GRR

Doug Nye: "Old Faithful" BRM P5781 – A candidate for Doug's favourite car

04th April 2017
new-mustang-tease.jpg Doug Nye

As someone who has spent his entire working life writing about other people, I find it quite unusual to be on the receiving end. At 75MM, a camera crew’s producer was asking me about some matter or other and then enquired casually “What’s your favourite racing car?”. Well, my interests are so wide – or another way of putting that is to confess they are so chaotically un-focused – that I haven’t really got one… well, maybe apart from Segrave’s magnificent ‘Golden Arrow’ Land Speed Record car preserved today at Beaulieu, which most decidedly still does it for me...

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However, the week before I had been in Florida at the Revs Connoisseurship Symposium, and walking through the display halls in the Museum there, it was so nice to lay my hands once more upon Graham Hill’s Formula 1 BRM ‘Old Faithful’ – the 1961-built P578 chassis No 1.

This old lady has something like 20,000 miles running to its name, over no fewer than four active seasons of frontline racing 1962-3-4-5.

The multi-tubular spaceframe-chassised car emerged in the late summer of 1961 but waited around, engineless, while the 1 ½-litre 4-cam V8 engine intended to power it was being finalised at Bourne, and up in the team’s remote engine test house on Folkingham Aerodrome. The car was finally wheeled-out into public at Monza just before the 1961 Italian Grand Prix. It was decided not to race it, but the Italian press received it warmly – one headline christening her ‘Little Miss Elegance’. 

After extensive winter testing, ‘5781’ as she was stamped made her racing debut driven by Graham Hill in the three-Heat Brussels GP at Heysel on April Fools’ Day, 1962. Graham led throughout, and beat Moss into second place in Heat One, Stirling driving a Lotus 18/21 with Coventry Climax V8 engine installed. Sadly, the car’s starter cooked on the line for Heat Two, Graham was push-started, and disqualified.

Graham Hill winning 1962 Dutch GP in ‘Old Faithful’ aka ‘The Stack-Pipe BRM'
Glover Trophy Goodwood gave ‘Old Faithful’ her first F1 outright win, and Graham Hill’s, in the 1962 Goodwood Glover Trophy (No 1)

The Lombank Trophy race followed at Snetterton, in which Graham was beaten into second place by Jimmy Clark’s works Lotus-Climax V8 Type 24. On April 23rd, 1962, ‘5781’ carried Graham to war again in the Easter Monday Goodwood International ‘100’ race, for the Glover Trophy. He qualified 2nd fastest, led 37 laps and won outright. It was the first overall race win not just for the new BRM V8 car and engine, but also for Graham Hill. Sadly, the success was overshadowed by Graham having been the man being passed by Moss when the Maestro had his frontline career-ending accident near St Mary’s…

Retirement followed in the Aintree ‘200’, after Graham led the race briefly – an oil pipe feeding the injection pump broke. At Silverstone in the May Meeting, Graham qualified ‘5781’ on pole and won a superb motor race by mere inches from Clark’s works Lotus-Climax in a last-gasp lunge at the finish line.

On May 20th the 1962 World Championship series commenced with the Dutch GP at Zandvoort. Graham led from lap 12 to 80 – and scored both the BRM V8’s and his own first World Championship-qualifying race win.

In the Monaco GP the ‘stack-pipe’ BRM led from lap 7 to 92 when the engine seized, having burned away all its oil. Another non-Championship race followed that hectic season. Reims Grand Prix in France – Graham second in ‘5781’ behind Bruce McLaren’s victorious Cooper-Climax (the Monaco winner). French Grand Prix at Rouen – Graham led for 29 laps, collided with a backmarker, and finished ninth.

Graham en route to the Dutch GP win in ‘5781’
Monaco-nosed BRM ‘5781’ led the Principality’s 1962 GP most of the way before engine seized…

British GP at Aintree – Graham fourth – beaten by Clark, Surtees’s Lola and McLaren. German GP at the Nurburgring – Graham won brilliantly leading from lap 3 to 15 in variable rain and holding off Surtees’s Lola and Dan Gurney’s flat-8 Porsche throughout. By this time the much-raced car was already being referred to as ‘Old Faithful’.

Graham and the car then finished second – beaten by Clark’s latest Lotus-Climax 25 – in the Oulton Park Gold Cup. But at Monza for the Italian GP, Graham and ‘Old Faithful’ scored a great classic victory, leading throughout. Team-mate Richie Ginther finished second in his sister ‘5785’ for a classical BRM 1-2 success.

Still, Graham retained the old car. In the United States GP at Watkins Glen he finished second again to Clark’s Lotus. The South African race tour followed, two preliminaries, then the World Championship-deciding South African GP at East London. Graham drove ‘5781’ in the Rand GP at Kyalami but retired when ambient heat cooked the ignition rectifier. He qualified on pole for the following Natal GP at Westmead, Durban, but finished second in Heat to Clark’s team-mate, Trevor Taylor’s works Lotus. In the Final, the old car overheated again, and died – being classified 15th.

For the deciding Grand Prix itself, Graham then drove sister car ‘5785’ – ‘The Lightweight’ – and when Clark’s Climax engine lost its oil, Graham won the race to become Formula 1 World Champion Driver, having scored most of his points in ‘Old Faithful’.

Graham with the coveted Glover Trophy - his first outright Formula 1 race win, Easter Monday 1962
1963 - ‘Old Faithful’ wheel-waving in rosso corsa - driven by Lorenzo Bandini in the 1963 Solitude GP

Into 1963 there were only three complete works team P578s in existence. The prototype ‘Old Faithful’ was effectively surplus to works team requirements. Italian private entrant Mimmo Dei’s Scuderia Centro Sud organisation took on the car with funding from BP Italia. She was driven by Lorenzo Bandini with distinction – 5th in the British GP, 3rd in the Mediterranean GP at Enna, qualified 3rd fastest on the front row of the grid for the German GP – before being returned to Bourne where her magnesium-elektron body panels were repainted from Italian rosso corsa – racing red – to the works team’s “dark lust. Green” livery. As a works entry the car then provided Richard Attwood with his Formula 1 race debut at Goodwood, on Easter Monday, 1964. The car was then repainted French racing blue for BP France and the veteran mayor of Vergeze, Maurice Trintignant to enjoy his Grand Prix racing swansong through that 1964 season. The price was £4,000 plus the cost of converting the engine – number ‘5622’ – to flat-plane crankshaft configuration.

In 1965 the old car was returned to rosso corsa for a last hurrah with the Scuderia Centro Sud – being driven by Masten Gregory, Roberto Bussinello, Chris Amon (at May Silverstone), Willy Mairesse and Giorgio Bassi – after which BRM chief engineer Tony Rudd negotiated its re-purchase for the Owen Racing Organisation – on sentimental grounds.

Dei wanted to return all three of his ex-works BRM P578s to the Bourne-based company – for £2,000 apiece. Tony was interested only in ‘Old Faithful’ and the other two cars’ P62 gearboxes and 1 ½-litre V8 engines – which he wanted to convert to 2-litre ‘Tasman’-cum-interim Formula 1 specification for the 1966-67 seasons. 

Ultimately, ‘Old Faithful’ was re-acquired for £850, and this ico0nic Formula 1 car was then returned to works team livery and preserved at Bourne until October 22nd, 1981, when – as part of The BRM Collection – it was sold by auction at Earl’s Court during the Motorfair exhibition. It was bought by Alexander Patrick for his Patrick Collection museum in Birmingham. His winning bid was £50,000 and he explained that “As long ago as 01962 my enthusiasm for BRM was fired when Raymond Mays lectured on the subject at Oundle School” – where both Mays and BRM owner Sir Alfred Owen had been pupils, long pre-war.

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The car’s fate was again entrusted to auctioneer Robert Brooks for re-sale at London’s Olympia in December 1990, this time being knocked down for no less than £400,000 to BRM admirer/collector/Historic racer Anthony Mayman. After his death Brooks again offered the car at auction, this time in the Goodwood Festival of Speed Sale in June 1993 – that’s right the FOS’s inaugural year – where Canadian-based South African Collector David Cohen acquired it for £205,000 – reflecting that period’s great recession…

The car was subsequently maintained and preserved on Cohen’s behalf in the Brooks auction company’s premises at Clapham, London. By this time I had been involved closely with sale of the car three times, and when it was prepared for Brooks himself to drive in the inaugural Monaco Historic Grand Prix in May, 1997, I effectively went along as its bodyguard. The car was prepared by David Noble with the late John Ford, and it survived the experience of being Brooks-driven around the tight, guardrail-lined course after I had promised him that should it suffer so much a scratch then – no question – he was going in the harbour, with an anchor round his neck… And I meant it.

Richard Attwood was reunited with the car for Cohen in the Glover Trophy commemoration race at the Goodwood Revival Meeting, and in 2000 David sold her to Miles Collier – in Florida. The great car has graced that great Collection ever since, and she has been exercised regularly, not least on occasional return to Goodwood... where – 55 years ago – she scored her first great overall race win.

Images courtesy of the GP Library

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