My introduction to Vanwall was simple. I walked into a car driving school office one Monday morning and asked if I could have lessons. “When is your test?” asked the smiling man at the desk. I replied “This Thursday at 11”. “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?” he replied. I looked behind him and there on the wall was a glorious print of Stirling Moss in his Vanwall leading a pack of 1950’s F1 cars, probably the glorious win at Monza in ’58.
Vanwall was the creation of an F1 winning team by the owner, Tony Vandervell
He decided not to name the team Vandervell as that was for his bearings business, not one for racing as he supplied other teams and may confuse. Instead he would call it ‘Vanwall’, an amalgamation of the Vandervell surname and his global ‘thinwall’ bearings business.
My next close encounter with Vanwall was not to be for another 25 years. I’d ordered a Ronart Lightning V8 (see photo) an amazing two-seater car with all the goodies: 5 speed manual, AP brakes, Targa, Carbon fibre body…an awesome car which I kept for 15 years. A factory visit (Peterborough,UK) exposed me to the full workshop of cars there, notably a Vanwall replica with a V12 engine and another in build.
A fast drive in the Vanwall V12 with its’ dramatic power to weight and above all the fantastic open wheel viewpoint with sensational sound convinced me there was a future here. On top of that there is the remarkable, indeed truly incredible Vanwall story. Vanwall once bestrode the F1 world, surely the history and name Vanwall are too important to leave to the 1950’s.
By now, in 2006, I’d invested in the business and we’d decided to make the electric Lightning GT. A demanding project which once led the EV charge alongside Tesla. For Vanwall and there was a licence in place with DANA the huge USA automotive business. We visited their UK offices and renewed the licence, increasing it from 3 to 15 years. However, our next few years were mostly spent on the Lightning, Ronart cars and of course finishing one of the Vanwall replica V12s and selling the other.
In 2012 DANA went into administration and the mighty German ‘Mahle Group’ acquired the Vandervell Bearings business. See www.Vandervell.co.uk for more information. I’d always felt held back by just a licence, we wanted the legitimate 100% ownership to invest in bringing the Vanwall name back to the fore, perhaps one day even F1?
Spring 2012 and my chunky Sony P800i phone was ringing. Like a boxer’s knockdown count I’d set it to 10 rings. I didn’t know the number but almost knew it was going to change my life, it had a certain ring to it…. As the 10th ring ended I flipped the lid open.
“ Hello”. The gravelly voice on the end said they were from Mahle and did I wish to acquire the Vanwall trademarks. “Yes” was my instant reply. A deal was done, the £ consideration paid and the collection of trademarks were acquired by my company in Spring 2012.
Immediately we set about making plans for bringing the Vanwall name back to the fore. First stage was to update the trademark in key markets around the world, notably EU, USA and Japan.
Now to the exciting stuff of the recent past, present and which is now getting ever faster and busier:
- In Summer 2016 we completed, sold and delivered a beautiful 1957 official VIN Numbered Vanwall with a continuation aluminium body and a Lotus 2.2 / 4 engine on a modified space frame chassis. A 5000 hour build project but one which was and is worth every skilled hour spent on it’s creation!
- We inspired PorterPress for the truly incredible re-publication of the definitive Vanwall book. The job they’ve done there is a book for life.
- We created with Conway Stewart a fabulous Vanwall pen, a true collectors piece
- We developed a documentary script and a film script to kick off in Spring 2023
- We’ve renders for a stunning Vanwall road car, a very limited edition to ideally appear next year.
- We’re in talks with potential customers for a ‘Continuation Car’ build at Hall & Hall
- We’ve even inspired a premium Vanwall surfboard….now there’s a first
- We’ve a merchandise deal lined up for Spring 2023, 50’s style never goes out of fashion
- A range of quality accessories, all harking back to Vanwall’s golden ‘50s times.
The fun part of my Vanwall story is driving the amazing 1957 Vanwall with its aluminium body and the 2.2/4 engine. It’s as close as you can get to the real thing and whilst it’ll never have the value of a continuation car the sensation of speed is truly there.
Let’s talk about that. Release the wheel, carefully step over the bodywork and fold yourself in to a snug cockpit and a surprisingly comfortable seat. Power cut-off to on, ignition to on and push the almost hidden starter button. She leaps into life and quickly settles to a burble. The huge Smiths rev counter also says hello, the oil pressure settles and the water temperature starts its slow rise. This is real motoring.
Snick her (it has to be a she) into first, ease throttle down and off she goes. The steering is surprisingly light and as you shift the exquisite gear linkages into 2nd the Vanwall leaps forwards. Up to 3rd, on to 4th and your smile becomes a manic grin. This is sensational!
Oh yes, when you exit the car I challenge anyone not to look back and admire the glorious Vanwall shape, presence and class oozes from every stunning curve of which the Vanwall has many.
My Vanwall story is one to be cherished. The Vanwall car I’ve described was sold to a discerning customer in August 2016 and has been polished and cosseted ever since. We have many and varied actions underway despite the Covid interruption which was a right pain for much of the past 30 months. A massive thanks to all those who despite the interruption have and are making Vanwall come alive again in the manner intended.
The best is yet to come. A tool-room copy continuation ‘58 Vanwall will once more grace the race tracks within a couple of years to take on the new BRM, our film will be made and Vanwall will be truly fashionable. A household name once again….we’re on our way.
A Story by Iain Sanderson