Vanwall’s F1 dreamer Tony Vandervell

Vanwall's F1 dreamer Tony Vandervell

He sat on the sofa in the reception area of the Cleveland Graphite Bronze Company in Cleveland, Ohio, for six days, according to legend. Guy Anthony Vandervell was a tenacious individual. His early years exhibited the hallmarks of an affluent, overactive underachiever: excellent at games, at Harrow; a speed freak on bikes and in cars, racing both; and seemed unwilling to follow in his father’s footsteps. He did settle down, but he was more interested in horsepower than amps and ohms, and his inventive approach to technical difficulties helped him navigate the O & S Oilless Bearing Co, a small CAV subcontractor, through the Depression.

Vanwall’s F1 dreamer Tony Vandervell

Big-end and main bearings were heavy, expensive, difficult to install, and quickly worn at the time. That’s why, in 1931, when GAV received word from America of a novel bearing system that would revolutionize engine design and construction, he sped across the Atlantic. He was anxious for the European license for this product, which is why he staged the sit-in. Vandervell Products grew quickly as a result of the Thinwall bearing’s success, thanks to his tenacity, intuitive technical understanding, and foresight. GAV’s racing team exhibited the same traits after WWII ended. He was one of the project’s most ardent backers. But he was a doer, a true seer, and as a result, he quickly became one of the most outspoken critics of this arduous curriculum. His Ferrari-based Thinwall Specials spent four seasons competing against the V16 in tiny British events, adamant that he could do better. But he had grander plans: he wanted to put together an all-British team that could beat Continental teams in their own backyard.

In order to achieve this, the first Vanwall Special was released in 1954. But there was still more to learn and much further to go, and it wasn’t until 1957, at Pescara and Monza, that this goal was realized. The following year, his team rubbed it in by winning the first constructors’ world championship, with six victories to Ferrari’s two. GAV was finished by that point. He’d poured his heart and soul into the project, putting his health at risk. During his time with the team from 1957 to 1958, driver Tony Brooks recalls only one meeting, practice and race, that GAV did not attend. He wasn’t a dilettante who sat in the VIP tent all day – he was in the pits, warming up his cars, resting his belly over his beloved engines, he was right in the heart of it. People were wary of him because of his harsh demeanor, but his all-or-nothing attitude generated enormous respect in his employees, whom he treated with fatherly devotion.

Derek Wootton, a mechanic, adds, “We were treated properly.” “We were accommodated in nice hotels. Money was not an issue, especially when it came to the cars. If necessary, he would fly stuff out to races on short notice. I recall searching for a little workshop in Monza on the back of a Lambretta, carrying a jig that was required to reinforce the de Dion tubes. “I also recall him ordering me to go to Modena after a Monaco Grand Prix to get one of Maserati’s five-speed transmissions. ‘They only have three,’ I said. ‘See what you can do,’ he added. I drove down in my overalls, saw Orsi [the owner of Maserati], and told him what GAV wanted. ‘How will you pay?’ Orsi inquired. GAV called at that point; he had a habit of calling at key periods, and you had to be ready with your responses. He exploded when I told him Orsi was disputing payment. I was talking on the phone while holding it at arm’s length.”

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