THE FORD-COSWORTH DFV
Fifty years ago, a lightweight, punchy 3.0-litre V8 took to the Dutch GP grid in a Lotus 49 and launched a new era of affordable competitiveness. All hail the Ford Cosworth DFV!
Matt Youson traces the history of the most successful and ubiquitous F1 engine ever
Zandvoort, Holland: 4 June 1967. Formula 1 was about to undergo a momentous change. But, as is so often the nature of these things, only distance and perspective would make it obvious.
Courtesy of Ford’s beautifully shot, minimalpropaganda Nine Days in Summer documentary, anyone with YouTube access can be transported back to Zandvoort 1967. You’ll see a huge crowd gathered on the North Sea dunes, under low, grey skies, to watch JimClark come through the eld to give the Lotus 49 a victory on its debut. The spindly 49 ducks and weaves across the undulations in a mass of contradictions: mighty but fragile; graceful yet brutal; controlled while on the limit of adhesion.
After the ag falls, Clark appears happy and tired, but also vaguely embarrassed by the adulation as the new Lotus garners weighty nods of admiration from serious men wearing jackets and ties. The VIPs see a new car poised to become a powerful force in Formula 1 for the next three years; the engineers are perhaps looking at the much-anticipated DFV, the new Cosworth engine stamped with the letters ‘FORD’, installed as a stressed member, bolted to the back of the chassis and with the rear suspension, in turn, bolted to it.
It will dominate F1 for far longer than three years. In fact, over the next decade and a half, it will fundamentally change the sport forever.
That’s a big claim to make, but consider the legacy of the DFV: the layout and arrangement still resonate in Formula 1 engine design to this very day. Look past that and instead consider what the DFV enabled. Lotus, as the de facto Ford-Cosworth works team, demonstrated that the DFV was a class-leading engine. But from 1968 onwards, they had to accept the position of rst among equals. The engine became widely available at a reasonable price and, usually coupled with a Hewland gearbox, this made it easier than ever for eager new teams to enter F1 and for already established independent garagistes to hit the big time.
Lotus won titles with the DFV, but so too did Tyrrell, McLaren, Brabham and Williams, while Hesketh, March, Penske, Shadow, Wolf and Ligier all won races. In total, ten constructors’ championships and 12 drivers’ titles fell to the DFV. It became a superpower – but also the foundation on which others built their own empires. It’s impossible to say what F1 today would have looked like without the DFV, but it’s safe to say it would have been very different.
“It certainly changed the sport,” says Howden Ganley, who rst tested a DFV-powered McLaren M7 in 1969 and drove DFV-powered machines for the original Frank Williams Racing Cars throughout 1973 before designing and building (but ultimately not racing) his own GanleyCosworth 001 F1 car. “It changed the sport because anybody could – and I did – go and buy a couple of DFVs, a Hewland gearbox, build themselves a chassis and become a Formula 1 team. It was a brilliant engine, brilliantly packaged, and it offered so much opportunity to so many people.”
The back story of the DFV is well documented: Colin Chapman wanted a competitive V8 engine for Team Lotus. Cosworth, the company set up by former Lotus engineers Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, were of the opinion that they could build a 300kW, sub-180kg engine for a development cost of £100,000 ($200,000). Chapman set about nding the funding and, after several rejections, nally located an agreeable sponsor in Walter Hayes, PR chief for Ford of Great Britain. Instead of allowing an exclusive Lotus-Ford partnership to dominate and crush the life out of Formula 1, Ford were rmly of the opinion that the best return on their investment
required a healthy, competitive championship. They made the engine widely available. By the early 1970s, F1 elds were composed almost entirely of Cosworthpowered entrants, with works Ferraris and BRMs running as outliers.
“It was cheap!” recalls Jackie Oliver, who inherited a Lotus works drive in 1968 after Clark’s untimely death, and ArrowsDFVs. horsepoweryou victories.Ferrari, saw later “It team everybodya formedApart producedlot cheaply,thatof from Cosworththe used had goodso one: a a Williams one-enginewhile.F1 became McLarenreally formula cleaned virtuallyand for up, becausecan buy the when right everybodyengine, engineeringall about the in aeroF1 becomes– and the designers in the UK were doing that better than anybody else anywhere else. The DFV basically provided the platform on which they could ourish and expand.
“Setting up Arrows in 1977, I had a budget of £1m, and that was enough to become a mid-grid team that had to buy its own engines. We spent about £200k on the powertrain, which included buying ten DFVs. Two decades later, in the late 1990s, when Tom Walkinshaw and I owned the Arrows team together and we ran V10 Yamaha engines, our budget was around £55million.”
Ganley adds further context: “When I came to design and build my own F1 car there really
Question. Would F1 be better in a fantasy land where Mercedes divested themselves of a works team and concentrated their F1 efforts on supplying power units to as many teams as wanted them, in deals set at perhaps half the current price?
It’s a ridiculous premise and designed to be so, but it’s also analogous to how F1 operated in the 1970s when the DFV ruled the roost. A better question would be to ask if F1 would be more appealing to fans in 2017 with Red Bull and McLaren powered by the Mercedes M08 power unit. Would the midfield battle be more interesting if all the independents ran with the same power unit? Would Manor still be around if good engines were cheaper?
There is a ‘no’ argument, but it’s a very tough case to make, particularly in the current climate where there is a widely held perception that modern F1 needs fixing. In ways that are difficult to articulate, the sport has become less than it was. Money is usually blamed but, in F1 terms, ‘money’ is simply shorthand for competitiveness. The budgetary gap between the haves and have-nots is no more yawning today that it has been in any period you might care to regard as golden – but the racing gap is.
A class-leading, affordable and readily available power unit isn’t a global panacea – but it could go a long way to solving F1’s ills. Over the past decade, there has been more than one suggestion that powerful forces within F1 would be pleased to craft a situation where a non-works engine supplier could thrive and compete against the established powertrains. There’s a new set of power unit regulations due shortly, and a new commercial rights holder keen to shake up the old order.
Formula 1 cannot and should not go backwards, but when looking ahead, knowing where you’ve come from makes for a simpler journey. wasn’t a choice, because DFVs were so plentiful and cheap. Walter Hayes was very wise in making sure it was available to a lot of teams. It transformed racing. When it rst came out, a DFV cost £7,500. Two or three years later Cosworth had dropped the price to £6,500, which was quite incredible – though you could get second-hand DFVs for quite a bit less than that. I bought one from Bernie…”
Availability and price went a long way towards popularising the engine – but the other leg on the stool was performance. Between 1967 and 1983 the DFV won 155 grands prix and took 131 pole positions, records that are unlikely ever to be bested. Rivals perhaps developed more peak horsepower, but the DFV’s drivability and clever packaging – it was wider than it was long – ensured that it stayed competitive.
“I drove a lot of cars and certainly the BRM V12s were more powerful than the Cosworth V8s,” recalls Oliver. “That was particularly noticeable at places like Spa and Monza where there was a lot of drafting going on. However, what the DFV did better than anything else was the power curve. As the engine developed, they were constantly lling in holes in the power curve, and you could tune the engine to give you power in different ranges depending on the circuit. McLaren were really good at that: they’d have a DFV in Monaco and at Monza but the characteristics of the engine would be quite different. They would move the rpm range up or down to better handle a particular circuit, giving you just the right amount of power in places where the V12 didn’t have it – or had too much.”
Cosworth’s DFV production line ensured supply remained plentiful: they manufactured more than 500 DFVs and, to this day, continue to cast and machine components to keep the world’s historic F1 cars on track. Serendipitously, the design rst tested by Graham Hill at Snetterton in the spring of 1967 had plenty of untapped potential. As raced, the original DFV hit its performance target of producing 400bhp. During its lifetime, as the maximum revs crept up from 9000rpm to 11,200rpm, that steadily increased until the DFV of the mid-80s was developing around 390kW.
“They were getting more powerful all the time,” says Ganley. “The rst one I tested in 1969 was in the McLaren that Denny Hulme had just driven to victory in the Mexican Grand Prix, so it was about as good a DFV as you could get – although obviously I had nothing else to compare it to. Later on though, driving with other engines, I did notice that the DFVs were getting better. You could really tell when you came up against them on acceleration.”
Ganley’s comment about ‘as good a DFV as you could get’ is telling. While all DFVs were created equal, they did not necessarily stay that way. While Cosworth were able to manufacture the engines, the sheer ubiquity of the product meant they could not hope to keep the entire eet of DFVs serviced and fettled. Thus, DFV maintenance and rebuilds became a cottage industry, with supertuners, some of them now famed in their own right, themselves pushing the development forwards.
“There was quite a lot of variation,” recalls Ganley. “Cosworth couldn’t do it all themselves but they could recommend good engine shops, and so there was variation with some people getting more horsepower out of an engine
than others. McLaren set up Nicholson McLaren Engines to do a lot of development work and they were probably at the forefront. In Frank Williams’ case, he set up his own engine shop with some very good guys. The mileage between rebuilds depended very much on how much you wanted to rev the thing. If you didn’t rev the heck out of it and tted softer cams they’d go forever: when I was driving for Gulf in sportscars they would do a six-hour race no problem and eventually they were capable of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For a race, you tted more advanced cams and revved it to the limit, which meant they had to be rebuilt regularly. Revs meant horsepower, so teams were prepared to put up with the rebuild costs for the extra power. It was still pretty cheap horsepower though.”
The DFV provides an obvious link between eras that otherwise seem entirely distinct, forming an unbroken chain from Jim Clark to Keke Rosberg. Its reign as F1’s pre-eminent powerplant came to an end not because somebody built a better or cheaper rival but instead because an entirely different architecture rendered it obsolete.
DFV-powered teams had been able to safely ignore turbo engines in the late 1970s when the impressive horsepower of the diminutive pressure-charged powerplants had been far outweighed by their fabled lack of drivability and alarming propensity to explode. By the early 1980s, however, there was more of a competition: turbo-lag was becoming just about manageable and, assuming the engine didn’t go nuclear, the vast horsepower on tap made it a serious challenge on many circuits – although lag ensured the DFV stayed competitive wherever sequences of slow turns required a turbo driver to perform the impossible feat of using clutch, brake and accelerator simultaneously, getting back on the power before the corner to ensure it came in at the right moment on exit. This was short-term equilibrium, however, and eventually the DFVs found themselves outgunned as the turbos developed better electronic control and reduced lag. Rosberg’s 1982 drivers’ title was the nal championship success for the DFV, while Michele Alboreto gave it a last victory at the 1983 Detroit Grand Prix, where the tight corners and attritional nature of the venue were too much for the turbos. The writing was on the wall long before Martin Brundle gave the DFV a nal outing at the 1985 German Grand Prix and qualied some ten seconds off the pace in the Tyrrell 012. He tried again a fortnight later in Austria but, nearly 12 seconds off the pace, didn’t make the cut – making the 1985 Austrian Grand Prix the rst all-turbo affair.
Long before that, the DFV had done more than enough to assure its legend. Today’s engines, downsized, highly advanced technological terrors though they may be, carry the DNA of the DFV forwards, while, more than that, there’s an aural pattern of recognition for the DFV seated deep within the consciousness of race fans everywhere: even if you don’t know what you’re listening to, hear a DFV and you know it sounds right. Not the insane wailing histrionics of a Honda V12, nor the high-tech whine of a BMW V10 but something altogether more analogue: a deeply satisfying burble at re-up rising to a power-saw scream at max rpm. Fifty years after its debut, it can still interrupt conversations and cause engineers and mechanics to peer like meerkats out of their pit garages to witness historic machines heading out on track.
The idea that F1 had a golden age is mostly myth – but hear a DFV accelerate down the start/ nish straight at Zandvoort – or at Silverstone, Spa and Monza for that matter – and you can almost believe it to be true.
THE DFV’S REIGN AS F1’S PRE-EMINENT POWERPLANT CAME TO AN END NOT BECAUSE SOMEBODY BUILT A BETTER OR CHEAPER RIVAL BUT INSTEAD BECAUSE AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ARCHITECTURE RENDERED IT OBSOLETE.
Cosworth engineer Keith Duckworth, designer of the Ford Cosworth DFV, the most successful and ubiquitous engine ever to be used in Formula 1
The DFV (shown in pieces, below) was a winner from the word go, with Jim Clark taking it to victory on its debut at the 1967 Dutch GP (left)
The Mercedes power unit is currently the best on the grid. Imagine a world where team ran it every
Michele Alboreto, driving a Tyrrell Ford, scores the last of F1’s 155 DFVpowered victories at the 1983 Detroit GP
By 1982 turbo technology had overcome its lag problems sufficiently to overtake the DFV