One of the core themes of this most recent Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard celebrated 50 years of the Cosworth-Ford DFV engine. Of course the ‘Double Four-Valve’ as masterminded by the late, great Keith Duckworth, set new Formula 1 standards for power, performance, compactness, practicality… and indeed success.
JUL 13th 2017
Doug Nye: Re‑homing a Cosworth DFV
After winning the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix upon its debut, powering the brand-new Lotus Type 49 behind the shoulders of Jim Clark, the Cosworth V8 series of 3-litre Formula 1 engines would go on to win no fewer than 155 World Championship-qualifying Grand Prix races.
The 2.65-litre turbocharged Cosworth-Ford DFX sister power unit for Indycar racing also accumulated a stupendous record of success. From 1981 until 1986 it won ten Indianapolis ‘500’ Mile races while powering no fewer than 81 consecutive Indycar-series race victories, totalling no fewer than 153 overall.
And of course DFV endurance-racing variants won the Le Mans 24-Hours twice, plus a number of other World Championship qualifying enduros, and the basic power unit became standard equipment in Formula 3000, powering five Championship winners 1985-92.
Way back in the early ‘80s I fell heir to an early unit, serial ‘DFV 944’. I had been asked by Japanese collector Yoshiyuki Hayashi to find him a significant mid-‘60s Formula 1 car. We found just the car – the third built 1967 green-and-yellow Lotus 49 – just brought back from South African ownership by Michael Lavers, one of the London historic car wheeler-dealers, and offered for sale “as found” for – I think – £25,000.
I went up to see the car and found it in fairly unhappy, but substantially complete, form. It was finished in powder blue as last raced in South Africa by a local driver named Peter Parnell. He had taken over the drive from Team Gunston star John Love, who had previously campaigned it ex-Team Lotus right from the Rand Autumn Trophy of March 30th, 1968, at Kyalami, Johannesburg, through to the Republic Day Trophy at the same circuit on June 6th, 1970.
Over that period John Love had raced the Type 49 – chassis ‘R3’ – no fewer than 28 times, winning on 12 of those occasions. By the time the car passed to Peter Parnell it was pretty much worn out and obsolescent, but his four outings in it still yielded a couple of fourth places, and a pair of fifths.
OK, so what had the car achieved in its heyday? Well, it was completed in a hectic overnight rush after Graham Hill had crashed his first-string sister 49 in practice at the British GP, Silverstone, meeting in July ’67. The car was cobbled together with a hacked-about Lotus 33 nose cone fitted temporarily because a new 49 design cone was unavailable. The Lotus lads rushed the car to the circuit on race morning, and Graham would lead the race in it until its engine abruptly blew-up with a “ka-crumppp!” noise we heard clearly from trackside.
We saw Graham walking through the paddock after the finish – and team-mate Jimmy’s win – and my editor at ‘Motor Racing’ magazine, Cyril Posthumus greeted him with a simple “Hard luck Graham”. And this was received with the widest Graham Hill grin I had ever seen and a rueful World Champion remark I can never forget: “Yeah – bugger innit”, said the Londoner. They were unaccompanied by PR minders in those days, tended to tell it like it is, and he was absolutely right, of course…
Lotus 49 ‘R3’ subsequently became Graham’s regular car that season. He crashed it during practice for the German GP at the Nürburgring, drove it through the downpour at Mosport Park to finish fourth in the Canadian GP, had another DFV engine blow up spectacularly behind his shoulders after leading the Italian GP at Monza, and finished second to Jimmy in the United States GP at Watkins Glen. That was the race in which Jimmy’s Lotus 49 suffered a rear suspension collapse on the penultimate lap and he nursed it to the chequered flag with one wheel at a drunken angle. One American headline said it all: “The ultimate race car – it breaks at the finish line!”.
Graham subsequently retired ‘R3’ from the year’s Mexican GP and then drove her one last time, in the South African GP on New Year’s Day, 1968. The car was then left there and sold to the local tobacco brand Team Gunston team for John Love’s use in the South African national F1 Championship.
When the old car returned to England, and I bought it for Hayashi – Denis Jenkinson (‘Jenks’ of ‘Motor Sport’ magazine fame) drove up with me to Putney in his beaten-up old Ford Transit motorcycle transport van. It was what he described as “three-tone” in colour, pale brown, chocolate brown and red rust. Hitched on the back was his ultra-lightweight car trailer, which comprised a stripped caravan chassis with wooden-slat tracks each side to support a car’s wheels. It was boat race day, and we wove our way up from Farnham through that morning’s packed traffic.
We wheeled the old Lotus onto the flexible trailer frame which bowed over its centre axle despite such a lightweight load. Boxes of associated bits and pieces went into the back of the Transit and so we brought ‘R3’ home to my decidedly agricultural, earth-floored, 1930s corrugated-iron garage at home. The car lived there for the next 18 months or so, while I painstaking stripped it, and stripped the paintwork from its historic hull. When we removed the tank hatches on its flanks we found the old rubber fuel bags within the monocoque had completely perished and disintegrated. The remains lifted out like handfuls of dead leaves. It was a fascinating piece of archaeology. As I removed the paint layers we could see the welded panel split around the lower-right forward radius rod pick-up where Graham had crashed the car at the ‘Ring in ’67. Not only was the split identical to what we could see on a photograph of the wreck that day, but the sheared-off radius rod itself had punctured the hull, and there in the metal was the repaired puncture wound, as pulled out and welded by Team in period. The old lady was so original it hurt.
And it was assembled around ‘DFV 944’ which we found had a patch welded into a hole punched clean through the crankcase by a broken con-rod. There was precious little inside the unit, and most of its ancillaries were missing. On DFV specialist John Judd’s recommendation, I eventually contacted Wilson Fittipaldi to buy a running unit he was offering for sale. John had just rebuilt it with ‘soft’ cams installed for demo use, making it easy to start and potentially even more reliable. The price was £4,000. A couple of the Fittipaldi team’s guys delivered it, I handed them the payment, and on their return to the team’s Reading HQ I learned later that Wilson had told them that the team was closing down, the receivers would be arriving at noon and paid them both off… Formula 1 can indeed be a brutal business.
Harry Calton of the Ford Motor Company resprayed the monocoque for us and I commissioned EMKA Le Mans car constructor Michael Cane of Godalming then to restore the car to running order. He and his associates did a superb job and working with them on it was a most enjoyable experience. Ultimately we rushed it off to Heathrow and away to its Japanese owner. But we kept in touch and it was ultimately possible to obtain backing from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to buy the car back “to be preserved in perpetuity for the British nation”. As the last unmodified example of the green-and-yellow 1967 Team Lotus armoury, it thoroughly deserved such status.
It was committed to the National Motor Museum’s care at Beaulieu, and essentially we were thrilled that it should be preserved there in safety. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case as in preparation for an appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed it was crashed while on test within the Beaulieu grounds. Hall & Hall came to the rescue, rebuilding the car exquisitely and retaining all the original structure with the sole exception of the rear monocoque closing panel, which had been torn in half as they crashed broadside into a tree. I have always been disappointed that the rebuild did not include a yellow-tinted windscreen transparency, as original, but we will put that right – one day. What I do recall is the horror of seeing the damaged wreck for the first time in the Beaulieu workshop. I’m not embarrassed to confess that first sight just left me in tears.
However, I ended up with the original blown-up, virtually empty DFV ‘944’ sitting on my home garage floor. Over the years it vanished from sight, under stacks of accumulated junk – albeit much of it junk which interested me, like umpteen years of ‘Autocar’ magazines, or ‘Autosport’ or flown-and-crashed model aircraft remains, or garden streamers and redundant dining chairs…you get the picture?
And then earlier this year I had a call from Barry Boor, Peter Connew’s cousin and one of the team mechanics in their 1971-73 programme to go racing as a totally private effort in Formula 1. With driver Francois Migault they made it, running their PC1-Cosworth car in the 1972 Austrian GP. They later converted it, abortively, to Formula 5000 but after being damaged in an accident the car was dismantled and consigned to storage at Peter’s home.
He intended to restore the old machine “some day” and that ambition became focused by a Festival of Speed target date. Then Barry called to ask me if I might be able to source some proper DFV engine drawings so they could mould a glass-fibre replica unit enabling them to rebuild the car – because of course the DFV did double-duty as the structural chassis member uniting forward monocoque fuselage with the rear suspension which bolted onto pickups attached to the back of the engine and the Hewland transaxle. There was an audible gasp when I said to Barry on the ‘phone, “Well – actually I’ve got an empty DFV you could use”. And so the Connew PC1 – exquisitely well restored – appeared at FoS with DFV ‘944’ uniting front and rear, fully rigged with all necessary ancillary bits and pieces to finish it off, provided by Hall & Hall and Geoff Richardson Engineering, the Cosworth engine specialists…
Looking at the car in the Goodwood paddock – and recalling the two days of archaeological garage-excavation that it took to rediscover ‘944’ – it all felt completely worthwhile. In the 50th year of the DFV we celebrated not just the great, but the good private effort too. It was nice to be part of that.
Photography courtesy of The GP Library
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