BRM was founded just after the Second World War by Raymond Mays, who had built several hillclimb and road racing cars under the ERA brand before the war, and Peter Berthon, a long-time associate. Mays' pre-war successes (and access to pre-war Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union design documents) inspired him to build an all-British Grand Prix car for the post-war era as a national prestige project, with financial and industrial backing from the British motor industry and its suppliers channelled through a trust fund.
This proved to be an unwieldy way of organising and financing the project, and as some of the backers withdrew, disappointed with the team's slow progress and early results, it fell to one of the partners in the trust, Alfred Owen of the Rubery Owen group of companies, which primarily manufactured car parts, to take over the team in its entirety. Between 1954 and 1970 the team entered its works F1 cars under the official name of the Owen Racing Organisation. Berthon and Mays continued to run the team on Rubery Owen's behalf into the 1960s, before it was handed over to Louis Stanley, the husband of Sir Alfred's sister Jean Owen.
The Type 25 was the next car. It used a very oversquare (4.05 x 2.95 in, 102.87 x 74.93 mm) 2.5 L atmospheric four-cylinder engine designed by Stuart Tresilian and (as became a typical theme with BRM) it arrived late and took a lot of development; it was in fact so late that the Owen Organisation started the 2.5 L formula with a Maserati 250F. The P25 was initially unsuccessful, not winning a race until a long awaited victory at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1959. Colin Chapman helped to improve the car in 1956. Stirling Moss believed that the BRM engine was superior to the Coventry-Climax unit used in his Cooper, and a P25 was briefly run in 1959 by the British Racing Partnership, for Moss (and also Hans Herrmann), and Rob Walker also backed the construction of a Cooper-BRM to gain access to the engine.
The P25 was becoming highly competitive just as the rear-engined Cooper started to become dominant; the P48 was a quick reaction to this, using major components from the P25 but in rear-engined format. The P48 was revised for the 1.5 L rules in 1961, but once again BRM's own engine was not ready and the cars had to run with a Coventry-Climax four-cylinder unit in adapted P48 chassis, achieving very little results.
The firm moved to a purpose-built workshop on an adjoining site in spring 1960 but when the 1.5-litre atmospheric Formula One regulation was introduced in 1961, Alfred Owen was threatening to pull the plug unless race victories were achieved very soon.
By the end of the 1961 season BRM had managed to build an engine designed by Peter Berthon and Aubrey Woods (BRM P56 V8) (2.6975 x 2.0 in, 68.5 x 50.8 mm) which was on a par with the Dino V6 used by Ferrari and the Coventry Climax V8 used by other British teams. However, the real change was the promotion of an exceptional engineer who had been with the team since 1950 (originally on secondment from Rolls-Royce to look after the supercharging on the V16); Tony Rudd was elevated by Owen to the position of chief development engineer. Rudd was the first professional engineer to exercise full technical control over the team, and basic engineering and reliability problems which had plagued the team for years began to vanish. He was given greater responsibility in 1960 after two of the drivers, Graham Hill and Dan Gurney, went on strike and told Alfred Owen they would not drive again, and in early 1962 full executive authority was given to Tony Rudd. Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon were sidelined. The team had designed their first mid-engined car for 1960, matching the other teams, and won the World Drivers' Championship with Graham Hill as driver, in 1962. (During 1962, BRM also ran Lucas electronic ignition.) During 1965, 210 bhp (160 kW) at 11,000 rpm was the rated power. However at the high-speed 1965 Italian GP (Monza) an uprated version was raced with 220 bhp (160 kW) at 11,750 rpm for short bursts. A planned 4-valve-per-cylinder version in cooperation with Weslake Engineering never materialized.
Graham Hill in BRM P261, testing at Folkingham Aerodrome 1964.
As part of Owen's attempt to make BRM pay its way, the V8 engine was sold to privateers and appeared in a number of other chassis during the 1.5 L formula, particularly in private Lotus chassis and in smaller marques such as BRP.
A number of privateers acquired 1961-2 BRMs during this period, including Maurice Trintignant and Scuderia Centro Sud; these cars continued to race on for many years.
The monocoque BRM P261 V8 car was soon developed and these ran on through the 1.5-litre formula and performed useful service in the early races of the subsequent 3.0-litre formula. In 1965 Jackie Stewart was signed to partner Hill; he took his first Grand Prix win at Monza in his debut season, and won the first World Championship race of the new three-litre formula with a car fitted with a Tasman 2.0-litre V8; once again BRM were not ready for the start of a new formula and the old cars continued to be used, even on occasion when the H16 was ready.
For 1966, the engine regulations changed to permit 3.0-litre atmospheric (or 1.5-litre supercharged) engines. BRM refused Peter Berthon's and Aubrey Woods's proposal to build a V12, and instead built an ingenious but very complicated engine, designed by Tony Rudd and Geoff Johnson, the H16 (BRM Type 75), which essentially used two flat-8 engines (derived from their 1.5 L V8) one above the other, with the crankshafts geared together.
A BRM Type 75 H16 engine, the final, 1968, 64-valve incarnation of the design.
BRM found the H16 (2.75 x 1.925 in, 69.85 x 48.895 mm) attractive because it was initially planned to share design elements and components with the successful 1.5-litre V8. While the engine was powerful, it was also heavy and unreliable - Rudd claims that his drawings were not followed accurately and many of the castings were much thicker and heavier than he had specified. (When Lotus took delivery of their first H16 it took six men to carry it from the van to the workshop). At that time, BRM earned the nickname of "British Racing Misery". BRM, Lotus, and various privateers had been using enlarged versions of the BRM 1.5 V8 of up to 2.1 litres in 1966, as competitive 3.0 engines were in short supply in this first year of the new regulations. Lotus also took up the H16 as an interim measure until the Cosworth DFV was ready, building the Lotus 43 to house it, and Jim Clark managed to win the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen with this combination. It was the only victory for this engine in a World Championship race. Lotus built the similar Lotus 42 designed for Indianapolis with a 4.2-litre version of the H16 (2.9375 x 2.36 in, 74.61 x 59.94 mm) but this was never raceworthy; the cars were raced with Ford V8s instead.
The H16 engine was redesigned with a narrow-angle 4-valve head and magnesium main castings to reduce weight and increase power, but never raced in a car (it was intended for the 1967 BRM P115) as BRM decided to use the V12 unit which was being sold to other F1 and sports car teams with encouraging results.
The H16 was replaced by a V12 (2.9375 x 2.25 in, 74.61 x 57.15 mm) designed by Geoff Johnson. It had been intended for sports car use, but was first used in F1 by the McLaren M5A. Back at the works, the early V12 years were lean ones. In 1967 the 2-valve layout gave about 360 bhp (270 kW) at 9,000 rpm. In 1968 this had increased to 390 bhp (290 kW) at 9,750 rpm. Geoff Johnson updated the design by adding a 4-valve head, based on the H16 485 bhp 4-valve layout; this improved the V12's power output to 452 bhp (337 kW) at 10,500 rpm and eventually to a claimed 465 bhp (347 kW) during 1969. In 1973 Louis Stanley claimed 490 bhp (370 kW) at 11,750 rpm. The first V12 chassis (P133) was designed independently by Len Terry; the subsequent P139 was designed and built in-house. John Surtees joined as the team's lead driver, with the semi-works Parnell team for driver development (notably Piers Courage and Chris Irwin). Surtees' time at BRM was not happy, and despite the fact that a ground effect "wing car" was designed, this was never constructed and the team's performances were lacklustre. Surtees left after a single unhappy season (1969), along with Tony Rudd who went to Lotus (initially on the road-car side), and Geoff Johnson who departed for Austin Morris.
The team regrouped with new drivers and Tony Southgate as designer, and gained its first V12 victory for Pedro Rodríguez at the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix in a P153, with further victories for Jo Siffert and Peter Gethin in 1971 in the P160. The team had reached one of its intermittent peaks of success. Sadly both Siffert and Rodriguez were killed before the 1972 season and the team had to regroup completely again. Their last victory was when Jean-Pierre Beltoise drove a stunning race to win the rain-affected 1972 Monaco Grand Prix with the P160. The 1972 campaign was generally chaotic: having acquired major sponsorship, Louis Stanley originally planned to field up to six cars (three for established drivers, three for paying journeymen and young drivers) of varying designs including P153s, P160s and P180s and actually ran up to five for a mix of paying and paid drivers until it became obvious that it was completely overstretched—the team's sponsors insisted that the team should cut back to a more reasonable level and only three cars were run in 1973 for Beltoise, Lauda and Regazzoni.
Decline and Fall
The last notable performance was Beltoise's second position in the 1974 South African Grand Prix with the Mike Pilbeam-designed P201, a car with a pyramidal monocoque, very different from the curvy "coke-bottle" Southgate cars. The Owen Organisation ended its support of the team and it was run on a lower-key basis by Louis Stanley and some of the Bourne personnel as Stanley-BRM until 1977. Old P201s were initially used, with the team hoping for revival with the bulky and vaguely Ferrari-like P207 - which failed entirely.
Cereal millionaire and amateur racer John Jordan purchased some of the team's assets when the team finally folded, and backed the building of a pair of P230 cars by CTG, with the aim of competing in the national-level Aurora AFX Formula One Championship. Teddy Pilette raced a P207 during 1978 with a modest success, finishing fourth at Oulton Park and fifth at Brands Hatch. One chassis also apparently raced in the revived Can-Am series.
The team became involved with Rover's gas-turbine project, with the Rover-BRM gas turbine car running at Le Mans in 1963 and 1965 (it was damaged in testing and missed the 1964 race). BRM were also involved with Donald Campbell's gas-turbine Bluebird project. In later years they also built an unsuccessful Can-Am car, and dabbled with larger versions of the H16 engine for the Indianapolis 500. As a part of the Owen Organisation, BRM also worked on tuned road-car engines for Ford, Chrysler and others. The BRM-tuned version of the 1558 cc Lotus/Ford twin-cam engine was particularly popular. This improved version of the Lotus-Ford engine was used by Tony Rudd when he left BRM for Lotus to form the basis of the Lotus produced "Sprint" version of the engine used in the Elan Sprint, Elan Plus2S-130, Europa JPS and Caterham Seven.
BRM were contracted by Chrysler (UK) Competition Department to develop a 16-valve cylinder head for the Hillman Avenger engine. It proved unreliable, underpowered, and unable compete with the Ford rally team's proven Cosworth BDA-powered RS1600 Escorts.
BRM engine sales
The Owen Organisation expected BRM to turn a profit through sales of racing engines; the four-cylinder appeared briefly in a Cooper-BRM special for Stirling Moss but found no other customers. The V8 powered many 1.5-litre cars, including various private Lotuses and Brabhams as well as the BRP works team. Enlarged Tasman Series V8s of between 1.9 and 2.1 L were popular in 1966 as a stopgap before full three-litre engines were widely available. These units were also sold to Matra to power its early sports-prototypes.
A one-litre Formula Two engine was also made available, based on half of the F1 V8. This was not successful, in a formula dominated by Cosworth-Ford and eventually Honda engines.
V12s were sold to other constructors of which the most notable were Cooper, John Wyer and McLaren. Matra entered into a contract with BRM to collaborate in the design of their own V12 engine, but when this became public knowledge the French constructor was forced to drop the involvement with BRM and restart development with a French partner, as its government funding was threatened, but there were still close resemblances between the finished Matra engine and the BRM.
Sponsorship and colours
The first BRMs were a pale duck-egg green (any shade of green represented Britain's racing colours), but this was later replaced for aesthetic reasons by a very dark metallic shade of grey-green. During the team's Owen-owned years the cars bore simple "Owen Racing Organisation" signage. The BRP-entered BRM for Moss and Herrmann was a non-metallic duck-egg green. Centro-Sud ran their cars in Italian red; Trintignant's car was in French blue.
At one point in the 1960s Alfred Owen's brother Ernest wanted the team to paint their cars orange with black trim, orange being the Owen Organisation's corporate colour, used for a band around the nose of the cars and for the mechanics' overalls; Rudd (who didn't like the idea of orange BRMs) pointed out that orange was the Dutch racing colour, when such things were still honoured; through most of the 1960s the cars ran with Owen orange bands round the nose.
The team acquired significant commercial sponsorship from Yardley for the 1970 season, running in white with black, gold and ochre stripes in a stylised "Y" wrapping around the car's bodywork, losing this deal to McLaren for 1972 and replacing it by Marlboro's familiar white and red (a flat shade, not dayglo) colours. Ironically this deal was also lost to McLaren for 1974, to be replaced briefly by Motul in a pale green and silver colour scheme. As Stanley-BRM the cars initially ran in red, white and blue with no major sponsorship; for the team's swansong it was sponsored by Rotary Watches and ran in pale blue and white. The Jordan-BRM P230 was black and gold.
Later use of BRM name
BRM raced again as part of a project by John Mangoletsi for a Group C sports car known as the P351 with the backing of the Owen family to use the BRM name. Unfortunately the car was short lived and unsuccessful. In 1997 Keith Wiggins and Pacific Racing would resurrect the car as the BRM P301, using the BRM name only because it was technically a BRM built chassis but had no other connection to British Racing Motors. Heavily modified into an open cockpit sportscar, the car was equally unsuccessful.
A special edition Rover 200 was produced to commemorate the Rover-BRM gas-turbine car; this was finished in Brooklands Green (however not the very dark metallic gunmetal BRM shade) with an orange lower, front grill and silver details.
In October 2008, a press release announced that Bee Automobiles Ltd 'BRM Bee Four ERV' will compete in the British Speed Hill Climb championships.
The 'BRM Bee Four ERV', code named the 'Watt 4', is an all-electric AWD (all-wheel-drive) vehicle capable of producing 700 hp or 520 kW. The ERV uses motor technology developed at Oxford University.
The car is theoretically capable of reaching speeds of up to 250 mph. Participants in the project include Rubery Owen, Oxford University, Oxford Brookes and MIRA Ltd - Motor Industry Research Association.
Paul Owen, Grandson of Sir Alfred and Managing Director of Rubery Owen's Environmental Technology Subsidiary Rozone Limited, commented: "Rubery Owen is very pleased to see the BRM name once again being used to drive forward an innovative development to take motorsport to new levels".
As of 2011, the car has yet to leave the drawing board.
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