Part 6 – A Turbo P34 ?

Written by Jay Walker. Posted in P34 History

Whatever you think of the P34, it has to be said that it attracted a lot of attention, a car with six wheels !, what an amazing thing !, as such it did wonders for Elf, Tyrrell’s main sponsor at that time, because of this French connection, there is a little known story to add to the history of this remarkable machine.

Due to some in-fighting in the early 70’s between Elf, Matra and Renault, Francois Guiter who was heading up Elf’s motor sports interests at that time, found himself having to back Renault’s decision to enter Formula 1, Renault was doing well in the rallies at the time but Elf wanted to concentrate on circuit racing. The only problem was that Renault did not have an F1 engine and worse, could not decide on which type of engine to manufacture.

Should they produce something similar to the dominant Ford Cosworth DFV V8 or try something different, like turbo charging ? Guiter, who was a big supporter of French drivers, turned to his good friend Ken Tyrrell, (who had given the French driver Patrick Depailler his big F1 break) and in the summer of 1975 invited him over to Paris to help Renault and Elf decide on which direction they should go with their F1 engine development.

Ken listened to both sides of the argument, he told Renault that they would never be able to produce a better V8 engine than the Cosworth DFV, but if they tried something different like a Turbo-Charged engine they might, given time, be able to produce the next generation F1 engine. So in a way Ken Tyrrell became the godfather of Turbo F1 Engines.

Since this was to be a big undertaking by Renault, and realising that they would not be able to initially produce a competitive chassis as well as the new engine, a deal was done which would allow Ken Tyrrell to use the new engine once it was ready. It is for this reason, that when the P34 first raced in 1976, it had yellow stripes on each side. However, Renault had a lot of problems developing the engine and it was never ready for the 1976 season.

During the 1977 season as the P34’s performance dwindled due to the front tyre problem, it was hoped that the new Renault engine would become available and give the car a much needed performance boost. As such Gardner and the Tyrrell team started the construction of a new P34 prototype back at the Ockham factory. A mock-up of the new 1.5 litre Turbo charged V6 was delivered by Renault during the summer of 1977, however the project was abandoned as Ken decided that the Renault Turbo engine wasn’t going to be reliable enough to help the car (a view supported by the Renault’s performance during the 1977 season), additionally the P34 tyre problem showed no sign of improving and the departure of Derek Gardner was the final nail in the Turbo P34’s coffin.

Had the project come good, with a reliable, powerful turbo engine, coupled to the innovative six wheeler chassis, along with fully developed 10″ front tyres and a solution to the over-heating brakes who knows what shape and form F1 cars would be in today, both Williams and March experimented with six wheeler F1 designs during the late 70’s but nether were developed to full F1 race cars. as such the P34 is truly unique in motor sport history and pays homage to a time when it was possible to try such radical ideas.Copyright (c) J. Walker 2003-2012