Remembering Louis Stanley
Louis Stanley died in January, aged 92. His name may not mean much to younger
readers, but he was regarded as the BRM team principal in the late 1960s, and
through to the team's eventual demise in 1977.
"Big Lou" as he was generally known, cut an imposing figure in the paddock. He
had an aura of distinction that opened locked doors and disposed of airport
queues as though they were composed of nothing more than smoke. Most
Continentals believed him to be a lord, and received benign smiles when they
addressed him as "my lord".
Beneath that patrician exterior lay a capable individual who cared greatly about the
BRM team, about motor racing in general, and wrote a knowledgeable book about
tennis. Mr. Stanley, formerly the managing director of the Dorchester Hotel, rose to
greater prominence when he married Jean, sister of Sir Alfred Owen, chairman of
the Owen Group of companies that owned the BRM title and team.
As Sir Alfred's health declined, Mr. Stanley assumed greater importance at the
head of the race team, finally taking full control on Sir Alfred's death in 1974. The
BRM team peaked in 1962 when Graham Hill won the Drivers Championship in
the V8 powered P57, and continued to be a top-three team through to the end of
the 1967 season.
The arrival of the Ford Cosworth DFV engine started the rot. Light, compact and
efficient, the combination of Keith Duckworth's V8 and Colin Chapman's Lotus 49
proved almost invincible, once reliability issues had been resolved. Then the DFV
became available to other 'kit car' teams, notably Brabham, Tyrrell and McLaren,
and the V12 powered BRMs and Ferraris were in trouble.
Hill defected to the Lotus team at the start of the 1967 season ("I was afraid they
[BRM] would stand me in a corner and paint me green" he jested) and was soon
followed by designer Tony Rudd, who was very highly valued at Lotus.
There were some memorable victories in BRM's pipeline, but they became
increasingly rare. Jackie Stewart had marked himself as a future champion in a
BRM, claiming his first two Grand Prix victories in the dark green cars from
Bourne, and in the V12 period that followed, starting in 1968, victories were
claimed by Pedro Rodriguez (Spa in 1970), Jo Siffert (Austria, in 1971), Peter
Gethin (Monza, in 1971) and Jean-Pierre Beltoise (Monaco, in 1972).
Louis Stanley shared Jackie Stewart's deep concerns about safety, from the time
of the Scotsman's frightening accident in a BRM at Spa in 1966. The issue came
to a head when Jochen Rindt died while practising for the Italian Grand Prix in
1970. His Lotus 72 veered sharply to the left when the shaft connecting the wheel
to the inboard front brake disc snapped, piling the Austrian into the guardrail
Rindt died instantly, I was told by an English doctor who was among the first on
the scene. He had dreadful injuries but there was little bleeding, because his
heart stopped beating. The Italians took a long time to extract Rindt's body, then
the ambulance left the circuit in a leisurely way and got stuck in traffic.
He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital, and I was told by Franco Lini, the
eminent Italian journalist and former Ferrari team manager, that this was the
normal way of doing things. If Rindt had been declared dead at the scene of the
accident, the police would have taken over and cordoned the circuit for days. The
Italian Grand Prix would not have taken place in 1970.
Mr. Stanley didn't see it that way at all, making a great noise about the appalling
inefficiency of the marshals, the medics, the ambulance and the organisation in
general. He started a public subscription and had the Grand Prix Medical Unit built
and hauled to every Grand Prix in Europe in 1971, yet after a couple of seasons it
was seen no more.
The same English doctor I have just mentioned, Dr. Nancekevil who I believe was
the BRSCC's official medic, was adamant that a badly injured driver must be
stabilised in the shortest possible time, at the trackside, and then moved only
once, to the nearest or best hospital. Once stabilised, it would be less risky to
make one journey of, say, 20 minutes than via an on-site medical unit.
Louis Stanley meant well, everyone knew that, and he didn't have the means to
turn BRM's fortunes around in the face of the DFV powered 'kit cars' which
dominated the era. The BRM V12's mechanical efficiency was extremely dubious.
It was a big and heavy lump which failed even to match the power of the DFV,
when 400 horsepower was the Holy Grail figure for a 3-litre racing engine.
'Big Lou' maintained a suite at the Dorchester, and in 1970 I was invited to take
tea with the great man. And during this pleasant interlude Mr. Stanley received a
phone call from Aubrey Woods, the man charged with developing the BRM V12.
"Aubrey, that is splendid news. Absolutely splendid. I have Mike Cotton with me,
the editor of Motoring News. Please speak to him and tell him what you have just
Aubrey, a lovely chap, repeated to me that he had put a V12 development engine
on the dyno and had just seen a peak reading of 405 horsepower, and I was duly
I still had lingering doubts, although the Tony Southgate designed P153
performed better on the high speed circuits like Spa, the old Osterreichring and
Monza, and eventually I thought that I had been 'had' in the nicest possible way.
No hard feelings, though.
The decline of BRM, which became a 'renta-drive' outfit in the 1975-1977 era
(when the cars were renamed 'Stanley BRM', or Stanley Steamers in paddock
parlance) was sad to see. Our friend John Mangoletsi revived the BRM name, and
resuscitated the V12 engine, for the last act of the Group C sports car formula, but
he didn't have any luck either. He kept the tradition going, some would say.
Michael Cotton, January 2004