Monday, August 06, 2007


I’ve watched Grand Prix racing now for the best part of 50 years, although today it’s mainly in front of the TV set. There is no doubt that the television coverage does allow you, as in most sports, to get a much better overall picture of what is going on.

But, and it’s a hugely important “but”, you lose out on the atmosphere – Big Time. The buzz and feel of the place, the anticipation, the smell (the reek of the oils? – why doesn’t some brave cosmetics company produce a “Castrol R” Shower Gel?), the real feeling of the utterly absurd speeds these things move at – all get lost on the small screen. But the thing that you lose most is THE NOISE.

The noise these things emit is something else, and either you like it, or you don’t. At its best, it is an intoxicant, and you often see addicts standing far too close to these cars warming up, with no ear protection, absorbing noise pressures which the Health and Safety mob would have a blue fit about, if they were there. Over the last few decades, there have been some truly glorious sounds which you could hear in Grand prix paddocks, but anyone asking “What’s the Best ever?” gets, from me, an immediate unequivocal answer.

The original BRM V-16.

We’re back now in austerity Britain. The year is 1945, and to give some colour to what is a grey, drab country, a man named Raymond Mays started an appeal, almost on the lines of a nationwide Co-operative to build a National Grand Prix Car. The engine was designed by Peter Berthon, and took the form of a 1½ litre V16, the cylinders of which were no bigger than a small Whisky glass. Now you may think 1½ litres is no big deal, but the plans were for this engine to deliver in excess of 500bhp at 12,000 rpm. Remember this is 60 years ago, and it ran on tyres the same size as my VW Golf today!

Four long years later, it took to the road, a fearfully complex machine, the like of which had never been seen before. In the end, it’s fair to say that its staggering complexity was its undoing. It suffered from continual material and design failures, as its highly stressed parts failed to stand up to the tasks they were being asked to perform.

It took to the racetracks in 1950, and pretty continuously failed to put itself on the racetrack where its specification said it ought to be. And then, in 1952, the future regulations for the World Championship were changed, leaving the car with only non F1 races to run in. It was gradually developed, and had a good deal of success in the lower formulas, but, as the Great Hope of so many British people, it was a continual disappointment, winning only 1 World Championship point during its whole existence.

All of which is of nought when you actually see the thing, admire its construction, and then listen to it when it runs. It produces quite simply the most incredible noise anyone with a mechanical soul in them could possibly imagine. A deep, pulsating bass throb which is physical in its intensity, joined to a supercharger wail as the revs increase which is visceral in its power. I like Pink Floyd, I like Wagner (try the closing pages of Götterdämmerung for his cataclysmic view of the End of the World) but I also like, just as much, listening to the sound of this racing car tearing round a track.

Nick Mason, Pink Floyd’s drummer, owned one (a Mark 2) for a time, and wrote a book “Into the Red” which described all the (stupendous) cars he owned. The really great thing about this book is to be found in the Inside Cover. There is a CD where the sounds of these cars have been recorded in high quality stereo sound. To get a feeling of what this piece is about, do the following.

- Buy or borrow a copy of the Book. Get hold of the CD
- Find someone with the largest and loudest Loudspeakers you can
- Get rid of wives and other cissies, pets, and children for the duration
- Turn on the amplifier, and push the Volume Control round to 11 on the Spinal Tap scale
- Insert the CD into the player, and select Track 5, entitled “BRM V16 Mk2 – Push Start and two laps of Donington Circuit – In car".
- Note, the Book advises a “Suggested Volume Setting = Loud”
- Sit back, and


At the end, I guarantee you will have a huge grin on your face, and be laughing hysterically. Your neighbours from quite a way down the road will be outside wondering just what exactly is going on, and you can invite them all in to hear it again.

I heard it through a pair of large Mission 782 loudspeakers, with a big Sub Woofer to fill in the Bass. Now the specifications for these speakers claim a maximum sound level of 111 db before something untoward happens to the unit’s innards. Suffice it to say, that the first time I played it through, I blew the fuses on both speakers.

The word “awesome” is a bit overused these days. It is not “awesome”, as the Check-out operator in Sainsburys suggested a couple of days ago, that I can add up the prices of my shopping at the same speed as she keys them into her machine – that’s just showing off. But the sound of this machine in full cry does merit the use of the word.

As a pale taster of BRM-lite, try the snippet below from “Youtube”, but remember, if you’ve only got those diddy little speakers attached to your computer, it will be like watching the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” on a mobile phone.


Go for it Big Time, and then tell me you aren’t impressed.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, I can so much relate to your thoughts about the BRM!!! I remember quite vividly the first time I got to hear the horns of Jericho, the sound of the apocalypse (these were the first associations that sprang to my mind). I was sorting out some motorsports-mp3-files I downloaded a while ago and to which I hadn't listened so far. To speed up the process I skipped a bit into the track in order to hear, what it was about (BRM V16 didn't ring a bell at that time). At the part of that track I skipped to, the BRM was at the other side of the racing track, so it was obviously pretty quiet. And so I cranked up the volume... :-)

You can imagine my face as that monstrosity of a car came nearer and nearer and as it got louder and louder. On my face appeared a BIG BIG GRIN, all my hairs stood on end and as this machine passed by (as the Götterdämmerung came down on me) I jumped up from my chair out of excitement. The sound was so loud that the image on my computer monitor shook rapidly because of the intensity of the magnetic field of the speakers (two feet away). Man, was that a trip! Since then I must have listened to the voice of the archangels a hundred times, and never did it seize to amaze me! Every time I listen to it - goosebumps all over!

So, to sum up, I also strongly recommend anyone looking for this book with that amazing CD and listen to this INCREDIBLE SOUND! And you, 42@60, thank you for your wonderful thoughts on this subject! They were a pleasure to read!