British Racing Motors is remembered as one of the oldest and most eccentric British racing marques in motorsport history. BRM started its international competition career in only the second year of Formula One with the howling mad 1.5L supercharged V16.
In the years that followed they would produce one unique design after another. In 1962 the team would score both the constructors title and the driver’s title with Graham Hill. Later on in 1966, the impossibly complicated 3L H16 came to life. From that point on, the company would steadily drop down the order. After struggling with uncompetitve designs and frequent budget problems, BRM would close its doors in 1977.
In 1990 Greek entrepreneur John Mangoletsi secured the rights to use the BRM name from the family of founder Alex Owen. Mangoletsi wanted to participate in the wildly popular World Sportscar Championship, but lacked the funds to do so. The added publicity of using the famous BRM name helped him gain sponsorship and extra funding he so desperately needed. With the financial situation resolved, Mangoletsi contracted former Zakspeed chief engineer Paul Brown to design his new Group C challenger.
Brown complied by producing an unimaginative but solidly designed carbon monocoque chassis. The car was built by engineering firm Courtaulds and finished in BRM’s trademark metallic British Racing Green with an orange nose. The bodywork was done win an equally conventional manner, and bore some resemblance to Peugeot's race winning 905. A curious feature was the central position of the headlights, which gave the car a very insectoid appearance.
The Group C formula had seen a drastic change for the 1991 season, with new regulations outlawing the large displacement and turbocharged engines which were commonplace in the series. From 1991 onward only 3.5L, naturally aspirated Formula One style engines were allowed. This forced engine designer Graham Dale-Jones to get very creative.
As designing and building a brand new engine was financially far out of reach of Mangoletsi's small team, Dale-Jones went for a slightly outdated approach. Staying true to BRM heritage, he used the positively ancient 3.0L Weslake V12 as a base. The engine dated back 1967, and was last raced in 1977. Despite its age, Dale-Jones 3.5L development produced a quoted 626 horsepower at 11.300 rpm. The unit was backed by a 6-speed manual transmission.
The car was entered in the 1992 World Sportscar season, debuting at the second round at Silverstone. It was driven by South African Wayne Taylor and Harri Toivonen, the younger brother of Finnish rallying hero Henri. In typical BRM fashion, the car was immediately affected by mechanical woes.
Consistent battery problems prevented the car from setting a time qualifying, so the car started at the back of the grid. On race day its oil-pump failed on the warm-up lap, netting it a Did Not Start.
The next round was the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most important event on the WSC-calendar. Because of the much longer racing distance, Englishman Richard Jones would join Taylor and Toivonen to drive the P351. As luck would have it, qualifying would bring problems for the team once again. This time the transmission intermittently rendered itself useless. The team struggled to get the car to complete a single lap at speed.
As a result, Wayne Taylor was the only driver to set a time, good enough for 23rd on the 29 car grid. The team was thrilled to at least be able to start, and hoped for the best.
Sadly their prayers weren't answered. The P351's transmission conspired against them, and ended their race prematurely. The team had completed just 20 laps before transmission said its final goodbyes, making the BRM the very first casualty of the 1992 race.
The team's European misadventures were starting to take their toll on the already very tight budget. By now in considerable debt, Mangoletsi sought to find sponsorship elsewhere. In a last ditch effort, he took the car to the World Sporstcar Championship's American equivalent, the IMSA Camel GT-series.
Although the IMSA GTP cars resembled Group C machines, there were still technical differences between them. With little money to adapt the P351, Mangoletsi asked his team if the car complied with the IMSA regs out of the box. After going over the car a few times, the BRM engineers convinced Mangoletsi that the P351 would be absolutely fine.
Shortly after arriving at Watkins Glen, Mangoletsi was in for a nasty surprise. His technical staff had made a colossal mistake. The massive raised airbox on top of the P351’s roof turned out to be in violation of IMSA’s maximum height limit. Because of this the car was deemed illegal by the IMSA officials and not allowed to start until the problem had been fixed.
BRM’s embarrassed engineers scrambled to find a solution. Paul Brown suggested they cut the airbox up on the spot with an electric saw, cutting it in half. The halves were then turned on their sides and glued together again, creating a much lower airbox with the same surface area. His plan worked perfectly, but came too late for Wayne Taylor to set a time.
Eventually the Taylor lined up 16th on the 18 car grid, and set off in hopes of a race finish. But the P351 refused to break character. With just 5 laps done, an electrical failure brought the maligned car to a halt. The third consecutive non-finish proved to be the death knell for Mangoletsi's team. The much-needed sponsorship deals never materialized. A half-hearted entry into the WSC round at Donington was the last thing BRM would do. The team folded before the race.
The BRM P351 was an overly ambitious project thought up by a wide-eyed entrepreneur. The car was weighed down by a chronic lack of funding and a never ending string of mechanical and electronic failures.
The prehistoric engine and other second tier parts prevented it from starting and finishing every race it entered. With a bit more money and an aftermarket engine, things could have been very different. Sadly, the P351 failed to carry its legendary name with honor.