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 qualied 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.


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

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