12:30PM, Thursday 13 July 2017
Robert Cooper at Maidenhead Heritage Centre
In 1957, Bray-raised racing driver Stirling Moss (pictured left) was the first British driver to win a British grand prix in a British car.
The car in question was a Vanwall racing car, produced by Tony Vandervell and made at his factory in Cox Green, Maidenhead.
Many Maidonians will have passed the Vanwall Business Park without realising the significance of the Vanwall name in Maidenhead.
The business park was home to the Vanwall racing team, started by Mr Vandervell, and the factory employed around 2,000 people in the area from 1949 until the 1980s.
Robert Cooper, who researched the Vanwall exhibition at Maidenhead Heritage Centre said: “The factory produced Thinwall engine bearings so Vandervell took the ‘Van’ from his name and ‘wall’ from the Thinwall bearings to create Vanwall.
“Vandervell used to say he was fed up with those bloody red cars (Ferrari) always winning grand prix races.
“Around 2,000 people worked in the factory, but only a small number of these worked on the racing car, most of them worked on the bearings.
“Lots of people in Cox Green were kept awake when they tested the engines, they would race them until it got red hot.”
The Vanwall racing car was first produced in 1954 and set a high standard in motor racing, winning nine grand prix races and the Manufacturers Championship in 1958.
But in 1958 at the Moroccan Grand Prix, tragedy struck when British racer Stuart Lewis-Evans died racing a Vanwall car after the engine seized and sent him into the barriers at high speed.
He died in a London hospital of burn injuries six day after and Vandervell was deeply affected by his death.
Vandervell’s failing health meant 1958 would be the last full season for Vanwall cars, which stopped racing all together in 1961.
Robert said: “Vandervell was a workaholic and a tough cookie.
“He was always in the factory, people would keep their head down when he walked past.
“He was the type of person to fire you one day and forget all about it the next day.”
Vandervell died in March 1967, and the Vanwall factory was sold in the 1980s. The company moved out of Maidenhead to Scotland.
Robert said: “There are still a lot of people living in Maidenhead that worked in the factory and lost their jobs.
“I think they have mixed memories.”
The 1957 British grand prix took place on July 20, 1957.
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