From our Archives - Ferguson Research by DSJ

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After Stirling Moss had won the 1961 Oulton Park Gold Cup race with the Ferguson P99 four-wheel-drive car, in a most convincing manner, it looked as though the racing world might start to take seriously the advantages of the Ferguson ideas. Not just the 4WD arrangement, for many people had tried this in the past, but the Ferguson patent central differential which ensured complete control of the power spread between front and rear pairs of wheels. Ferguson had also demonstrated most convincingly that a properly designed 4WD layout need not suffer any weight penalty compared with a two-wheel rear-drive layout.

Ferguson Research, who designed and built the P99, did not intend to extend their racing programme, offering their knowledge and facilities to any of the British racing teams who cared to take an interest. In their own factory they continued work on 4WD for passenger cars, which was one of the prime objectives. After that Oulton Park victory there was not a great upsurge in 4WD interest, for anything unusual seems to take a long time take hold, as, for example, the idea of putting the engine of a racing car behind the driver instead of in front. Today a young student of design might ask why anyone ever considered putting the engine anywhere else, but it was in 1923, that Dr Rumplees Benz cars appeared with engine behind the driver, and in 1933 Dr Porsche’s Auto-Union cars followed this trend. In 1940 Alfa Romeo joined in, but it was not until 1960 that such a layout was considered to be the ideal for Grand Prix cars, even though Cooper had been battling away with the idea for many years. It would seem that good ideas take a long time to break down conventional thought. Although the progress with 4WD has appeared to be slow, there have in fact been quite a number of interesting moves forward in the past four years.

After some private tests at Wiscombe Park Hill Climb, at the end of 1963, Ferguson Research agreed to lend the P99 to Peter Westbury for the RAC Hill-Climb Championship in 1964i after his successes in 1963 with his own Felday-Daimler hill-climb car. Although the P99 was by then a two-year-old design, Westbury won the 1964 Hill-Climb Championship. Before this the car had been sent to New Zealand for Graham Hill and Innes Ireland to drive in the Tasman races, in which Ireland scored a couple of third places. While there were no complaints about the 4WD system, both drivers did find the handling and suspension a bit “dated”. After this the P99 was pensioned off, except for a brief outing at the 1964 British Drag festival.

Meanwhile Ferguson Research were continuing work on a passenger car of their own design, including a flat-four engine, and on their torque converter transmission. During 1964, Ferguson built a special 4WD car for Indianapolis at the instigation of Andy Granatelli and STP, using a V8 Novi engine. This powerful monster, giving 500bhp to 700bhp, depending on whose figures you care to believe, was like a large P99 and performed well during the qualifying trials for the 1964 Indianapolis race, but was unfortunately involved in a multiple crash on the second lap of the race.

During this same year, the Grand Prix scene took a revived interest in Ferguson 4WD when BRM built an experimental car with the assistance of the Coventry firm. This followed now-conventional Grand Prix lines, with the engine behind the driver, and used an identical 4WD layout to the P99 car. It was built purely as a travelling test-bed, using many existing components, so that it was bigger and heavier than it need have been, but it provided BRM with a lot of useful information during test-running, though it was never raced. Its only public appearance was during practice for the 1964 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, but it did a lot of private running at Snetterton and Silverstone.

In the spring of 1965 the Ferguson Research people were to be seen at another motor race, this time with an entirely different project under way. This was at the Tourist Trophy race at Oulton Park, where Bruce McLaren was using a Ferguson-Teramala torque converter in place of a gearbox on his McLaren-Oldsmobile sports car. This was continually described loosely as an automatic gearbox, whereas it was a hydraulic torque converter combined with a two-speed gear train. In principle it worked admirably and during private testing at Oulton Park it ran great distances at racing speeds, with no trouble at all, but as soon as the meeting began, tiresome little bothers with oil seals plagued it and caused the car’s abandonment. It showed good possibilities, especially for a large engined sports car, and on the other side of the Atlantic Jim Hall has taken a similar principle to successful conclusion in his Chaparral sports cars.

There should have been a Ferguson-patent 4WD sports car running in British events by this time, as Peter Westbury was building a 1.8-litre BRM-engined car, but progress was slow, and it was not until the end of 1965 that the car was completed. It raced very successfully at the Christmas Club meeting at Brands Hatch, scoring yet another victory for the Ferguson 4WD, and we have obviously not heard the last of this car, the Felday-BRM. This all-enveloping sports car has the V8 BRM engine behind the driver, with a mechanical layout not unlike the experimental Grand Prix car built by BRM themselves.

At the 1965 Earls Court Motor Show, Tony Rolt and Claude Hill could be seen on the Jensen stand, for that firm were exhibiting the Jensen FF, a four-wheel-drive version of the successful Jensen C-V8 MkIII. Produced for general sale, the FF model marked a great step forward in the research and development programme of the late Harry Ferguson’s brain-child.

Although there are no signs of 4WD being accepted as the conventional, there are definite indications that progress is being made in the battle to break down conservative thought in automobile engineering, and on balance Ferguson research would seem to have made more rapid progress than either Dr Rumpler or Dr Porsche, both of whom pioneered landmarks although the world in general were slow to appreciate the fact.

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