GRR

This Hepworth-Ferguson embodies the need for speed

14th August 2017
Ethan Jupp

When out and about on an average day one often isn’t ready for when an unexpectedly cool car is sitting round the corner. Turn that corner and your company can expect a “phwoar” followed by “that’s *expletive* cool!” At the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, however, you have to check yourself and adapt accordingly, lest you be wandering the paddocks swearing at young families and pensioners all day.

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No matter how much you adapt, though, you can still be caught off guard. The Mercedes C292 never-run Group C car from FOS that we recently wrote about elicited such a reaction, as did the Australian Group C BMW 635 touring car from Silverstone Classic. It’s a next-level coolness that you can’t quite quantify if not on a case-by-case basis. This monstrous 1969 Hepworth-Ferguson Formula 5000 car was one such machine that stopped us in our tracks at FOS. 

When first clapping eyes on it, as with most fettled single-seaters, you find yourself sizing it up. This is a car that resembles Formula 1 machinery of the period but features some seriously enormous rubber front to back and the curious presence of drive shafts out front. There’s a bit of aero flappery at the front, a gorgeous bronze hue and livery and out back, a proper wing and some serious gizzard sprouting forth from where one might expect to find a diminutive Cosworth DFV tucked away. It’s confirmed that this machine is a world away from Formula 1 cars of the period when you get closer and investigate that hindquarter muscle. 

The first thing you clock is the beautifully menacing and immaculately finished exhaust sprouting up and snaking from manifolds to exit as if to emulate the rippling appendages of a mythical sea monster. Then there’s the fire-breathing lump of American brutality to which they are bolted. The 5.0-litre Chevy V8 engine is incongruously bulbous sat amid an otherwise delicate and elegant single-seater shape, especially hanging so precariously in the rear assembly.

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What about the history? The clue is in the name. Who better to take us through the Hepworth Ferguson than Andrew Hepworth, son of the man that masterminded the monster, David Hepworth.

It quickly becomes obvious that this is a family project: One man’s no-holds-barred quest for speed that’s passed through the generations. The original concept was a specialised all-wheel-drive setup linked to a 5.0-litre 500bhp Chevy V8, retrofitted to a Brabham Formula 1 chassis. Following quite the struggle, it was obvious the slight Brabham frame and the muscular drivetrain wasn't a compatible match. A new Brabham-based chassis was designed and built and the drivetrain fitted. The Hepworth Ferguson FF AWD special was born. When put to work, it won the 1969 British Hillclimb Championship in 1969 and ’71, with commendable runner-up slots in ’70 and 72. The latter win also saw David be the first to break the 30-second barrier at Shelsley Walsh. Andrew alleges that this car played a pivotal role in the banning of all-wheel-drive in top-flight single-seater racing – including Formula 1. 

Following its sprint successes, the Hep’ Ferg’ sat in bits for the best part of 30 years while David’s attention was turned to Can Am before being faithfully rebuilt and restored in time for the Centenary of Shelsley Walsh in 2006. It’s seen semi-regular use ever since.

The Hepworths are an unashamedly speed-crazed tribe whose penchant for power as inherited from their late father is evident in both this F5000, the BRM-Chevrolet P154 Can Am car that joined it at FOS and the numerous other muscle-bound monstrosities in their care. Who’d have thunk it from a family name etched in Hillclimb and Can Am history? What a pleasure it was having them all at FOS, and what a spectacular piece of Hillclimb machinery the Hepworth-Ferguson F5000 four-wheel drive special. The question is, when will it be back and will they have at the Hill in anger?

Photography by James Lynch, Drew Gibson, Jochen Van Cauwenberge, Nigel Harniman and Sam Todd

  • Hepworth Ferguson

  • Formula 5000

  • F5000

  • FOS

  • FOS 2017

  • 2017

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