BRM’s V16 can be heard ‘from 10 miles away’

Headphones in, volume up; it's time to welcome back one of F1's most glorious sounds

By Sam Sheehan / Sunday, March 21, 2021 / Loading comments

After teasing us with a fiery picture of the engine on the test bed in the middle of the week, BRM has now released video footage of its rebuilt Type 15 V16 motor running for the first time. And it has absolutely not disappointed, as this might just be the best engine video ever made. That said, no matter how spectacular it sounds through your speakers, the chief engine man behind the rebuild has told PH that it’s nothing on what’s heard in the workshop. “It’s quite a substantial noise, it sounds amazing on the video,” says Hall and Hall’s Martin Smith, “but you can’t beat being next to it”. We don’t doubt it.

While this engine isn’t a ground-up new build like the ones set to go in the three continuation P15s, it is a fully rebuilt original motor which last ran in 1999 when it was overrevved by former F1 driver (and then 77-year-old) Jose-Froilan Gonzalez. Hall and Hall, the BRM specialist that was established by former BRM F1 engineer Rick Hall, is handling the build in its Cobham workshop. Smith says the V16 and other BRM motors are so loud that on calm days, they “can be heard in my village, which is 10 miles away”. Naturally, the supercharged V16 is the loudest of them all. Everyone knows when the sixteen’s fired up.

Despite the obvious ferocity of the Formula 1 motor, it’s just 1.5 litres in capacity, with tiny cylinders and pistons, due to F1 regulations in those Fangio-dominated days. Supercharged engines were limited to 1,500cc, but that didn’t stop BRM – and its fifties team principle, Sir Alfred Owen – from extracting over 550hp from its 16-cylinder motor, which produced its peak power at 10,000rpm with 2.5psi of boost. The latest run on the test bed, conveniently, took the motor to that point, but Smith hinted that it could go further, saying the test bed, not the engine, “was limited to 10,000rpm”.

So iconic is this engine – and the equally innovative Formula 1 car that it went into, along with F1’s first disc brakes – that one of the three original Type 15 racers is owned by none other than Bernie Ecclestone. Smith said the motor Hall and Hall has worked on comes from a car that’s located in France, with the other example being the National Motor Museum car on display in Beaulieu, which only very occasionally runs. Smith’s ‘new-build’ engines, the first of which will go into a car for John Owen, the 81-year-old son of Sir Owen, pick up from where that trio left off. And while they’ll remain true to the original design, Smith says the new run will be a little easier to live with, thanks to minor improvements.

“The engines will be built to exact original specification, but using modern machining like CNC, so they’ll be better,” he says. “We also fit the motors with water heaters and oil tank heaters, so the engine is warmed to about 55 degrees, so they start easier.”

These are exceptionally complex engines as is, with company founder Hall himself telling PH that “some of the parts are so elaborate that they’re very difficult to make, even today”. He says the original design was “an exercise in how complex and how difficult can you make something “, only half joking, but that “it’s all beautiful and lovely stuff”. Not that these engines are intended to become artwork; Hall emphasises that the idea is for buyers “to use them at racing speeds”. Although he concedes with a chuckle that “it depends how deep one’s pockets are”. Maintaining such a highly strung car engine – the first to exceed 10,000rpm in history – isn’t ever going to be cheap.

That includes what it drinks. Smith explains that BRM runs its V16 on “a mixture of methanol pump fuel, acetone and race fuel”, with methanol accounting for 80 per cent of the mix and the other two liquids each representing about 10 per cent. So long as the methanol is burnt off before they stop the engine, it should start with no hiccups next time. Meaning even such a seemingly wild engine is not far off being an on-the-button powertrain. Compare that to modern F1 power units and the computational power they require.

As for BRM, with this rebuilt engine proving that the team at Hall and Hall still very much has what it takes to get a V16 spinning its own crank (nobody doubted it), attention can now turn to replicating the build from the ground-up. While Smith’s work is centred on the engine, the company has teams for each of the P15’s areas, with the project using original technical drawings and the latest in workshop technology, to ensure accuracy. Should all go to plan, we should be seeing – and hearing – a V16-powered P15 out in public this year, hopefully at Goodwood. There's something to look forward to…


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