It is entirely possible to miss something when one is too busy focusing on something else. Often times we are looking for a particular solution, and it is right there in front of us, but because we believe it is only going to be found along a certain line, it is easy to miss the greatest opportunity possible, and it was right there all the time. Formula One is all about the pursuit of new technology to overcome regulations and other hindrances to performance. But a big part of that advancement comes from not trying to reinvent the wheel, so to say. BRM, in the late 1960s, almost reinvented the wheel when their solution was right there in front of them all the time.
BRM would be intent on finding a way to beat the 3.0-liter regulations imposed by the FIA. They were not interested in finding a competitive solution. They wanted to try and think out of the box in such a way that by destroying all paradigms they would come up with a truly innovative approach to the regulations that their advantage would be undisputed.
Ultimately, BRM's desire for a new and innovative approach to regulations would not end up moving forward as much as it would backward. BRM, or British Racing Motors, had become the idea of Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon during the Second World War. The idea was to create a national racing team much like the famous Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union that dominated race tracks throughout Europe during the later-part of the 1930s.
Unfortunately, BRM would fall prey to its pride twice. Mays and Berthon weren't just interested in making a very competitive grand prix car. They wanted to make a team that was as formidable and dominant as what Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union had been in the days leading up the Second World War. Therefore, instead of focusing on existing technology of the day and improving upon it, they would be on a search for the radical. The problem with the radical is that there usually is a great deal of teething issues involved. And it would be these teething issues that would make BRM something of a national catastrophe.
One of the innovative features BRM would employ in its car for 1950 would be a powerful 16 cylinder engine. And while crowds would flock to circuits just to hear the engine howl, the sound wouldn't usually last all that long before some kind of mechanical problem forced it out of the running.
And now, a little more than decade later, BRM would again look to a 16 cylinder engine to overcome the believed restrictions imposed by a 3.0-liter displacement limit. In essence, in BRM's mind, it would be like having two 3.0-liter 8 cylinder engines powering their chassis. It seemed logical. Surely they could make it work this time. At least that is what everyone thought.
The team would make a totally horizontal engine bristling with stacked banks of eight cylinders on each side. The engine was massive, and powerful, but it was also massively heavy. The team had successfully built what was, essentially, two engines mounted together, again. And there would be the problem. Two engines means twice the weight. And the weight would be the greatest limitation the engine would have, especially with the tiny aluminum monocoque chassis of the 1960s.
But besides the weight, the complicated nature of the 16 cylinder engine would cause more and more mechanical ailments and would only lead to more and more technical difficulties instead of successes on the race track.
Thankfully for BRM, it was involved in other affairs. This would eventually save BRM from another repeat of the national joke it had become in the first couple of years of the 1950s. Chief among those other affairs would be building engines for sportscar racing. Ironically, for sportscar racing BRM would be building 3.0-liter V12 engines. But it wouldn't be until seeing their engines perform on the track they would realize what they had and it was right under their nose all the time.
No doubt embarrassed by the whole situation of the amount of time and money spent on another 16 cylinder engine, BRM would return to simpler roots, would quietly pack the 16 cylinder engines away and would quickly make adaptations for the V12 to grace their Formula One cars.
Since BRM continued to make mistakes with engine design, perhaps it was a good thing the car that would house the V12, 3.0-liter engine would not be designed and built by them. Instead, the 1190 pound, aluminum monocoque chassis would be designed by Len Terry.
The design of the car would be straight-forward. Boasting of a narrow cigar shape flattened giving it a lower-profile, the P126, as it would become known as, would have a large oval-shaped radiator inlet and relatively flat upper lines to the bodywork. Twin vents just aft of the fiberglass nose would aid in extracting the warmer air from the radiators and for pulling in cooler air into the inlet opening.
Nearly visible through the vent openings would be the coil springs from the double wishbone front suspension. This would be the same arrangement for the rear suspension as well. The only difference would be, obviously, the mounting position of the rear coil springs. Both the front and the rear suspensions would also make use of dampers to help aid in control and handling of the car.
While some cars of the time would move the disc brakes inboard away from the wheels to help aid in simplifying the area around the rear wheels, Terry would keep the ventilated disc brakes out on all four wheels of the car.
Because of the large and powerful V12 engine, trailing link double wishbones would be used on the P126 as the mounting points for the arms would be all the way up to the back of the mounting location where the engine mated to the chassis.
And while mounting locations and other features of the car's design were certainly well thought out and carefully watched, the aspect of having a driver was one thing that would not be considered all that much. The low-profile chassis would cause any driver of any height to stick up out of the top of the car like a big old sail catching the wind. But that aerodynamic drawback was meant to be overcome by that which was mounted directly behind the driver.
Nearly 386 pounds of the car's overall weight would be due to the massive V12 engine mounted right behind the driver's back. Producing 370 bhp at 9500 rpm initially, the engine would be tweaked throughout 1968 and 1969 until it ended up producing 420 hp. Mated with a Hewland 5 speed manual gearbox, the 3.0-liter engine was capable of going from zero to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. It could cover a kilometer in 34 seconds. Of course, these performance numbers would be reached by the 420 hp engine that gained its power via such updates as a four valve cylinder head. This version of the engine would be used in a car that would become known as the P138 and P139, but it was, essentially, still a P126.
When Sir Alfred Owen came to own BRM in 1952 he took the company and re-focused it on taking what worked and making it better. He simplified instead of made things more complicated with new and untested technologies. By the late 1960s, the team was falling into the same old sin all over again. And once again, it would have to simplify so it could save face. Though the 16 cylinder engine would earn the team another victory, it would face so many technical difficulties that the successes were far outweighed by the difficulties to achieve them.
Switching to the simpler V12 engine, the P126 would make BRM immediately competitive without too many technical issues. Just about each and every race the team could count on the car giving them a great opportunity for success. And this would be proven by the fact Richard Attwood would come away with a 2nd place result at Monaco in 1968. The team would go on to score another 2nd place at the Belgian Grand Prix just a couple of weeks later and would end up on the podium a couple more times and would earn a number of top five results by the end of the 1968 season.
BRM had its answer and it was right there in front of them all along. The P126 would be an example of how BRM had learned its lesson from the early 1950s. However, they did come close to repeating the same old sin. Thankfully, for BRM, Terry's P126 would be a fantastically-simple car that would be truly competitive with the right engine. The two combined well and managed to save BRM from yet another embarrassing moment in its racing history. Sources:
'BRM P126 (1968-1969)', (http://histomobile.com/m5/l6/brm-p126/1554812131.htm). Histomobile.com. http://histomobile.com/m5/l6/brm-p126/1554812131.htm. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
'BRM P126', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/76/BRM-P126.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/76/BRM-P126.html. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
'1968 World Drivers Championship', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1968/f168.html). 1968 World Drivers Championship. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1968/f168.html. Retrieved 13 June 2012.By Jeremy McMullen