Founded in 1945, the letters BRM would become synonymous with flying the British flag in the early years of Formula 1 and the following decade.
British Racing Motors was founded by Raymond Mays (who was the man behind the brand ERA) and Peter Berthon – who after the war used the engineering know how from building hillclimb cars and their access to pre-war Mercedes and Auto Union designs to forge an alliance and build a brand that would literally have ”racing” in its name and enter Britain onto the world stage once more in top-flight racing.
The financing of the original plan was done through a series of industry connections and trusts. This would prove difficult in the long run for the fledgling company along with less than impressive results until one of its backers stepped up – the enigmatic Alfred Owen. Owen was the owner and chairman of the Rubery Owen Group, a group of companies responsible for manufacturing components for the automotive industry. With his expertise in organisation and management, Owen took over the running of British Racing Motors in the early 1950’s but Mays and Berthon would continue to run the team on Owen’s behalf well into the 1960s when the job was given to Owen’s brother-in-law Louis Stanley to run.
At the company’s HQ in Bourne, Lincolnshire they would created some of the greatest F1 cars of the 1960s utilising drivers such as Jo Bonnier, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Niki Lauda, Clay Regazzoni and Tony Brooks to name but a few world class wheelmen on the driving duty roster for the team through its 20 year racing history.
Going back to 1954, the team would debut the car that would set them onto the world stage not only in Formula 1 but in the world of engineering with the Type 15, a design that that been developed since 1947.
The Type 15 would take advantage of the post-war rule change for engine sizes. The rule change stated that a car could have an engine size not in excess of 4.5-litres naturally aspirated but for any sort of forced induction the engine size would have to be 1.5 litres. Taking the latter approach, BRM created a masterpiece of technical skill and know-how. The team of Peter Berthon, Harry Mundy, Eric Richter and Frank May would take two 750cc V8’s and make a 1.5-litre V16… To get the power up to where the bigger naturally aspirated engines were BRM turned to the experts at Rolls Royce to build and develop a twin-stage centrifugal supercharger for the car. During its testing with Rolls Royce, to calibrate the superchargers, the small scale monster would rev out to over 12,000RPM with Rolls Royce engineers commenting that it still had more room to go if needed. During this, legendary engineer Tony Rudd would be brought into BRM from Rolls Royce to help with future engine development and eventually lead him to working with both BRM and Lotus after his aero-engine career.
This engineering tour de force would put the BRM name in-front of the automotive world. However, it proved to not be that reliable. In 1954, the regulations would change once more and essentially outlaw this beautiful engine.
Next, the team would develop the car which gave them their winning name and reputation. The Type 25.
The Type 25 would meet the new 2.5-litre regulations that came into effect in the mid-1950s. This would prove to be the beginning of BRM’s most successful period thanks to help from outside sources as well as a determined and highly talented team. The car was a slow and trying development for the team, but with the help of people such as Colin Chapman from Lotus along with drivers like Stirling Moss backed by the infamous Rob Walker (who combined the BRM engine into a Cooper Climax chassis to create a Cooper-BRM) to test out the strong and weak points of the design, the Type 25 (which would then be developed into the rear-engined P48) was developed and refined into formidable racing machines.
In 1962, BRM would win their first Formula 1 world championship with Graham Hill driving the formidable P57. To help pay for the racing programme, BRM would also become an engine supplier for privateer teams with the in-house designed and built V8. This would mark the beginning of the teams 2nd resurgence in F1 and its wild technical world.
In the mid-1960s, the team would embark on some of the grandest engineering projects to be undertaken by a British racing team, alongside the development of its own F1 projects like the fabled V12 and the doomed H16. In 1963, talks were in progress between the automotive might of Rover and the now well established BRM team to work together on a project outside of F1.
The meeting came about because of BRM’s owner, Alfred Owen. Owen was still the owner of Rubery Owen. The firm had been supplying Rover with automotive parts for decades at this point and with his connection in the BRM team, the board at Rover (mainly William Martin-Hurst, MD at Rover) decided it would be the perfect partnership to push both brands further into the motorsports world with a very unconventional engine and they would need the help of an established and well run team to be able to pull of this task.
Rover had been developing an engine since the end of the 2nd World War that even today, in 2023, is still seen as exotic and futuristic in a car. It was of course, the jet turbine. Rover initially debuted its revolutionary engine in the famous ‘Jet 1’ car in 1949/1950 but it didn’t end there. The team would go on to develop the T1, T2, T3 and T4. The T4 would actually be displayed at the 1962 24 hours of Le Mans before the race to do exhibition laps and prove the viability of this engineering project.
With the reception and experience gained in this publicity stunt, Rover decided it would enter a turbine powered car into the race the following year to prove the competitive nature of the turbine technology but also its endurance. So, Rover began the talks with BRM.
BRM would handle the development of the chassis and suspension for the car under the supervision and control of Tony Rudd. Using the damaged chassis from Richie Ginther’s 1962 Monaco Grand Prix F1 car, the team set about converting it into an open-top prototype for the team to develop the relevant systems and the set up of the car. The car was fitted with a single-speed transaxle (much like a modern electric car) and taken to the MIRA test track in April of 1963 to begin testing in the more than capable hands of Graham Hill. At the end of testing, Hill would describe the experience as ”You’re sitting in this thing that you might call a motor car and the next minute it sounds as if you’ve got a 707 just behind you, about to suck you up and devour you like an enormous monster.” One can only imagine the sounds and experience of the 150BHP jet turbine when it approached its top-speed during testing of just over 140mph.
With the proof of concept there for both BRM and Rover, the team could begin on the work for preparing the car for Le Mans in 1963.
The Rover-BRM would arrive at Le Mans in the summer of 1963 with Graham Hill and Richie Ginther given control of the car. The sanctioning body decided to allow the car twice the fuel of a conventional car and it ran with the designation of ’00’ to show it was experimental. The goal for the 1963 race was to develop and learn about the turbines use for extended periods and to take advantage of a prize for the first jet turbine to complete 2,600 miles in 24 hours while also achieving an average speed of 93mph, the car would go onto crush that challenge with hours to spare in the race. With the car being placed in the experimental class, it would not be given a technical finishing place. But, if it were conventionally powered the car would have placed 8th overall – a positive start to the Rover and BRM partnership.
Using everything they had learned in the 1963 race, the turbine engine went back to the Rover engineers for internal modifications to help with the efficiency in the form of a pair of ceramic rotary regenerators. These would be used as both heat exchangers for the car but also as a way of pre-heating the intake air temperatures. This would ultimately take away from the cars power for the race, but help its reported ferocious fuel consumption. Along with its mechanical update based on the ’63 race, the bodywork was redesigned by Rover engineer William Towns to be a closed cockpit style racer – helping with the cars aerodynamics. However on the way back from the pre-race tests early in the summer, the car was damaged and withdrawn from the race and the team busied themselves to build up the ultimate configuration for 1965.
For 1965, after proving itself as competitive and durable enough in 1963, the Rover-BRM would be allowed to run at full anger in competition against other cars in its 2-litre class. Because of this, the governing body said that the team would only be allowed the same fuel allowance as a normal piston driven car, making those ceramic rotary regenerators even more crucial to the teams success as it was now about efficiency rather than out and out speed for Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart charged with piloting the now enclosed prototype.
The story of that race goes that after running wide in a turn with Hill behind the wheel, the cars intakes inhaled dirt/sand which was sent directly into the turbine blades. Sand at that pressure and speed is highly-abrasive which had led to damage on the fan blades and ultimately the engine beginning to overheat – this would be near enough constantly monitored and nursed throughout the race by the BRM team. Later in the race, Jackie Stewart was inserted into the red corduroy lined cockpit of the car where the drama really began. Some say that due to the damage that began with the car inhaling the sand on the excursion off the track with Hill earlier in the race, a large piece of a fan blade fractured and was sent hurtling into the turbine and severely damaging one of the ceramic regenerators, noted by Stewart as a ”massive explosion” but thankfully and also mercifully, the turbine continued to run…
At the end of the 1965 running of the Le Mans 24 hours, the Rover-BRM partnership would cross the line 10th place overall and earn itself 2nd in class for the 2-litre formula. A very respectable position for any car let alone something that 2 years before had simply been an experiment between an automotive giant and a racing legend.
In 1974, the car was completely retired from any active service and has spent the last 49 years going between museums and static displays except in 2014, when for old times sake the turbine was fired up and the car taken around the legendary Circuit de le Sarthe to show it could still stun crowds.
After the 1965 race however, the Rover-BRM partnership would come to an end. Rover deciding that the turbine road car idea was still a distant dream with a lot of development work still required. BRM concentrated its efforts back onto Formula 1 (as well as other automotive projects) where it would remain, in its original guise or another, until 1977/1978 when the team effectively completely withdrew from top flight motorsport (until their recent resurgence under the leadership of Alfred Owen’s grandson, Simon). Rover however, would continue building passenger cars until 1967 when it was bought out by British Leyland. The Rover name as we would know it would continue on until 2005 with the closure of British Leyland.
In 1997, to commemorate this herculean project between the two companies, the Rover and BRM name would reappear on a limited edition hot hatch. The Rover 200 BRM. This was built to celebrate significant aspects of both companies heritage and their joint project of the mid-1960s. The Brooklands Green paintwork, the striking and contrasting orange front grille surround and the brushed aluminium accents that adorn this underrated 1990s hot-hatch.
And now, Bridge Classic Cars is giving you the chance to win one of these rare and unique cars that celebrate the union between an automotive powerhouse and a racing legend. Click here to to get your tickets and be in with a chance of winning our 1999 Rover 200 BRM.