The motoring industry, it seems, is fixated with three or four key areas: Speed, Safety, Environment and Practicality. Some car manufacturers are doing their level best to ensure their cars meet the the most demanding of safety tests and would be mortified if their new creation didn’t receive five stars in an NCAP test. Some manufacturers are building environmental sound cars in a bid to save the planet, while others attempt to wow potential buyers with groovy gadgets and features-as-standard. But others, well, they want you to go fast. Very, very fast. But can they allow you to go as fast as a Formula One car? I think it’s possible…
I’m not talking about he phenomenal Bugatti Veyron here, nor the latest monster to come from a Lamborghini factory. Instead, I’m talking about the supremely gorgeous Vanwall.
Wait, what now?
The Vanwall name is synonymous with motor racing, despite only being involved in F1 for a short period of time. The name Vanwall came from industrialist Guy Anthony “Tony” Vandervell who owned a bearings-manufacturing company in London. Vandevell’s first dip into motor racing came with the BRM team, but problems arose and the relationship was short-lived. In 1952, Vandervell decided to go it alone and started to design and build his own car. With help from Norton and Rolls Royce with the engine, the Vanwall Special began to take shape and debuted at the 1954 British Grand Prix with Peter Collins in the driving seat. The car was entered into the 1955 season and despite managing to complete a whole years worth of racing, little success came their way. At the end of the year, Vandervell hired an up-and-coming designer who went by the name of Colin Chapman.
In 1956, the Vanwall won a non-championship race at the hands of Stirling Moss, and things started to look much brighter for the small privateer. The following year Moss stayed on and was joined by Tony Brooks and Stuart Lewis-Evans. The car got better and by 1958, it looked like a real contender for the newly formed constructors title. Moss and Brooks each won three races, and Moss narrowly missed out on the drivers title by one single point, Mike Hawthorn getting the better of his countryman. However, the team won the constructors championship – the very first in Formula One history – but sadly lost one its drivers in the final round in Morocco. Lewis-Evans was fatally injured while driving around the Ain Diab street circuit. The blame was put firmly down to the engine which had seized and sent the Vanwall into the barriers. Lewis-Evans died six days later from serious burns caused by the ensuing fire, and the Vanwall’s future was clearly marked.
The car did race again, but with Vandervell’s health failing and tragedy of Morocco plaguing his mind, the curtain was called in January 1959. Tony Vandervell died in 1967, but the mark he left on Formula One lives to this very day, and thankfully, the famous name is still associated with motorsport.
The Vanwall name lives on thanks to the re-development of the Vanwall Special. The car was brought back to life in 2004 when British entrepreneur Arthur Wolstenholme persuaded the current owner of the brand, Dana Corporation, to license the name for a series of Vanwall replicas. The first of which is the fabulous Vanwall GPR V12.
Running on a 24 valve SOHC 6.0 litre V12 Jaguar engine, the hand-built, lightweight aluminium body snuggly fits the power plant and allows the deserving owner to feel the rush that Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans once felt more than sixty years ago. Designed for the road as well as the race track, the GPR V12 features everything a car needs to in order to become road-legal, including turn signals and headlights. While the cockpit can only fit one person, and the boot doesn’t exist, the shear thrill of driving this magnificent beast will be more than enough to compensate.
However, if you think I’ve fobbed you off by suggesting you can get Formula One performance on the road by talking about a 1950’s racer, think again. Because car-designers have been busy in recent years, and one particular attempt has left motoring journalists and racing drivers speechless. From the minds of those involved in the McLaren F1 project comes the Caparo T1.
The T1 is a mid-engined rear-wheel drive charger. With looks that aren’t too dissimilar to a modern Formula One machine, it has 575bhp produced from a 3.5 litre naturally-aspirated V8. It will do 205mph and can accelerate from 0mph to 60mph in a piddly 2.5 seconds. The T1 has twice the power-to-weight ratio of the Veyron and even comes with a passenger seat, in case you wanted to scare someone silly.
The intended price tag of the T1 isn’t small and although the cars are yet to be produced, it is expected to cost around the £235k mark. That’s a lot of money, but it seems less when you consider the T1 is able to pull 3g both in lateral acceleration and under deceleration. However, like the Vanwall, the development of the Caparo hasn’t been easy. The machine has scared journalists with its twitchy tail and even injured touring car driver Jason Plato. His session in the T1 came to end when it caught fire at 150mph, burning Plato’s hands and neck and subjecting the engineers to embarrassment. When Jeremy Clarkson test drove the car the floor panel came away and the fuel-injection system suffered a minor failure. At Goodwood, the throttle stuck open and when a Dutch journalist drove it the suspension gave way.
But despite it’s flaws, the T1 is a remarkable achievement, proving you can get Formula One performance in a road-legal car. Providing you don’t mind getting burnt, or paying for a crew of specialised mechanics to follow you around in case something breaks unexpectedly.
If I was blessed with the choice between a £235k T1 or a ~£60k GPR V12, I wouldn’t even need to think about. It isn’t about the price, it is about the pedigree. The craftsmanship, the tradition and heritage. I’d take the Vanwall every time. How about you? Which one would you go for?
Photographs courtesy of Vanwall Cars and Caparo Vehicle Technologies.