#F1 History: BRM Type 25 – Back to the Basics…Maybe…

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Jennie Mowbray

“The sun is simple. A sword is simple. A storm is simple. Behind everything simple is a huge tail of complicated.”

~Terry Pratchett – I Shall Wear Midnight~

Diminutive and verdant green, the die-cast car immediately grabbed my attention. The words, BRM – Formula 1 – Grand Prix, embos20150121_174723sed on its underside further piqued my interest. I was browsing the display cabinets at our local “antique” shop, on the lookout for vintage Formula One cars. This one caught my eye as I had never before seen a car that was such an unusual colour. It was a BRM Type 25 and the colour was colloquially termed “British Grazing Green”. I had always thought the darker “British Racing Green” was the traditional British racing car livery, but I have since discovered that any shade of green was considered to be “British”.

BRM struggled for several years to perfect the Type 15, their first foray into the cut throat world of Formula One. Its 1.5 litre V16 supercharged engine was excessively complicated and after only one championship race it was relegated to minor events when it was unexpectedly superseded. For its successor BRM decided to exchange small and complex for larger and simpler. They had learned their lesson from the mistakes they had made with the Type 15 and this time they would stick to the tried and tested…or would they?

Stirling Moss finished 2nd at the 1959 British Grand Prix driving the BRM Type 25

Stirling Moss finished 2nd at the 1959 British Grand Prix driving the BRM Type 25

Stuart Tresillian designed them a 2.5 litre 4 cylinder DOHC engine. In the original plan it had four valves as it had a wide bore of 102mm and a short stroke of 74 mm. Unfortunately chief engineer Peter Berthon made the decision to cut the four valves back to two. Maybe after the tribulations of the V16 engine he decided that the less moving parts the better. This immediately negated one of the major advantages of having an over-square engine – plenty of space on the cylinder head to put lots of valves! When the fuel was changed to AvGas in 1958 the resulting increase in engine temperature caused their overlarge valves to distort, requiring further modifications to prevent a loss of horsepower due to poorly sealing valves.

The original air strut suspension was subsequently replaced by leaf springs in an attempt to improve deficiencies in the car’s handling. This had little success and the drivers continued to struggle with the cars on-track behaviour. After yet another season of minimal results to show for their efforts they called in design guru Colin Chapman to give some much needed advice. He recommended that they change to coil springs…which shouldn’t have been a surprise as it was what everyone else was using! Sometimes in F1 you should just follow the crowd, rather than trying to go off down a little used track and get yourself lost in the undergrowth.

1959-gp-de-francia-brm-p25The engine and suspension problems paled into insignificance when compared to the issues the car had with braking. After all, having an engine a bit short of horse power because of poorly fitting values and drivers complaining about understeer are only minor matters when compared with a sudden inability to bring the car to a stop. The car had a innovative single brake disk mounted on the rear of the gearbox. Having one of something instead of two could be seen as the simple option…or could be seen as creating even more variables and unknowns to have to deal with. The advantage was less overall weight, but this was offset when vibration from the engine caused the pipes to fracture with monotonous regularity. The end result was brake failure that put the cars and their drivers into difficult situations far too often for comfort.

The car made its debut at the 1955 Oulton Park Gold Cup, where it suffered from multiple teething troubles. Clutch difficulties plagued them during practice on Thursday, followed by a broken oil-pipe on Friday, resulting in driver Peter Collins having an oil “bath”. After hasty repairs it returned to the track only to snap the propeller-shaft. Collins only managed to qualify 13th but during the race the car showed its potential when it catapulted through the field and was in 5th place by the end of the first lap. To the amazement of the crowd he passed Mike Hawthorn in a Ferrari-Lancia D50 for 3rd place before having to retire on lap nine when once again the car lost oil pressure. After the race it was discovered that the needle of the oil pressure gauge had merely been shaken off its spindle by the excessive vibration of the new engine. It’s hard not to think of what might have been…though at that point the car hadn’t been on the track long enough for its brakes to fail!

1959_dutch_gp_start_by_f1_history-d5d2pms

For several years the car was tinkered with and modified, but the single brake disk remained despite brake failure occurring on a regular basis. Mike Hawthorn claimed it “tripled his laundry bills” and the car’s reputation preceded it so that it was often difficult to find talented drivers who were willing to put their lives on the line to drive it. The reaction of Roy Salvadori summed up how many drivers felt about the car when he got fed up with his brakes locking during practice at Goodwood in 1957, and went off to find a Cooper to drive. “Where’s Salvadori?” asked Raymond Mays. “On the track. In a Cooper!” was the reply.

The Type 25 finally achieved the high point of its career with a win at the 1959 Dutch GP. This was aided in part by Stirling Moss doing extensive testing at the track in the week prior to the race, ironing out the brake issues and perfecting the tyre setup. Jo Bonnier got the BRM on pole with an identical time to Jack Brabham who was driving the season dominating Cooper. Bonnier took the lead at the start and never fell further back than second place. Masten Gregory (also driving a Cooper) rocketed off the start, zipping from the third row of the grid into second place, passing Bonnier but eventually losing the lead on lap 12 when his gearbox started to cause him difficulties.

The next threat was from Brabham, who took the lead on lap 30, but he then lost second gear and Bonnier passed him back shortly afterwards. Finally he was chased down by an on-fire Stirling Moss (in yet another Cooper) who at the start had been engulfed by a multitude of cars from which he took some time to disentangle himself. After 24 long laps stuck behind Jean Behra’s Ferrari (who he later lapped much to the annoyance of Behra) he eventually caught and passed Bonnier on lap 60, but three laps later his gearbox failed completely and he was out of the race, Bonnier re-taking the lead for the third time.

Bonnier must have been holding his breath for the last 13 laps of the race…would his car hold out to the end? There were so many things that could go wrong, and with BRM they usually did. Harry Schell in the sister car was already sitting on the pit wall after a gearbox failure on lap 46. Gingerly nursing his car to the finish he took the chequered flag for both his and the Type 25’s only victory.

Just as the car started to become marginally more reliable it was rendered obsolete as the mid-engine revolution meant that front engine cars were struggling to make the grade. The Cooper T51 won five races that season and the Type 25’s were all carved up and remade into the mid-engine P48 for 1960. All except one. The car which won their only Grand Prix fortunately had a last minute stay of execution and is the sole survivor of the eleven BRM Type 25 cars constructed between 1955 and 1959.

20 responses to “#F1 History: BRM Type 25 – Back to the Basics…Maybe…

  1. Wonderful piece Jennie, thanks for the insight…..think they may have fitted the oft quoted definition of insanity most aptly.

    • Without pushing the boundaries no-one ever got anywhere in F1…and the stories of what didn’t work are often more entertaining than what did…Thanks:)

  2. Another excellent article, thanks Jennie.
    Brought back memories of building a kit P25 in my youth.
    The type 15 may have been a failure but it made the most beautiful noise when it was running.

    • The Type 15 could have been more successful if the F1 regulations hadn’t changed to F2 rules after it only had one race…and I would love to hear that engine in real life…amazing:)

  3. Jennie – I’ve always said your articles go from strength to strength… and this one is superlative.
    As you say, any shade of green is (was…?) acceptable so I’m sure you also discovered that, as in many countries green is considered unlucky, they just made it as dark as possible without it being called black, and being unacceptable.
    I recall the British Racing Partnership version of green (as you show) was considered rather outrageous at the time – I think it had something to do with a sponsor… UDT comes to mind, who later had a team of Coopers… but perhaps not…
    I never found out just who decided Britain should have the unlucky colour. I’ll leave that for your research. 😉

    • Why were British cars green? A very good question…one that I hadn’t thought of! This might be why…or knowing the internet someone might just have made it all up:) In 1902 the Paris-Lyon race required a car and driver of the same nationality and the car to be painted in colours of the nations flag…but red, white and blue were already being used. Britain chose olive green…the colour of her trains. Then in 1903 motor racing was still illegal in Britain but wasn’t in Ireland…and the British cars were all painted dark green…for Ireland…and still are today…

      Any other stories are most welcome…I didn’t do extensive research:)

      • I feel the train connection is a bit of an urban legend, at most. The Irish connection makes sense, along with green being used by the successful Napier cars, but I can’t find a contemporary citation for the actual shade/tone to be adopted. There is/was a suggestion that American drivers also refused to drive a British car if it was green, because it was considered unlucky… and I can (just about) remember reading this in the 50’s/60’s as the reason for adopting darker shades… and at that time all the British teams used different shades of ‘dark green’
        [I think Pantone existed in the 60’s – but I doubt it was adopted by the FIA…?]
        – – –
        Question… How did the American Racing Red get poached by Italy (where teams also used different shades)…?
        [Urban legend clue: Charles Goddard…]

        • I read somewhere (?Autosport forum discussion) that there was no set colour dark green…and that cars painted at different times for the same team could be different shades…they just mixed up a new random batch with some combination of black and green each time…

          I wondered about the train colour…it just sounded like a good story…and probably too good to be true:)

          Found lots of links about US drivers not liking to drive green cars…stemming from an early Indy 500 death…

          I couldn’t find a link between UDT and pale green…doesn’t mean there isn’t one…just that I didn’t type the right words into Google:)

          Red and USA and Italy…no idea…but will go looking…

          • The railway colour story does not make sense as before nationalisation all the various companies had their own livery – brown, black, blue, red etc, and green. I think the Irish connection is the most likely, but also the first british racing cars were Napiers and David Napier chose to paint his cars green – it became known as Napier Green.

          • Thanks…I thought the railway story sounded like…well…a story…though somewhere else mentioned that lots of British machinery in general was green…like tractors ect…I think Napier was the first…and then the next race in Ireland…and then…well…green was just considered British:)

        • Here is another story…in the 1901 Paris-Berlin race British driver Charles Jarrott was given the race number 13…because no-one else would have it. They decided to paint the car green – the French lucky colour – to nullify the effect of the unlucky number 🙂

          • So… having drawn an unlucky number someone decided painting the car an unlucky colour would cancel it out…? Love it…
            Hohoho… LOL 🙂
            Overall my money is on the Napier influence having been accepted as a sort of ‘fait accompli’…
            Pity we don’t have many colour photos of the early 1900’s, but there might be some paintings somewhere…

          • OK….Napier had an olive green car for the 1902 Gordon Bennett Cup…and won the race…

            The 1903 Gordon Bennett cup would then be held in Ireland (because motor racing was illegal in England)…in honour of Napier and Ireland the British entrants were painted shamrock green…and so green became the traditional livery for Great Britain…

            So…a combination of Napier and Ireland…most likely:)

          • I think that’s a logical conclusion – well done – unless someone else knows better… 😉
            Let’s leave someone else to work out Italy’s apparent poaching of red from America… 😉
            – – – –
            Incidentally… the light green BRP team (with UDT and Yeoman Credit) had four drivers killed during 1960… Unlucky…? 😦

  4. Excellent article.
    I believe that the designers name was spelt Stewart Tresillian and that his middle name was also Stewart (Doug Nyes excellent BRM volumes)
    Incidentally the P25 did win quite a few international races but the Dutch win was its only one in a World Championship.
    On the subject of unlucky colours numbers etc does anyone know while all Monaco GP numbers were always even, never odd, up until 1963?

    • Thanks Stewart:) Doing another search I found “Stewart” Tresillian spelt both ways so no wonder I never picked it up at the time:)

      Monaco having only even numbers does sound like they were trying to avoid unlucky numbers but unfortunately a quick google search didn’t come up with any enlightenment as to why…

  5. Interesting to note in the photo of the three P25’s at the French Grand Prix that the car on the right has “T” on the nose instead of a number. From what I have read, this was the “training” car, which would be used in untimed practice sessions.

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