On the 19th October 2020, 62 years to the day when British racing legend, Vanwall, won the first-ever F1 Constructors’ Championship, reports Iain Robertson, a small but precious hand-built run of replicas was being released to rich but (hopefully) ardent fans.
To be honest, with so many ‘continuation series’ and repurposed classic cars fluttering around the collectors’ scene, I am gobsmacked that the wondrous Vanwall has not been done-to-death! One of my first Scalextric models was a British Racing Green Vanwall. I loved it and it remains in my model car collection to this day, slightly played with but unbowed in its gloriousness. I also own a Dinky Toys version, complete with its original box.
Please let me tell you a little bit about the relevance of this limited run of full-size models. Vanwall Group is the successor to the legendary British Vanwall motor racing team of the 1950s. It has announced the rebirth of the historic name, with plans to build six new continuation cars that celebrate Vanwall’s six Formula One victories in 1958.
Vanwall had already become the first British-built car to win the British Grand Prix with a British driver. In fact, both Sir Stirling Moss (who passed away in April this year) and Tony Brooks shared the honours in 1957. The six victories in the following season gave Vanwall its eternal position as the first winner of the Formula One World Constructors Trophy and, to this day, Vanwall remains the first of only two Formula One teams ever to have recorded a maximum points score in a championship season. The 19th October 1958 was the day Vanwall clinched the memorable championship win in the Morocco GP.
Only five of the continuation cars will actually be offered for private sale, with the sixth car forming the core of a Vanwall Historic Racing Team. Each vehicle will be built painstakingly, over several hundreds of hours, by Lincolnshire-based historic racing and vehicle restoration specialists, Hall and Hall. The faithfully reproduced cars will feature the powerful 270bhp, 2,489cc Vanwall engine, which has been meticulously re-engineered using original drawings and blueprints from the 1950s. Of course, the price tag for each example has been pitched at a hefty £1.65m excluding VAT (currently at 20%). For a true copy of such an historically accurate reproduction, which adds validity to its ‘continuation’ status, the price tag seems almost worth it!
It should be highlighted that, in its day, Vanwall was a byword in the paddock for innovative engineering. Lotus founder, Colin Chapman, had designed the chassis to complement the body aerodynamics created by his friend, Frank Costin (who would become better known as the founder of Marcos sportscars). They were outrageous pioneers. As an example, they specified the use of disc brakes, rather than drums that were standard fayre in Formula One, even with the illustrious Ferrari team, over which Vanwall held a small but vital competitive advantage.
Just roll the clock forwards 62 years and the reborn Vanwall Group has already commenced investigations into understanding how the historic Vanwall brand DNA could translate into a vehicle for the 2020s. Intriguingly, the studies are ongoing into future road and race car programmes, which suggests that this exercise is not a ‘six-off’.
In announcing the continuation series, the hugely enthusiastic Managing Director of Vanwall Group, Iain Sanderson, told us; “The Vanwall name is far too important to consign it to history. In fact, the Vanwall story is untold to a great many people, even fans of the classic era of Formula One. For the record, it is a great British tale of innovation and achievement and demonstrates what happens, when the right team comes together and pushes fearlessly to reach a clearly defined goal.”
He continues: “On this anniversary, we believe that the time is right to also celebrate this phenomenal Great British story of success. We shall be recreating faithfully the iconic 1958 championship winning car, with just six, 100% accurate and authentic continuation cars. This project is a fitting tribute to their historically important successes, in world, let alone British terms. The DNA that made them so successful also serves as the inspirational foundation for the future of the Vanwall marque, of which I shall take the greatest of delight to inform you in due course.”
Iain Sanderson is a former world champion offshore powerboat racer, as well as being an early pioneer in modern electric vehicles, when he commissioned the Lightning GT electric supercar, in 2008. Naturally, he is not a lone voice within the Vanwall Group. Andrew Garner, Chairman of Vanwall Group and a former Chairman of the Historic Grand Prix Cars Association, highlighted, “While I am not sure that I wish to admit it, I can still recall watching the Vanwalls at Aintree Racing Circuit (near Liverpool) in 1957, when I was a boy, and I had the unforgettable pleasure of sitting in one of the race cars at Goodwood. As a classic racer, I drove at all the major circuits in a Cooper T51 for many wonderful years. However, the Vanwall is still the car that I coveted most of all. These fabulous cars will be fully race eligible and, in the right hands, they will be unbeatable, in the process repeating Tony Vandervell’s mission to ‘beat the red cars!’”
Vanwall was created by wealthy industrialist, Tony Vandervell, in the early-1950s. He constructed its first F1 contender for the 1954 season. Its first race win was the 1957 British Grand Prix. Arguably the most important Formula One race car ever built in Britain, Vanwall lifted six of the nine GP trophies contested that year. The rules stated that only six results counted towards the championship, the team recording the first of only two (ever) maximum manufacturers’ points score. Sadly, while winning that first major award, team driver Stuart Lewis-Evans was injured severely in a crash during the race, succumbing to his injuries several days later.
Conclusion: Following the failing health of Tony Vandervell in 1958, factory support was withdrawn in 1959. However, the dominant colour in Formula One was now green, not red. In 2013, the Vanwall trademark was acquired by Iain Sanderson and today, the Vanwall name continues to stir powerful memories in those who remember its heyday.