As the genius behind the era-defining Cosworth DFV engine, this design deity cast a long shadow over motorsport. Paul Fearnley pays tribute
Formula One marched to a new tune at Zandvoort on June 4 1967. Entitled DFV, it was loud and discordant — but it was music to the ears of Walter Hayes (patron), Colin Chapman (conductor), Jim Clark (soloist) and Keith Duckworth (composer). Soon everyone was whistling it and it stayed at the top of the charts for 154 more grands prix.
Yet when Duckworth had set up Cosworth Engineering Ltd in 1958 he hadn't prepped a racing engine, let alone designed one. Like most enthusiasts he'd set out to become World Champion — a dream he swiftly snapped out of when a geranium landed in his lap. He'd stuffed his Lotus MkIV into Goodwood's flower-bedecked Chicane.
Duckworth did not lack selfconfidence but that did not make him blind to his own limitations, which is why when he stepped into Graham Hill's shoes at Lotus in '57 — straight from "scraping through" his engineering degree at Imperial College London — he did so as its gearbox development engineer.
Chapman and Duckworth would become inextricably linked and mutually successful. Clearly they could work well together — just not in the same building. Duckworth admitted that Chapman was the brightest guy he ever met, but while Colin was always striving for the next big thing, Keith never lost sight of the fact that little things mean a lot. They were too different — and too alike: argumentative, stubborn and brilliant — for one to answer directly to the other. There was mutual respect and wariness, and so Duckworth went his own way after a few months.
He 'took' Mike Costin with him. The former de Havilland engineer had gone from moonlighting at Lotus in the early 1950s to being Chapman's right-hand man by the end of the decade. Such was his importance, Chapman held him to his contract: he wouldn't join Cosworth until '62. But such was Duckworth's charisma, Costin was absolutely set on working with him.
Duckworth was the boss, though: he knew it; Costin knew it. But Mike's underpinning role — practicality blended with resourcefulness —was absolutely vital to Cosworth's success. Duckworth said that only two men really understood where he was coming from: Costin was one; Ben Rood, one of his earliest employees, was the other. That Costin succeeded him as chairman in 1988 — at which time Rood was still happily overseeing the machine shops — was indicative of Duckworth's leadership qualities and the sparky, engaging and fecund working environment he'd created. That's not to say everything was exactly to Duckworth's liking. Cosworth had grown from a oneman show working out of a London mews garage to a global byword for engineering excellence. By the end of the 1980s it was a bluechip company with an annual turnover of £33.3 million (in 1988) which employed almost 600 and boasted General Motors, Ford and Mercedes-Benz among its satisfied clients. Duckworth had secured his firm's future — he'd sold out to UEI in 1980 — and was hugely proud of what Cosworth had achieved. But there was a part of him that hankered for the past, to the days when he could talk a design through, sketch it out, draught the blueprints, machine the prototype bits and assemble the finished product. Himself. His reworking of Ford's 105E motor and its subsequent domination of FJunior — Clark's Lotus 18 scored its first win at Goodwood in March 1960 — put Cosworth on a firm financial footing. His 1964 SCA F3 'screamer' saw him design his first from-scratch cylinder head. His 1966 narrowvalve-angle FVA four-pot — his first clean-sheet design — rewrote the F2 record books, and provided a stepping stone to the DFV. Keith could wow all with his grasp of physics. He reckoned he could tell how well an engine would 'flow' just by running a finger around its ports. But this second son of a Blackburn weaving-shed owner — he was born in August 1933 — was blessed with common sense as well as genius. Yes, there was inspiration — he questioned every 'given' and was adamant that he had never copied another's design — but there was perspiration too: he lost 401b during the nine months he spent designing the DFV
The result was a masterpiece, probably the greatest racing engine of all time. And therein lies the rub. Let's face it, DFV was still winning GPs in '83. It would be wrong to suggest that Duckworth went into decline after June 4 1967 — he was too multifarious for that to happen — but he'd had his defining moment. DFV simply couldn't be beaten in 1969 or in '73. It won all 15 grands prix in that latter season — and Duckworth suffered his first heart scare. The second came in 1986 and he underwent major bypass surgery the following year.
Inevitably, time would not wait forever. But DFV — the signature tune of one of motorsport's most significant men — had held it in check for longer than even its creator could ever have dared hope.
Ray Hanna AFC
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The man who gave Michael Andretti his big break in lndycar racing and also fielded Al Unser Jnr, Danny Sullivan and Bobby Rahal died in December aged 84.
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