The Rover-BRM forms part of our Jackie Stewart celebrations, having been driven by the champion Scot at Le Mans in 1965. The car made its debut at Le Mans in 1963 and was the culmination of a 20-year project to develop a gas-turbine powered road car. That never happened, of course, but the car ran successfully at Le Mans.
BRM’s contribution to the project was to supply the chassis – a widened version of one of its GP car chassis – and the works drivers of the time. That meant Graham Hill and Richie Ginther in 1963, with Hill and Stewart in 1965. For the first outing, the car had an open-top body and ran with the number 00 as an experimental class. If it had been classified, it would have finished eighth overall – despite suffering with very poor fuel consumption, a major obstacle in an endurance racing. It’s reckoned to be as low as 5mpg at race speed. On the flip side, there’s no wheelspin, so it only needed one set of tyres for the full 24 hours. It’s easy on brakes, too.
Further development was needed before the 1964 entry, but the car wasn’t ready so it came back in 1965 with the Williams Towns-designed body you see today. According to Jackie Stewart, the car was slow – but it still came a respectable tenth overall, this time being included in the official results. The fact that it completed two 24-hour races at all is a huge achievement given how cutting edge the technology was.
The front part of the engine is where the fuel is burnt – paraffin in period, aviation fuel today. That turns the turbine in the way a jet would, and it’s the air pressure from that which turns another turbine; there’s no physical connection between the two. That then delivers power to the gearbox, which then goes to the rear wheels. It idles at 28,000rpm (making a sound like a jet plane) and rises to around 55,000rpm when it’s under load. You might expect it to be very loud at speed, but it’s not.
It’s very different to drive compared to a piston engined car. There’s no immediate throttle response and no engine braking at all. Graham Hill would keep his foot on the throttle while braking late in corners, so that the power was available when he took his foot off the brake.
The Rover-BRM has recently undergone a four-year rebuild, 2014 marking its first outings in its refreshed state. When it’s not giving demonstrations like the Revival parades, you can see it on display at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon.