The Ex – Graham Hill, Prototype, 1.5 Litre V8 Formula 1 1964 BRM P261

The Ex – Graham Hill, Prototype, 1.5 Litre V8 Formula 1

1964 BRM P261 

Few names in Formula 1 history evoke the same feeling of history, nostalgia and excitement as BRM. The brainchild of two men, Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon, British Racing Motors or BRM became what was effectively seen as the British national Formula 1 outfit in the Post-War era.

The BRM Story

Mays and Berthon had been very successful before the War with the 1,500cc supercharged six cylinder ERA. As the dust settled in 1947, Mays and Berthon planned to build an outstanding Grand Prix machine to take on the likes of Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz. Penned with a 1,500cc V16 engine of highly advanced design and extensive engineering exercise promising to deliver 400hp. 

The project needed large amounts of funding however if it was to become a reality. Mays went to several of the leading figures in the domestic British motor industry and the British Motor Racing Research Trust was formed. 

Having become protracted and unwieldy in size, the committee of the Trust was slimmed down to a few key names: Tony Vandervell, Lucas’ Bernard Scott, Alfred Owen, Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon.

The BRM had captured the imagination of the British public and had been hailed as ‘Britain’s Greatest Racing Car’ in the press exposure leading up to its debut. However, problems were frequent and complex. At Barcelona in 1950, Parnell and Walker gave the world a glance at the V16’s speed capabilities, topping the 185 mph mark. 

Despite the promise, the BRM was heckled by the press and the outfit went to the open market. After receiving seven bids, it was A.E. Owen of the Owen Organisation who bought BRM as a whole. Under Ernest Owen’s patronage, the fortunes of BRM gradually turned around.

Berthon was instructed to design a new four cylinder BRM for the new 2,500cc Formula 1 regulations of 1955. Having learnt the difficulties of an overly complex design with the V16, the new engine was meant to be simpler and, in theory, trouble free. 

The new car was known as the Type 25, or P25. With a light but strong space frame chassis, the engine was mounted conventionally in front of the driver, with a rear transaxle unit transferring power to the wheels. Success finally came to BRM in the Dutch Grand Prix. Jo Bonnier came out on top at the conclusion of a hard fought race, and held off pressure from Moss and Brabham in their Coopers. 

After the flash of success shown with the P25 at Zandvoort, the BRM equipe developed their first rear-engined car, the P48. As with the Type 25 that went before, the P48 showed promise and pace but was often hit with reliability issues.

With the regulation change of 1961 to 1.5 litres, BRM produced a new rear-engined model and a visible development from the P48, the P57. The new chassis design was intended to take the readily available Coventry Climax four cylinder, twin over head cam FPF, while BRM’s new 1,500cc V8 was in development.

‘Little Miss Elegance’ and the V8

From September 1960, Peter Berthon had been at work designing what would actually prove to be a masterpiece, the new P56 V8 engine. Aided by draughtsman Aubrey Woods and long standing BRM engineer Amherst Villiers, the program was inspired with an urgency after Alfred Owen had issued an ultimatum: achieve real results within one year, or BRM would be disbanded. 

The chassis in which the new V8 would sit was the work of Tony Rudd, who had progressed the lessons of the P57. A much smaller, neater space frame car was developed and dubbed the P578. With drivers Graham Hill and Ritchie Ginther, the P578 got off to a flying start, setting 5th fastest time in practice at Monza with the Italian press calling it ‘Little Miss Elegance’ upon first setting eyes on the dark green challenger.

Hill eclipsed the previous 1.5 litre lap record at Zandvoort by some 4.1 seconds in testing, and Results followed at the crucial moment for BRM. Pole position and victory were taken at Silverstone in May, and the first Grand Prix victory for the P578 came at Zandvoort in the hands of Hill. The feat was repeated at the Nurburgring, Monza and in South Africa with a number of podiums in between. At last, they had done it. BRM were both Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Champions of 1962. 

For the ’63 season, BRM continued the development of the P578. The year got off to a flying start with victories for the reigning World Champion at Snetterton and Aintree. At Monaco, Hill reigned supreme, winning ahead of team mate Ginther for a historic BRM 1-2. The duo took the top two steps of the podium again at Watkins Glen, and several podium finishes were obtained in the interim races. In the World Championship title race, Hill was headed by Jim Clark and his Lotus 25.

BRM had realised that the space frame design was beginning to be outdone by the light and stiff monocoque of the Lotus 25, so had begun developing their own monocoque chassis in early ‘63. Designated the P61, the new car used a semi monocoque principle with enclosed main section and attached engine bay. An experimental new feature was the use of rocker front suspension and pushrod rear suspension, with the dampers mounted inboard above the engine bell housing. While it made for very tidy packaging, it wasn’t instantly successful due to chassis flex, and the new, lighter P61 sat out in place of the proven P578s for the majority of 1963.

Over the winter preceding the 1964 season, BRM further developed the P61 design to make the P61 Mark 2, or better known as the P261. The flex found with the P261 was remedied, and the P261 was a full length enclosed monocoque  with an open ‘bath tub’ engine bay to accommodate the V8. The forged aluminium suspension uprights of the P578 were replaced with lighter cast magnesium versions, Within the refinements of testing, a more conventional outboard spring and damper set up was used on the rear suspension, while the inboard rockers were retained on the front. The resulting weight saving of the svelte new challenger over the P578 was a huge 30kg.

Chassis Number 2612, This Car 

This car, chassis 2612, is the prototype for the full length monocoque P261, and is the workhorse that completed the extensive pre-season testing in early 1964 with Graham Hill. Fitted with the latest development of the P56 V8 engine, BRM’s lightweight six speed gearbox, and magnesium Dunlop wheels, Hill set staggering times in 2612. On his initial run in 2612 at Silverstone, Hill took a hammer to the internal sides of the monocoque to fashion more space, even though 2612 was already built to accommodate his height.

The race debut for the P261 model came at Snetterton for the Daily Mirror Trophy on the 14th March 1964. Hill drove 2612 while team mate Richie Ginther’s car wasn’t finished in time for the meeting. With atrociously wet conditions, Hill and 2612 qualified in second place behind 1963 World Champion Jim Clark’s Lotus 25. Clark and Hill were joined on the front row of the grid by Trevor Taylor in the sister Lotus 25.

With 2612 sporting the taller 15” wheels with narrower tyres, when the race got underway in appalling conditions, Hill found an advantage over Clark’s 13” wheeled Lotus 25. Hill led convincingly in the wonderfully handling new P261, but on the eighth lap aquaplaned off Home Straight into the banking, ending the race and 2612s contemporary career, with Hill escaping uninjured. 

2612 lost the right side corners and suffered chassis damage to the right front and underside of the monocoque. Upon inspection by Tony Rudd back at the Bourne HQ, it was deemed to be easier to replace rather than repair 2612, and it was ‘written off’ by Rudd.

Life after BRM

Thanks to a fully documented history by distinguished historian and author Doug Nye, we are able to go over the life of 2612 after its exit from the BRM works.

Following Rudd’s decision, 2612 was stripped of parts before being rescued and acquired by Martin Hone, a racing enthusiast who had just opened the ‘Opposite Lock Club’, a motor racing themed establishment in Birmingham. Hone mounted the 2612 monocoque on the wall as decoration where it remained until the 1970s. 

BRM collector and racer John McCartney was aware of 2612 and assessed the damage as being repairable and affordable too. At that time, historical Formula 1 cars were increasing in interest levels, and McCartney bought 2612  from Hone.

Restoration began on the damaged monocoque, with McCartney entrusting ex-BRM mechanics Peter Bothamley and Pat Carvath to bring 2612 back to its former condition. Carvath remembered “It’s front bulkhead had been badly caved-in and I worked with Pete in my spare time doing a complete rebuild job on it. By the time we had finished it had a new front bulkhead, new suspension parts – many of them works spares – and so far as I recall it really worked out quite nicely…”

McCartney had accumulated a stock of components from BRM through ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson and Alec Stokes at Bourne, which made up many of the parts used in the rebuild of 2612.

The identity of the damaged monocoque at this time was an uncertain subject, with there being a possibility of it being 2615, the car crashed at Clermont-Ferrend by Hill in 1965. In later years, it was shown that it was in fact 2612, thanks to unique and distinctive rivet patterns in the monocoque’s skins.

Once completed, the rebuilt 2612 was sold by John McCartney to Mike Harrison in the north of England, and subsequently on to John Foulston. Foulston was founder of Atlantic Computers, went on to own a number of British racing circuits and was a collector of old racing cars. In his ownership, 2612 was used few times, and in the 1980s he was approached by Dr. Thomas Bscher. 2612 was sold to Dr. Bscher in Germany, who had admired monocoque BRMs for some time, and it joined his collection which included a Maserati 250F, 450S, and more. 

It was Dr. Bscher who shed the light on 2612s identity, researching the car extensively and finding in period photographs the answer which took the form of unique rivet patterns. Dr. Bscher showed that on the side of Hill’s damaged car at Snetterton there was a rivet missing around the transistor box on the left side of the monocoque, which was identical on the car that he had come to own. Further identification was then found with a series of rivets out of line in the 1964 photographs, and matching exactly on the monocoque in front of Dr. Bscher. 

Dr. Bscher later added 2613 to his collection, and on completion of that deal, sold 2612 to his brother Robert Pferdmenges, also of Germany. From Pfermenges, 2612 went to Dietrich von Boetticher, and in the mid 1990s was bought by Ray Bellm.

Bellm was Group C World Champion in 1985, 1986 and 1988, before also going on to win the International GT Championship in 1994 and in 1996 with a McLaren F1 GTR. Perhaps due to his contemporary driving commitments, Bellm rarely used 2612 in his ownership. Robert Brooks took the wheel on behalf of Bellm at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and treasured the experience, particularly having been a life-long Jackie Stewart fan.

From Bellm, 2612 was bought in 1995 by Vijay Mallya, owner of the Kingfisher beer brand, Force India Formula 1 team and car collector. While in Mallya’s collection, 2612 resided in California and saw little, if any use. 2612 was bought from Mallya by British investment banker David Wenman in 1999, with plans to compete in competitive historic racing.

2612 was prepared for its return to circuits by BRM experts Hall & Hall, and driven for Wenman by Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams. Whizzo could always be counted on for a spectacular display, and at the 2007 Goodwood Revival he took a popular Glover Trophy victory in 2612. 

Wenman sold 2612 in 2008 to William Pohlad, who had 2612 prepared for him by Hoole Racing. Pohlad entered the P261 into the Glover Trophy at the 2008 Goodwood Revival with Mark Piercy as the driver in one of only a few outings that 2612 had in his ownership. Pohlad in turn sold 2612 to the current owner in 2012 who has competed at multiple Goodwood Revivals, the Monaco Historic Grand Prix in 2018, and various HGPCA meetings at circuits including Zandvoort and Silverstone.

2612 has remained at Hoole Racing, and is fitted with a correct 1500cc BRM P56 V8 engine, mated to original P62 gearbox numbered P62/8. The engine and gearbox have been maintained and monitored through their use, new FIA HTPs were issued in 2016 and are valid until 2026.

A stunning example of BRM’s iconic P261, their most successful Formula 1 model with the glorious 1.5 litre BRM P56 V8 engine, 2612 will be at the forefront of any selection process to race at some of the best historic events such as the Monaco Historic Grand Prix in May 2021. The chance to become the custodian of such a special ‘60s Formula 1 car is one that seldom arises.