During the early days of the BRM project, Guy Anthony Vandervell acted as something of a spy procuring a Ferrari 125 for use and evaluation. Though intended to help the BRM project, disagreements in the manner of how the team was run meant Vandervell's contribution would not be taken seriously and would go on to cause more harm than good. This would only fuel the Vandervell's fire to start his own 'official' team.
Vandervell Products Ltd. would actually compete from 1949-1952 but the entry would be a little suspect to organizers. And since the team ran a Ferrari 125 and 375 during that era it really wasn't its own manufacturer, it was merely a privateer team entering a Ferrari. All that would change with the return of Formula One to the World Championship in 1954.
Actually, Vandervell had been investigating a move toward manufacturing his own racing cars when he became involved with Norton and Rolls Royce during the 1952 and 1953 seasons. Though kept quiet, Vandervell would begin working with the two companies. Vandervell, though said his company only made bearings, began building their own engines based on components from both Norton and Rolls Royce. This would prove difficult and slow, and therefore, would cause the team's launch to be delayed. This would put Vandervell Products on the 'back foot' so to say and would expose its weakness come the 1954 Formula One World Championship season.
The move away from Formula 2 regulations to Formula One rules meant an increase in engine capacity of 2.5-liters. Working with Cooper, Vandervell Products would build its Type 30 chassis. Originally fitted with a 2.2-liter engine that would be a blend of two halves, the car lacked the out-right performance of the Ferraris and Maseratis of the time.
Over the course of the 1954 Formula One season the car would be updated and evolved until, by the end of the year, the car had a 2.5-liter engine. But then, at the Spanish Grand Prix at the end of the season, the car would suffer a bad crash and would be totally written off never to be rebuilt.
Vandervell had chosen to go with Cooper originally because at the time of the start of the engine project Cooper's T20 was quite popular and quite successful. Of course, with the original intention being to build and prepare a car for the Formula 2 regulations in place governing the World Championship, Vandervell and Cooper would be sent into a frantic effort in order to produce a Formula One machine ready by the beginning of the 1954 season.
Lacking fast and experienced drivers, the 'Vanwall Special' would not be all that impressive during the early part of the season. But, by July, and the British Grand Prix, the team had Peter Collins and a 2.3-liter engine to help boost the team's performance. And then, when the engine was increase to 2.5-liters, the car would begin to become competitive, but still, lacked the necessary pace to challenge teams like Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Maserati. And, when the car was written off in Spain, the team would set about designing and building a car truly capable of ascending to the top portions of the time sheets.
Due to the accident, Vandervell Products, in essence, now had a clean sheet of paper on the drawing board and could create just about anything they wanted. The design team would have some intriguing ideas but would realize they would be more for the future than for the immediate present. And so, in the period between the 1954 and 1955 seasons, the team would set about manufacturing its first 'in-house' chassis, but would also be making in-roads toward a future design the team believed would really help elevate the team amongst its competition.
The Cooper-built chassis would have a rather unusual feature. Instead of mounting the radiator upright in the nose of the car it would be determined to lay it down on the top of a closed nose instead. The idea worked, but was still not as good as the more conventional designs. Keeping things simple as the company thought and planned for the future, plans would be made for the team's new car to abandon such experimental design features, and instead, incorporate a tried, and much more conventional, design layout. When the car was finished, the 'VW1' would bear a striking similarity to the Ferrari 625, just with a more boxy radiator inlet.
Keeping things simple and straight-forward, why wouldn't the designers on the team pull from the Ferrari 625? The 625 was the basis of the dominant Ferrari 500 F2 that dominated the World Championship for a couple of years. In addition, the 625, would still earn the Modena-based effort a number of victories throughout 1954. And with Vandervell's relationship with Ferrari, it would be much easier for the team to be able to learn things about the 625 that would help them with the design of the VW1. But while the design would bear great similarity to components and design elements found on the Ferraris, Vandervell and his team would still introduce some design elements that would be even more advanced than those which would be found on a Ferrari chassis. Of course, one of the major elements would be the inclusion of disc brakes.
Vandervell had his car. He just needed the drivers to help the effort reach the top levels of the sport. It was believed the team would be able to procure Peter Collins. But the team intended to run two cars throughout the season, and a top-flight driver in the second car would certainly be a blessing. Amazingly, the team would find a former World Championship grand prix winner, and a Brit on top of that.
Even before the beginning of the 1954 Scuderia Ferrari was in something of a stupor. The confusion would see Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi leave for Lancia. This meant Giuseppe Farina was now the team's leading driver but he was well advanced in years, and therefore, not exactly the leading World Championship contender, although he had been the very first World Champion in Formula One. This uncertainty would be a little unsettling for Mike Hawthorn who had scored his first World Championship victory with the team at the incredible 1953 French Grand Prix. But, with all of the trouble and confusion, Hawthorn would agree to a contract with Vandervell wherein his services would be under contract with the team between April and October of 1955. Hawthorn's decision to join the team would be made a little easier given the fact his father, with whom he had been very close, had recently died and Hawthorn was busy looking after the Tourist Trophy Garage his father owned in Farnham. A contract would be agreed upon and signed on the 5th of January 1955.
Vandervell Products Ltd had its drivers and its car. It was just a matter of waiting for the season to begin. Of course, the first round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship would take place around the middle of January in South America. Vandervell Products, though determined and committed to grand prix racing, would not make the trip across the Atlantic to take part in the Argentine Grand Prix. Instead, the team would wait until the European grand prix season kicked off before it would enter its cars.
Actually, the team would miss its first couple of opportunities to take part in a grand prix. The first couple of races of the season would be non-championship races. One of them would be the Gran Premio del Valentino held in Valentino Park in Turin, Italy. A second race on the European continent would be the well-known Grand Prix de Pau held on the 11th of April.
The first grand prix to be held on English shores would be the non-championship 3rd Glover Trophy race. This event was part of the Easter Monday races held at Goodwood, also on the 11th of April. Vandervell Products would actually have a couple of entries in the race and would hope and pray it could finish its new car in time. The team already had the services of Hawthorn but just needed to finish preparing the car.
The team would hold out hope. But, in the end, the entry would not be made good as the Vandervell team would not arrive to take part in the race. Therefore, the team would have to look forward to the next opportunity to take part in its first race of the season.
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