Enthusiastically British, Tony Vandervell would be one of the first supporters of Raymond May's dream of a dominant British grand prix team from the same vein as Auto Union and Mercedes prior to World War II. While this project would flounder, disappoint and be something of a national embarrassment instead of a symbol of British pride, it would encourage Vandervell to strike out on his own and develop a British grand prix team of which the nation could be proud.
An English industrialist, Guy Anthony 'Tony' Vandervell was the head of Vandervell Products Ltd. This company would come to produce the famous Thin-Wall bearing which would literally revolutionize bearing design. But while Vandervell's company would be on the cutting-edge of industrial design and innovation, he was also rather pragmatic. He was not one to try and reinvent the wheel. He would take the wheel and just try and make it better.
This practical side of Vandervell would become frustrated with the BRM project and Mays who seemed to be looking to have a revolutionary car from nose to tail. Vandervell knew that the Italian marks, like Maserati and Ferrari, were ahead of their time when it came to grand prix car design. However, Mays would hesitate and Vandervell's advice and this would lead Tony to become disillusioned about the whole project.
Therefore, Vandervell would put in his own bid to build a grand prix car. Being the designer and producer of the Thin-Wall bearing, he would have a huge advantage in that he had relationships with people like Enzo Ferrari. Therefore, he not only could take a look at their designs but could also purchase them. And Vandervell would use this to his advantage.
In 1949, Vandervell would purchase a Ferrari 125. He had wanted an Alfa Romeo 158 but there were none that were available. Nonetheless, he would use the Ferrari 125 to evaluate the Thin-Wall bearing, and to evaluate a good grand prix car to get an idea of what it would take to build one of his own.
The period evaluating the Ferrari would be a terrible ordeal. Vandervell would not be happy with the workmanship and would even let Enzo Ferrari know about it, complete with pictures. Ferrari was taken back by the accusations but would be obliged to provide Vandervell with a new 4.5-liter V12 that the team would then use to go on to victory in the flooded 1951 International Trophy race. However, Vandervell had had now two bad encounters with 'other' grand prix efforts. This would be the final straw that would lead him to start building his own car and team.
Vanwall, which would be a combining of Vandervell's name and a portion of the 'Thin-Wall' bearing name, would lie rather dormant throughout the Formula 2 years of the World Championship as it developed its own car. However, during those years, the team, and other entities, would be hard at work developing a car capable of challenging the world's best.
It was a semi-secret that Norton had been developing a new engine. Rolls Royce would come on board to help with its development. Norton would focus on the upper part of the engine while Rolls-Royce would concentrate on the lower portion.
While the engine project was well underway, Vandervell needed to have a chassis built to house the engine in. For that, Vandervell would turn to Cooper Car Company and Owen Maddock. Maddock would set to work designing a car that serve as Vanwall's own design incorporating all of the technological advances he had been part of during trials and evaluation supposedly for the Thin-Wall bearing. What Maddock would produce, when combined with the new Norton/Rolls-Royce engine, would become known as the Vanwall Special 01.
The new and innovative Vanwall Special would be obvious just with one look at the nose of the car. Instead of some king conventional round inlet for the radiator and oil cooler, the nose of the Vanwall Special 01 would be designed with a low-profile, wide nose that would have no inlet opening at all. It would just be a nicely rounded nose that gave the car a wide, low stance.
The positioning of the radiator would be quite obvious, however. Maddock would try something new. In the days when 'it looks right' determined aerodynamic efficiency, a design like Maddock's would be given a try.
Instead of mounting the radiator vertically in the nose and designing aerodynamically-shaped bodywork around it, Maddock's design would lay the radiator down and would mount it to the top of the nose. The initial design would leave the tubes of the radiator exposed for all to see. However, later evolutions of the chassis would feature a cowling placed over the top of the radiator. This model would be the 2.5-liter evolution of the 01 chassis. The cowling of the later evolution would feature a dramatic upward to it to help create a low pressure over the top, and thereby, help to draw out the heat with the cooler air flowing through the opening underneath the cowling and through the radiator.
The chassis of the car would be derived from a design that worked, which was certainly Vandervell's way of doing things. The Type 30 chassis (as the Cooper Company knew it) would follow the example of many of the Italian manufacturers. It would feature a tubular ladder type frame. Around that frame would be wrapped the aluminum bodywork.
About the only thing underneath the bodywork on the nose of the car would be the new engine being developed in a joint venture by Norton and Rolls-Royce. Norton was known for producing motor-cycle engines, and the upper portion of the 4-cylinder engine would be almost nothing more than two banks of motor cycle engine heads. Somehow the team at Vanwall would manage to unite the heads from Norton with the body of the engine that had been developed by Rolls-Royce.
Initially, the car was being developed to take part in the World Championship when it was conforming to Formula 2 regulations. However, the car would appear much too late. In fact, the car wouldn't make its first appearance until 1954 when the new Formula One regulations had been adopted for the World Championship. This meant the new car would debut at the non-championship BRDC International Trophy race with a 2.0-liter, water-cooled, 4-cylinder engine. The control of the fuel and air mixture would be performed through no less than four Amal carburetors that would receive their air from an inlet scoop placed along the right side of the bodywork. Out of the left side of the car exited the large exhaust pipes leading from the 4-cylinder engine. Stacked vertically, the exhaust pipes would blend into one larger pipe that would travel along the side of the car and exit out the back.
Given that the Thin-Wall bearing was in high demand by many would be competitors, Vandervell was able to use his position of influence to help out his own team. This would happen with Goodyear, which had been developing disc-brakes. After some negotiation, Vanwall would begin producing the Goodyear disc-brakes on their own and would place the innovative feature on the 01. The disc-brakes provided extra stopping power and reduced the effects of fading. Therefore, if the system worked, the new Vanwall 01 Special would have an advantage when it came to braking.
The suspension on the car would be another area where Vandervell's relationships would pay off for his own efforts. Back during the days of running the Ferrari 125 for 'analysis', Vandervell came to like the suspension on the car. He would end up copying the same arrangement and would place it on the new chassis.
Therefore, the front suspension would be an independent double wishbone arrangement with a transverse leaf spring. At the rear of the car, a torsion bar would be used along with a de Dion tube axle. Like many cars of the day, the steering would be a worm and sector arrangement.
Given the design of the car, the arrangement for the fuel tanks would be different. Instead of just one large tank sitting behind the driver, the Vanwall 01 Special would utilize a system of three smaller tanks. Two of those tanks would be situated on either side of the car just ahead of the cockpit. The third tank would assume the more normal position behind the driver. These smaller tanks were meant to help with weight distribution and handling over the course of a race. However, the fuel system with the three tanks would give the team fits throughout the 1954 season. This would lead to Vandervell using his influence once again heading into the 1955 season.
After many issues with the fuel system on the car, Vandervell would negotiate with Bosch for their new fuel-injection system that would replace the four carburetors and help clean up the mess with the fuel system as well. This was a rather incredible deal Vandervell would pull off considering Mercedes had a contract with Bosch at the time.
Completed with a simple single windscreen and Borrani alloy wire wheels the Vanwall 01 would make its debut at the BRDC International Tropy race held at Silverstone in May of 1954. It had been intended that the car make its debut earlier on at Goodwood during the Easter races, but the car just would not be ready by then.
With Alan Brown at the wheel, the Vanwall chassis would make it through its heat race fine but would retire in the final with a broken oil pipe. This would be just the beginning of what would be a difficult season for the Vanwall team.
Before taking part in its first Formula One World Championship race the car would undergo some evolutions with its engine. It was more than evident the 2.0-liter just would not do against the new 2.5-liter Formula One cars. Therefore, the engine would go through some upgrades.
The first upgrade would see the displacement of the engine increase from 2.0-liters up to 2.3-liters. Then, just before the British Grand Prix, the first Formula One World Championship race of the season for the team, the engine would be further upgraded to the maximum 2.5-liters. Also, by this time, the shroud would be placed over the radiator that was still situated on the nose.
In the British Grand Prix, Peter Collins would put the car on the third row of the grid but would still fail to complete the race distance when a head gasket failure led to the team's exit from the race after just 16 of the 90 scheduled laps.
Despite how smoothly and professionally the team operated, the 1954 season would be an absolute struggle for the team. Fuel problems and other issues would lead to the team only good results coming at Goodwood in September and then at Aintree in October.
In actual Formula One World Championship grand prix, the team fared little better. Besides the broken oil pipe at the British Grand Prix, the fifth round of the championship, Collins would destroy the car in an accident at the Spanish Grand Prix, the last round. However, at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Collins would finish the 80 lap race in 7th position. But still, the result was no points.
The Vanwall 01 'Special' certainly had its problems. But underneath all of the problems, the car had components that worked and that made for a competitive car. The team would just need time to develop a car around those working components. It would come. And toward the later part of the 1950s, Vanwall would be one of the better teams in Formula One, better even at times than Ferrari.
Unfortunately for the 01, it would not experience those days to come. Its lot in life was to pave the way, to prepare the ground for success. And for that, while the official results wouldn't show it, the car had fulfilled its purpose.