooper Car Co. and Colin Chapman’s Lotus. But it was Vandervell who’d showed them how – and simultaneously how not – to do it, who’d convinced catalyst Stirling Moss that his long wait for a British winner was over, and who’d proved that it could be done.
Moss had almost given up: “HWM, the team I started with in 1950, had achieved commendable things, but never had the budget to go to the next level. And BRM had ruined everything, got industry and the public very excited, spent a fortune and got nowhere. There really was a feeling that a British car would never win a [world championship] grand prix.”
Moss’s first run in a Vanwall came when he tested its Cooper-designed version – with more than a passing nod to Maserati’s 250F, but based around the Ferrari suspension, steering and transmission that the team knew well – in late 1955. He was impressed by the handling of its conventional tubular ladder-frame chassis, but insufficiently so by its four-cylinder engine to warrant the passing up of a works Maserati for ’56. He was, however, happy to drive the car in its new and distinctive teardrop form – the work of de Havilland and Lotus aerodynamicist Frank Costin – in May’s International Trophy at Silverstone. Its spaceframe chassis and suspension now benefiting from Chapman’s input, Moss qualified it on pole and won at a canter. In his wake were the Lancia-Ferraris of Peter Collins and world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, as well as Britain’s other great green hopes, BRM and Connaught.
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