REARVIEW | The Other Coke Bottle Shape

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When car designers refer to a “coke bottle” shape, most of us think of the Studebaker Avanti – or perhaps the C3 Corvette.  But another notable coke bottle design is often overlooked:  The BRM P153 F1 car, designed by England’s Tony Southgate.

BRM, or British Racing Motors, had enjoyed considerable success in the 1960s as an F1 constructor.  With drivers like Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart at the wheel, their dark green cars with orange-trimmed noses were a familiar sight at the front.

However, after a disastrous experiment with a 16 cylinder engine, the team were in need of a fresh approach.  Enter Mr. Tony Southgate, who was to pen the team’s new entry for 1970. Unlike the cigar shaped F1 cars of the ’60s, Southgate’s car was to be coke bottle shaped.  In addition to aerofoils – which would become universal for all teams – the P153 was also fitted with BRM’s new V-12 engine.

Eventually, BRM’s green livery was replaced with the colors of Yardley cosmetics – and the metamorphosis was complete.  Although Lotus dominated the 1970 season, BRM did score a win at the Belgian Grand Prix with Pedro Rodriguez.  1971 produced two more wins:  Jo Siffert was victorious in Austria, while Peter Gethin captured the Italian GP by a razor-thin margin.  BRM had every reason to be optimistic about 1972, but 1971 had also been a year of profound tragedy.  Pedro Rodriguez had died earlier that year in a sports car race, and following his win in Austria, Jo Siffert was killed in a non-championship race.  Despite having to start fresh with new drivers, the team tasted victory once more – with a new Southgate design, the P160, and the masterful skills of Jean-Pierre Beltoise.  In monsoon conditions, Beltoise led Monaco from start to finish – amazing considering the power excess the BRM had in those conditions.

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Unfortunately for Southgate, his beautiful cars were probably not as well-prepared as they should have been – because BRM insisted on fielding so many of them at once! At times, it was not unusual for five of the coke bottle cars to be entered in one race! Other teams focused their efforts on two cars and, predictably, reaped better results. For 1973, BRM whittled their entry list to three, and expectations were high.  But one pole position in the first race was the only meaningful highlight of the year. After two years of Marlboro sponsorship, the cigarette giant saw the writing on the wall and left for McLaren.  Southgate went on to pen the shapely Shadow DN-1 – a car not known for its success, but definitely for its beauty.  Meanwhile, BRM made one last attempt to recapture its former glory with the new P201 – a car that had a strong pyramidal shape as opposed to a coke bottle.  Beltoise placed second in the third race of 1974, but that was the best the P201 could do.

BRM faded from F1 soon afterwards, but their V-12 powered cars, in particular those penned by Mr. Southgate, are among the most attractive ever to grace the tarmac. It’s a shame that they didn’t have the results to go with the looks.

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