LAT Archive: BRM's unreliable 16-cylinder symphony

Once labelled by Fangio as 'the most fantastic car I ever drove', AutoClassics reflects on BRM's V16 - plagued with reliability problems but loved by all

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Four years after the 1.6-litre turbocharged hybrid powertrain was introduced into Formula 1, naysayers bemoaning its noise – or lack of – have never really gone away. There's an ardent camp of followers who long for the return of the V8, V10 or even V12.

In the 1950s, though, even 12-cylinders paled in comparison to the latest British Racing Motors project. It had developed a V16 engine that produced an unholy soundtrack and remains revered.

It was hampered by reliability woes throughout its use, but remained loved. So much so that Hall & Hall, based out of BRM's hometown of Bourne, restored the 14,000rpm and 600bhp powerplant.

Later this year, the P15, in which the engine nestles, will fire up again at the Beaulieu Spring Autojumble. Before that, and thanks to LAT Images, AutoClassics reflects on its life in F1.

Goodwood Trophy

Goodwood, West Sussex, England. September 30, 1950.

Comprised of two 750cc V8s mated together, the V16 found its way into the Type 15. Over 350 companies supported the supercharged project. Following delays to its debut courtesy of cracked cylinders and piston failures, Reg Parnell claimed two victories at the 1951 Goodwood Trophy.

Cutaway drawing

British Grand Prix

Silverstone, England. July 12-14, 1951.

BRM entered two cars for the 1951 British Grand Prix. Both Parnell and Peter Walker suffered extreme heat exhaustion due to the side-exit exhausts and their piping running underneath the bodywork. Parnell (seen here) finished 5th, two spots ahead of Walker.

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Grand Prix d'Albi

Albi, France. May 31, 1953.

Louis Rosier, in his Ferrari 375, leads five-time F1 champion Juan Manuel Fangio's BRM P15. Maurice Trintignant (Gordini 16), Tom Cole (Cooper T23-Bristol), Ken Wharton (BRM P15) and Elie Bayol (OSCA 20) follow closely behind at the start of the 1953 French Grand Prix.

Ferrari driver Alberto Ascari claimed that the noise of the V16 drowned out everything else at the race. Fangio took the sprint race victory.

Glover Trophy

Goodwood, West Sussex, England. April 19, 1954.

For 1956, BRM was developing a new engine for the incoming 2.5-litre naturally aspirated regulations. In the preceding seasons, the V16 had finally developed into a reliable engine, although other teams' progress with chassis dynamics left it uncompetitive.

South African Grand Prix

Kyalami, South Africa. December 30 - January 1, 1968.

Despite its competitive outings ending in 1955, BRM continued to refine the product. By the time Graham Hill demonstrated the V16 at the 1968 South African Grand Prix it was estimated to be producing nearly 800bhp.

Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood, West Sussex, England. June 26-29, 2014.

Renowned historic motorsport restorers and race preparers Hall & Hall, who specialise in BRMs, returned the V16 to working order. It is seen here heading onto the famous Goodwood Hillclimb for the 2014 Festival of Speed.

Images courtesy of LAT Archive

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