Tyrrell’s Project 34 of 1976-’ 77 was a roll of
the dice. With all bar Ferrari of Formula 1’s
frontrunners using the same engine, same
gearbox, same tires, something radical had
to be tried to get the jump on the others.
Derek Gardner was the unassuming man
with the outlandish plan. His original original
idea was conceived during a spell at Indy in
the late 1960s: a four-wheel-drive
six-wheeler – four at the front, two at the
back – with just one of its twinned steering
axles transmitting power. He mailed his
design sketch to STP’s Andy Granatelli…
Though Gardner, a transmission specialist,
would then go on to help “prove” that AWD
had no role in F1’s era of sprouting wings, he
felt sure that his 4-2-0 layout possessed
benefits that could not be ignored.
Foremost among them was a reduction in
lift created by small front tires – he wanted
9in. diameter, Goodyear compromised on 10.
Gardner calculated that the reduction in
compensating front downforce was worth
40hp. Increases of contact patch and swept
braking area were other anticipated bonuses.
It would be wrong to say P34 was a flop. It
won in its fourth race – a Tyrrell 1-2 in
Sweden – and took Patrick Depailler and
Jody Scheckter to 10 podiums in 13 races in
1976. The former, at a low ebb and keen to
impress, took the car’s quirks to his heart,
AT SIXES AND SEVENS...
but Scheckter’s dislike was only thinly veiled.
P34 did turn-in well and was quick on the
straights, but its small brakes boiled their
fluid and its tiny bias-ply tires would be
almost sucked off their rims before crushing
their sidewalls under heavy braking. Finding a
construction capable of coping with a
rotational speed 1.6-times faster than at the
rear proved difficult. Not that Goodyear was
trying too hard to do so, recalled Gardner.
Ronnie Peterson replaced Scheckter for
1977 and suffered horrendous brake wear –
50 percent higher than Depailler’s – and a
hideous season. The latter, too, now had his
doubts. The team, he reckoned, had merely
succeeded in emphasizing the car’s faults in
year two: wider, heavier and harder to drive.
A disaffected Gardner left Tyrrell that
September, still convinced of his idea’s
advantages. Ironically, what he’d most craved
– a radial tire that allowed the stiffness of the
carcass to be separated from that of the
sidewall – arrived in F1 the following season,
courtesy of Michelin, which in turn was in
cahoots with Renault and its similarly
game-changing turbocharged engine.
In fact, a Renault turbo-powered P34
was very briefly on the cards – but that
project, and Project 34 in its entirety, was
dropped for 1978. A what-might-have-been’s what-might-have-been.
In theory, the Tyrrell P34 was a world beater. In reality, the six-wheeler was unable to live up to the hype...
Patrick Depailler gave Tyrrell’s six-wheeled
P34 its debut in the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix
(BELOW), qualifying third, but spinning and
crashing out of the race with brake problems
– a recurring theme for the radical project.
Driver Jody Scheckter was no fan of the
P34 concept. Designer Derek Gardner was
– even after it had ended his Tyrrell career.
1977’s “take two” on the P34 six-wheeler
was wider, heavier and harder to drive,
delivering Ronnie Peterson a terrible year.