"Such Sweet Thunder"

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By John Blunsden and David Phipps. 224 pp 8 3/4 in. x 5 3/4 in. (Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 277-279, Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1. £2.50)

This is the story of the Cosworth-Ford Grand Prix engine, which arrived in time to resuscitate Formula One motor racing when Coventry-Climax decided that they could not afford to make any more GP power units, after spending between £500,000 and £1,000,000 on the project. The manner in which Clarke’s Lotus won the very first race in which the new Duckworth-designed Ford V8 was used, at Zandvoort in 1967, is now receding into history and it is time the full story was told, even though the brilliantly successful Ford-financed Cosworth venture was well written up soon afterwards, and has been afforded full colour coverage by Motor Sport.

This book sets the whole, bold experiment, which has meant so much to Ford and to modern Grand Prix racing, in perspective. Blunsden appears to have written the history of racing during this highly successful Ford V8 era, following a brief introduction about the state of racing engine supply and technique at the time of Ford’s courageous dive off the brink, Phipps to have filled in the technicalities, after interviews with Keith Duckworth, some of whose words, his characteristic philosophy, are reproduced verbatim.

How much in this book is new material depends on how much you have read elsewhere about the Cosworth F2 and F1 engine projects. However, it constitutes a readable history of GP racing under the 3-litre Formula to the end of 1970, with a lead-in from the previous 1 1/2-litre racing. It describes the rather remarkable way in which Duckworth, Costin, Brown and Rood came together and fused into the Cosworth firmament. It is most interesting, without being in any way over-dramatic, about how Stanley Gillen was approached by a Colin Chapman-prompted Walter Hayes, less than a week after he had arrived here from the USA as Ford of Britain’s new Managing Director, on the matter of Ford financing and helping to build (aided by men like Chief Engine Designer Alan Worters, Foundry Manager Tru Hayford, Manufacturing Directors Taylor and Rees, etc.) a Ford Grand Prix engine. And how easily Gillen consented, after conferring briefly with Harley Copp, Ford’s Engineering Vice-president, to spending £100,000 minimum on the venture.

It is “old hat” now that the cautious Duckworth first elected to complete his Cortina-based F2 engine undertaking, which absorbed £25,000 of the sum allocated to building Ford racing engines. Incidentally, considerable as these expenditures may appear, they have to be compared with the £500,000 French Government loan to Matra to develop their racing V12 engine, and the astonishing £10,000,000 which, the book says, it cost Ford to put synchromesh on the bottom gear of the Cortina. This, logically I feel, causes the authors to comment that Ford of Britain’s 1965 investment of rather over £100,000 on the design, construction and development of the initial batch of 3-litre V8 GP engines (five were scheduled, seven in fact produced) must be “the bargain of the decade.” (In terms of horse-power, too, what a bargain! Over half this sum has been paid for one show-jumping horse, whereas Ford got around 2,800 horses for their outlay!)

Certainly Ford’s close association with so many branches of motor racing, from the Mexico Championship to Le Mans and Formula One, puts the entire Ford empire, in my opinion, that much ahead of its bigger US rival, General Motors. Ford cars are good, are pleasant to drive, are backed by a comprehensive servicing network. (OK? I shall now inevitably receive a few letters from isolated dissatisfied customers). The fact that Henry Ford himself built and drove big racing cars, that his grandson Henry Ford II steered the Company to their Le Mans and Indianapolis victories in the 1960s and that Sir Leonard Crossman, Chairman of Ford of Britain, maintains a stable of fast cars are factors which rub off on the cars which roll from the Ford factories and on the outlook of those who use them.

“Such Sweet Thunder” is the story of just one of these successful Ford competition projects. It is useful publicity for Ford. But it is not written in the dramatic, lurid style of a PR blurb. It is a sober account of how Ford embarked on a rather new venture, goaded by Chapman who needed engines for Team Lotus, and how they soon had it all tidied up, and sealed with Sir Patrick Hennessey’s blessing (it was, incidentally, Lord Beaverbrook who recommended Hayes to the Ford Chairman), so that, with the Cosworth V8 in series production from 1968, the Ford DFV engine took part in 45 World Championship events in four seasons, and won 34 of them.

It might be expected that having achieved some successes Duckworth would be a bit superior, even pompous, when interviewed about his engine. To expect that, however, is not to know this remarkable engineer, who seems to have stepped straight out of the dubious Austin 7 Ruby saloon he sold to Bill Brown into creating World-beating GP engines. His approach to DFV technique is modest, even self-effacing, although K.D.’s comments on other people’s engines are a rare treat. He realises that financial backing favours Ferrari, that manufacturing problems beset the Weslake V12 and the Eagle V12 and that in 1967 only Honda made the 4-valve head work for them. He saw a basic error in the BRM H-16, abandoned the BMW pent-roof head because of ignition and installation complications, and says “Hacking around with files and scrapers isn’t really on nowadays”. It might be instructive to compare his reasons for DFV engine failures with those invented by the journalists.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter of this opportune book is No. 11, entitled “Improving the Breed”, which describes the development of the DFV engine, with power and fuel consumption figures, etc. But of great topical and historical import is the first appendix, quoting delivery dates, customers and history of the 89 DFV and DFW engines made between April 1967 and May 5th, 1971. The second Appendix gives a World Championship scoresheet for those using Cosworth-Ford engines between 1966-70 but I would have preferred a breakdown of how each engine fared in these races, for the World Drivers’ Championships is an artificial theme involving many factors. If other criticism is warranted it is that the only sectional views of the engine are those on the end papers, that the photographs, while adequate, including as they do the personalities involved and mechanical parts of the DFV engine, are not prolific and that the impression is conveyed that the Coventry-Climax flat-16 engine to the formula was never built, whereas, although it was too late to be raced, it ran, for the current BARC News refers to it giving just under 250 b.h.p. at 14,000 r.p.m. And, as with so many modern books, no-one has gone to the trouble of providing an index. Otherwise, first-class!—W. B.