Part 1 – Time to Think Different

Written by Jay Walker. Posted in P34 History


The history of the Tyrrell P34 starts way back in 1968 at the Indianapolis 500, Derek Gardner, one of the most respected and innovative car designers of his time was working on the four wheel drive transmission of the Lotus 56 Gas-turbine Indy car. The drivers were having trouble with the balance of the car when coming on and off the throttle, a year later he found himself working on the Matra four wheel drive, Gas Turbine Grand Prix car and fighting the same handling problems. During this year Lotus also attempted to run a Gas Turbine four wheel drive F1 car and it suffered the same handling problems. Derek took it upon himself to privately investigate and attempt to resolve the problem, he surmised that if the front load was split over four front wheels then the handling problems of the car could be resolved and the full potential of the Gas Turbine cars could be realised, further research suggested that the four front wheels could be made smaller allowing for a narrower track which would result in other benefits.

He submitted a private proposal for a six wheeled, four wheel drive Gas Turbine car to Andy Granatelli (who was working with Lotus on the 56 Indy car in the US), Derek detailed his idea in a long letter along with a drawing. Unfortunately, the idea was lost when the USAC (the governing body of Indy Racing at that time) decided to ban Gas Turbine powered cars, Derek never received a reply from Granatelli.

A few years later Derek found himself as the chief car designer for Elf – Tyrrell Racing, during the mid 70’s the engine of choice was the Ford Cosworth V8 DFV, the only F1 tyre manufacture was Goodyear and almost everyone was running the same gearbox. Whilst this produced some of the most competitive F1 racing in history, all the teams were looking for a way to leap ahead of the field.

Derek set to work on designing a car to replace the successful, but rapidly ageing Tyrrell 007. He calculated that they needed the equivalent of a gain of 50hp on the competition in order to leap frog the other teams, since almost everyone was running the same engine the gain would have to be made elsewhere in the design. After a few weeks of research he presented his concept to Ken Tyrrell in August 1974. A concept that drew on the experience of those years spent working on the four wheel drive, Gas-Turbine cars, for there, on the piece of paper presented to Ken was sketched an F1 car with six wheel’s ! Two regular sized wheels at the rear and four small 10″ wheels at the front. Derek explained the reasoning behind his concept to Ken.

The theory was that exposed tyres cause lift, and the bigger they are, the greater the lift they will produce, standard four wheel F1 cars counter act this effect by the use of more wing at the front, since the six wheel concept would greatly reduce the lift effect generated by the front wheels it would not need to run large amounts of front wing thus it should have a straight line speed advantage.

After Ken’s initial shock he got his head around Derek’s thinking and showed a great interest in the concept and after further meetings and discussions the go-ahead was given to produce a prototype, Derek thought that the concept was so radical that the car should be given a unique name as opposed to following the tradition of the Tyrrell ’00’ cars and thus Project 34 was born.