VANWALL: “BEAT THOSE BLOODY RED CARS!”
Born from Tony Vandervell’s desire to see a British car win a
grand prix, Vanwall’s shortlived domination of Formula 1
came to a premature end, but left a lasting legacy.
WORDS Paul Fearnley MAIN IMAGE LAT archive
Churchillian figure, blimpish in stature
and occasionally attitude, Britain’s Guy
Anthony “Tony” Vandervell – GAV for short
in print, but “The Guv’nor” to his hard-
working mechanics – was a patriot with a
global view, an overbearing bearings tycoon
capable of acts of great thoughtfulness.
Having been a staunch supporter of the
post-WWII BRM V16 grand prix project,
he became the convoluted program’s
sternest critic. Instead, although weary
of “those bloody red cars!” from Ferrari
and Maserati, he would join them before
beating them; for six years he ran a
sequence of open-wheel Ferraris so
heavily modified that even Enzo, a
customer of his, didn’t bleat about their
Thin Wall Special nomenclature.
This enlightened despot who gave
Britain’s racing revolution the green light –
without providing its blueprint, exactly –
was a doer with an intuitive technical grasp.
He stubbornly oversaw every aspect of
his beloved Vanwall racecars and the
well-drilled team that built and operated
them. His heart and soul came at a cost,
however. On doctors’ advice, he throttled
right back just as he had Ferrari by the
throat, the lingering death of team driver
Stuart Lewis-Evans in the 1958 Moroccan
Grand Prix having already caused him to
question the value of his quest.
This was indubitably cruel, yet timely.
The young thrusters and their like-minded
associates, men who’d played key freelance
roles for Vandervell’s organization, were
about to turn Formula 1 front-to-back,
and make obsolete its traditional ideas
and methods. The toolmaker-fit-and-finish
Vanwall – the very best of British (and