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 4-w-d 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 4-w-d layout need not suffer any weight penalty compared with a 2-wheel rear drive layout.
Ferguson Research, who were responsible for the designing and building of the P99, did not intend to extend their racing programme and offered their knowledge and facilities to any of the British racing teams who cared to take an interest in 4-w-d for racing purposes. In their own factory they continued development work on 4-w-d for passenger car purposes, which was one ot their prime objectives. After that Oulton Park victory there was not a great upsurge in 4-w-d interest, for anything unusual seems to take a long time to 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. Rumpler’s Benz cars appeared with the 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 a Grand Prix car, 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, and throughout racing car design there have been instances of such slow progress, as in independent suspension systems, four wheel brakes; hydraulic brakes, disc brakes, to name a few, or the principle of so-called “monocoque” construction that is now accepted by nearly everyone; Alec lssigonis built a “monocoque” car in 1937. Although the progress with 4-w-d has appeared to be slow, there have in fact been quite a large number of interesting moves forward made 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 R.A.C. Hill-Climb Championship in 1964. This was done as a result of Westbury’s successes in 1963 with his own Felday-Daimler hill-climb car, together with the fact that he was interested in furthering the idea of 4-w-d from an engineering and business point of view. Although the P99. was by then a two-year-old design, and was not necessarily greatly in advance of the opposition, Westbury did succeed in winning the 1964 Hill-Climb Championship, and the car was run in the same form as it had been used in 1961. Ferguson Research were busy on other projects and were unable to embark on a continuous development programme for the P99. Before this season of hill-climbing 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 4-w-d system, both drivers did find the handling and suspension a bit “dated.” This was not surprising, for the chassis had been designed in 1960/61 and they were up against opposition that had benefitted from high-pressure design and development work during two whole seasons of racing.
Meanwhile Ferguson Research were continuing work on a passenger car of their own design, including a flat-four cylinder engine, and on their torque converter transmission which stemmed from the designs of the Italian Count Teramala. After the 1964 season of “down under” racing and British hill-climbing the P99 was pensioned off, except for a brief outing at the 1964 British Drag Festival where it did the s.s. 1/4-mile in 11 .01 seconds, and during 1964 Ferguson built a special 4-w-d car for Indianapolis at the instigation of Andy Granatelli and STP, using a V8 Novi engine. This powerful monster, giving 500 b.h.p. to 700 b.h.p., depending on whose figures you care to believe, was like a large P99, with the engine mounted forwards of the driver, and was a splendid design study for Claude Hill and his associates at Ferguson Research. The car performed well during the qualifying trials for the 1964 Indianapolis race, but was unfortunately involved in the multiple crash on the second lap of the race„ through no fault of its own, or its driver.
During this same year the Grand Prix scene took a revived interest in Ferguson 4-w-d when B.R.M. 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 4-w-d 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 B.R.M. 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 an hydraulic torque converter combined with a 2-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, though his transmission stems from General Motors.
There should have been a Ferguson-patent 4-w-d sports car running in British events by this time, as Peter Westbury was building a 1.8-litre B.R.M.-engined car, but progress was slow, for various economic reasons, 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 Ferguson 4-w-d, and we have obviously not heard the last of this car, a picture of which appeared on the January cover of Motor Sport. Known as the Felday-B.R.M., this all-enveloping sports car has the V8 B.R.M. engine mounted behind the driving compartment, with a mechanical layout not unlike the experimental Grand Prix car built by B.R.M. themselves. Ferguson 4-w-d is used and the chassis is a fabricated “monocoque” of sheet steel.
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 Mk. Ill powered by a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 engine. After lengthy co-operation between Ferguson Research and Jensen Motors the FF model was produced for general sale, and 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 4-w-d 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.—D. S. J.