The Tyrrell P34, also known as the ‘six-wheeler’, was the world’s first six wheel F1 car.
It was designed by Tyrrell Racing Organisation’s chief designer Derek Gardner. He spent years investigating the difficulties in the handling of four wheel drive Gas-turbine cars, and came to the conclusion that spreading the front load over four wheels, would reduce such problems. When he began working for Tyrrell, he designed a car with six wheels; two normal sized ones at the back, and four smaller 10” wheels at the front. While his boss, Ken Tyrrell was initially shocked by the idea, he gradually came to understanding Gardner’s thinking, and the order was given to begin making a prototype. It was named ‘Project 34’.
It made its race debut in Spain in 1976, after its initial unveiling in late 1975. The car did well, driven by Patrick Depailler, it qualified in 3rd, while the then current Tyrrell model, the 007, only managed to qualify in 14th position. The highlight of the P34’s short lived career was taking 1st and 2nd places in the Swedish Grand Prix in June 1976, driven by Jody Sheckter, and Patrick Depailler. However, this impressive performance didn’t last. The car was soon moving down in the field.
The car experienced various problems. There were difficulties with the brake discs; they had the tendency to overheat. The front tyres also caused complications. They were rotating significantly more than the back wheels, causing them to distort, and get worn down quickly.
In 1977 they trialled a new version of the car. This one had an all over body shell, designed to improve the aerodynamics of the car. However, the flaw in its design was in that it was built using fibreglass, adding a serious amount of weight to the car. This was later resolved, replaced by the much lighter Kevlar version, making the car considerably faster.
However the original problems kept returning, and in the end Tyrrell lost commitment from their tyre developers, and it soon became clear that the P34 was doomed to fail. Derek Gardner resigned and Tyrrell Racing decided to abandon Project 34.