In this publication we look at British-built racing cars from 1945 to 1969. By ‘racing cars’ we mean single-seat open-wheel racers mainly designed to compete in Formula 1 or F2, F3, Formula Junior etc. There are a few exceptions; some early postwar racing cars had two seats, so they could be fitted with mudguards and lights to compete in sports car events. And not every Grand Prix car had exposed wheels; Connaught and Vanwall had streamlined racing cars with the wheels enclosed.
The late 1930 scene had been dominated by Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, supported by German government funds. There was no competition from British firms; no major manufacturer designed a GP car, or fielded a team. ERA flew the flag for Britain, but only in the Voiturette class for smaller-engined cars. The British public had little interest in motor racing in the prewar years, but when Raymond Mays tried to drum up postwar support for the BRM project, there was an upsurge of patriotic enthusiasm. For most of the period covered by this publication only BRM and Ferrari built their own engines. In the immediate postwar era British contenders used engines by Alta, Bristol and others, until the Coventry-Climax ex-fire pump engine powered successful cars in the 1960s. It is remarkable now to recall how many private entrants in F1 in the freewheeling 1950s and 1960s drove their own cars in Grands Prix. Guy Ligier, Bob Anderson or Joachim Bonnier could buy a car from Brabham or Cooper, employ a mechanic or two for support, and turn up for the race. But those days were ending, as cars became more complex, regulations tightened, and everything was just too expensive. A new era began in 1968 with the Ford Cosworth DFV engine, which enabled teams to be competitive at a lower cost, but most of those cars would be constructed to comply with the 1970 F1 regulations, and our coverage here stops at 1969.
This was the end of an era for so many; Cooper stopped making cars in 1969, and BRM went through a total reorganisation in that year.
Bruce Mclaren was killed in 1970 while testing, Jack Brabham retired from racing and Rob Walker also shut down his racing team that year.