Part 2 – The Birth of Project 34
Written by Jay Walker. Posted in P34 History
The first prototype P34 was actually a standard Tyrrell 007 with a new front from the cockpit down, finding most of the special components for the P34’s front didn’t prove too difficult once Goodyear agreed to manufacture a 10″ F1 front tyre and by September 1975 the prototype had been produced but had never turned a wheel, at this point in the project no one, outside of those directly involved with the project, knew of the P34 concept or existence.
It had been Ken’s plan to announce the P34 to the world at an event to be held at the Heathrow Hilton Hotel on September 22nd 1975, however when he asked his close friend Denis Jenkinson, the renowned motor sport journalist if he would be able to attend the event and Denis said that he had prior plans Ken decided to give him a private viewing at his home two weeks before the official launch as long as Denis promised not to say a word until the official unveiling.
So, not really knowing what Ken was up to, Denis went over to his house and after a welcoming cup of coffee and a chat, Ken took Denis into his garden and there sitting in the middle of the lawn was the prototype P34, the worlds first six wheel F1 car !, its a well known fact that Denis Jenkinson has always had something to say about anything and everything that went on in the F1 circle but when Ken introduced him to the P34 for the first time he was truly speechless. The full story of Denis’s first encounter with the P34 can be read in his great book ‘Jenks – A passion for Motor Sport’
The car was met with a similar reaction when it was officially unveiled to a room full of motor sport journalists later that month, many didn’t know weather to laugh at the P34 or accept it as a radical F1 concept. Ken told them that the P34 was an experiment in F1 design and nothing more, it’s a well known fact that a certain Frank Williams was at that event, and his reaction when his eyes fell on the P34 for the first time was nothing short of jaw dropping, total disbelief.
After the unveiling the motor sport press ran several stories theorising on its potential but no one at Tyrrell was talking on how the testing was going.
In reality the first P34 prototype was fairly awful in initial testing at Silverstone during the winter of 1975, having compromised aerodynamics due to the fact that the car was rear end of a 005 mated to a prototype P34 front end, and being the first of its kind meant that Tyrrell were truly on the edge of what had gone before and there were many problems to resolve, but the prototype proved all of Derek Gardner’s theory’s and the decision to put the P34 in to production for the 1976 season was made.
One interesting effect which was noted by Derek Gardner on the start/finish straight at Silverstone was that the front tyres were actually ‘sucked’ off the rims, amazingly they never lost any pressure but this did accelerate the wear on the small front tyres, a problem that would never be fully resolved and ultimately would contribute to the P34’s early retirement.
Since the front tyres were only 0.625 of the rears diameter, they rotate at a much faster rate, for every turn of the rear tyre, the front must travel 1.6 times as far. The problem can easily be understood when you consider that if the rear is travelling at 200mph, the front tyres are travelling at effectively 320mph which caused the front tyre distortion at high speeds. Despite this Tyrrell continued with the project and slowly ironed out the other problems.
Another of the early problems encountered was that the drivers were finding it hard to position the car correctly in the corners, this was due in part to the high cockpit front and the small wheels, additionally the narrower front wheel track also contributed to the positioning problem.
As testing continued. Patrick Depailler grew to understand the car and adapted his driving style to match, but Jody Scheckter could not get used to the car and complained that the car was almost impossible to drive, this eventually led to the famous P34 ‘port holes’ in the cockpit side, which allowed the drivers to see the front wheels and keep an eye on the tyre’s condition. A small point to note about the infamous ‘port holes’ is that once the drivers had adapted to the P34’s odd driving style they went largely unused by the drivers, another popular belief about them was that Ken had put them there to allow his fans to watch his drivers at work a claim which is fiercely denied by Derek Gardner.