NOW THAT WAS A CAR

The only 4WD F1 win­ner and a cu­rio that in­trigued Stir­ling Moss

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS DAMIEN SMITH PIC­TURES JAMES MANN

The quirky 4WD Fer­gu­son P99

Stir­ling Moss was cu­ri­ous. Up against the sleek ‘Shar­knose’ Fer­rari 156 in this, the first year of the new 1.5-litre F1, Eng­land’s hero needed a new edge – that un­fair ad­van­tage de­sired by all rac­ers. Rob Walker’s Lo­tus 18 had been enough to over­power the reds at Monaco, but over a sea­son he was up against it. This front-en­gined Fer­gu­son looked ob­so­lete in the era of the mid-en­gined revo­lu­tion. But with four-wheel drive, and on any wet track, just maybe… Harry Fer­gu­son was an Ir­ish en­gi­neer whose epony­mous com­pany was best known for its trac­tors. Hav­ing once lost $1mil­lion on a coin toss, he was clearly a man not averse to tak­ing chances, and he liked to think big. Four-wheel drive had cap­tured his imag­i­na­tion as early as 1948 when he backed rac­ers Tony Rolt and Fred­die Dixon in their all-steer, all-driv­ing project called ‘The Crab’. But it was the trac­tion ben­e­fits for safer road cars that re­ally fired his mo­ti­va­tion.

A pro­to­type es­tate car fea­tur­ing four-wheel drive, Dun­lop anti-lock brakes and a hatch­back pre­dated Audi’s Vor­sprung

Durch Tech­nik by a good cou­ple of decades in 1959 – ex­cept few seemed to no­tice. He needed a bill­board for his tech­nol­ogy: what bet­ter than F1?

De­signed by Claude Hill of As­ton Martin fame, the Fer­gu­son P99 was con­ven­tional at a glance: stan­dard tube­frame chas­sis, all-wish­bone sus­pen­sion, the same Coven­try Cli­max four-pot used by Bri­tain’s F1 es­tab­lish­ment and planted in front of the driver, too. The lower sus­pen­sion arms in line with the drive­shafts that re­sulted in un­gainly spring tur­rets and an off­set driv­ing po­si­tion to make room for the prop­shaft link­ing both axles were vis­ual in­di­ca­tors of its nov­elty. Four-wheel drive was hardly a new con­cept, but in F1 terms this was ground­break­ing.

The Rob Walker con­nec­tion came through Rolt, who was a part­ner in Harry Fer­gu­son Re­search. The gen­tle­man F1 pri­va­teer had used both Coop­ers and Lo­tuses for his loyal driver Moss, who loved rac­ing for his friend. When Walker in­di­cated his plan to run the P99 in 1961, he must have known that in­tu­itive Moss cu­rios­ity would be piqued.

But Stir­ling had his doubts. At the British Em­pire Tro­phy at Sil­ver­stone, Moss prac­tised in the car, but chose to race his Cooper T53. Jack Fair­man raced the P99 in­stead, run­ning with a 2.5-litre Coven­try Cli­max for an event that ran to the new In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal rules. Moss’s in­stincts, as usual, were on the money. Fair­man strug­gled with the Colotti ‘dog box’, spun

off and re­tired, while Stir­ling won in the Cooper.

But at a rain-af­fected British GP at Ain­tree, the Fergy was back – and Moss sensed an op­por­tu­nity. He was fastest in the P99 dur­ing prac­tice blighted by a tor­ren­tial down­pour, Stir­ling rev­el­ling in its neu­tral han­dling and 50:50 torque split across its two axles (although he never did run with its novel ABS con­nected). He switched back to his Lo­tus for the race, but Moss wasn’t yet done with the car.

Hav­ing shot past the Fer­raris of Richie Ginther and Phil Hill at the start, Moss was track­ing the lead­ing Shar­knose of Wolfgang von Trips when a brake pipe burst. In a time when a driver could still take over a team-mate’s car, Stir­ling pulled rank on Fair­man, who had been strug­gling with elec­tri­cal woes in the P99, and stormed back into the race in the Fergy pray­ing for more rain. Sadly, the come­back was thwarted by a black flag. An ear­lier push­start for Fair­man came back to bite and the car was not only dis­qual­i­fied from its sin­gle F1

World Cham­pi­onship start, but this was also the last time a front-en­gined car was seen in a points-scor­ing grand prix.

With such a mea­gre record, the large Au­gust crowd at

Oul­ton Park must have won­dered what Moss was think­ing when he turned out in the Fer­gu­son one last time at the pres­ti­gious Gold Cup.

Although Fer­rari and Porsche stayed away, this was one of the big­gest F1 races of the UK sea­son, in an era when the world cham­pi­onship was far from the be-all. Moss faced a grid packed full of tal­ent: Jim

Clark, Jack Brab­ham, Bruce

Mclaren, John Sur­tees, Tony

Brooks, Gra­ham Hill, Innes

Ire­land. But in­clemency in Cheshire led Stir­ling to sniff an op­por­tu­nity to beat them all.

It didn’t start well. Se­cond on the grid be­side Mclaren’s Cooper, the Colotti once again proved the Achilles Heel as the flag dropped. Moss was forced to chug away in se­cond as the pack swamped him. But once he was up to speed, noth­ing could stop the P99 on a damp track. By lap six, Stir­ling had taken the lead from Clark’s Lo­tus and was mo­tor­ing up the road.

By the che­quer, the Fer­gu­son was a re­mark­able 46 sec­onds to the good over Brab­ham, af­ter Clark had suc­cumbed to sus­pen­sion fail­ure. Even on a dry­ing track, the Fer­gu­son P99 had de­liv­ered one of the most no­table up­sets in F1 his­tory. Was this the fu­ture, the crowd must have pon­dered?

No. F1 teams would even­tu­ally ex­per­i­ment with 4WD at the other end of the decade, but the chase for a new god called down­force and im­proved tyre grip would by­pass the weighty chal­lenge of per­fect­ing all-wheel drive. It was a di­vert­ing culde-sac rather than the high­way to a grip­pier F1 fu­ture.

Poor Harry Fer­gu­son didn’t even wit­ness his cre­ation’s day of days at Oul­ton. The founder died just months pre­vi­ously. Still, his odd­ity that shone so bril­liantly in Moss’s hands can be said to have achieved its founder’s aim.

The car it­self was raced by Gra­ham Hill in the 1963 Tas­man se­ries, while Peter West­bury bor­rowed it to win the 1964 British Hill­climb Cham­pi­onship. Its in­flu­ence then stretched to the US and In­di­anapo­lis. Andy Granatelli was so im­pressed, he com­mis­sioned a new car, the P104 – bet­ter known as the Indy Novi Fer­gu­son. Four-wheel drive never quite con­quered the Indy 500, but it came close. More im­por­tantly, Fer­gu­son’s pioneer­ing work with four-wheel drive and ABS would have a wider in­flu­ence and be­come stan­dard fea­tures for road cars – which was en­tirely the point in the first place.

“EVEN ON A DRY­ING TRACK, THE P99 HAD DE­LIV­ERED ONE OF THE MOST RE­MARK­ABLE UP­SETS IN F1 HIS­TORY”

THE F ERGU SON P 9 9

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