Industry Insight -- Engines by Tickford

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Since the 1960s Britain has been the centre of the motor racing world. The majority of Grand Prix teams are based in this country, and most of the world’s racing cars and engines are made here. Racing products worth more than £60,000,000 are exported annually. Around the world, cars and engines of British design and manufacture dominate racing. For example, virtually every chassis and engine in that most American of races, the Indianapolis “500”, is actually made in Britain.

Less well known is the fact that Britain is also the centre of the world’s piston engine research and development industry. More than half a dozen independent engine R&D companies, employing thousands of highly skilled and experienced technicians, are located in the United Kingdom. Some of these companies are well established, large enterprises, like the Ricardo Group which employs over 500 people and has more than 90 test beds. At the other end of the scale are small, specialist consulting firms, like Scott Russell, with about a dozen employees and one or two well-equipped test beds. Between these extremes is Tickford Limited located in the new town of Milton Keynes. The company believe its size is a major asset. It is big enough to undertake the whole range of engine development work but small enough to be able to react quickly and provide very good value for money. The engine division currently employs 160, more than half of whom have engineering degrees.

The company began as a family firm of carriage builders in Newport Pagnall in the early 19th century. The first automobile body was made in 1899. By the 1920s, however, much of the company’s business was derived from making convertible hoods for a range of automobile manufacturers. In 1955 Tickford was acquired by David Brown and absorbed into his Aston Martin company. Only in the early 1970s did the name Tickford reappear when the engineering department of Aston Martin sought outside work. As this contract engineering work expanded, the department was made an independent profit centre within the company, operating as Aston Martin Tickford Ltd and offering specialist skills to all makes. Then, as part of a re-organisation in the early 1980s, Aston Martin Tickford was hived off from the parent company. Today, Tickford is completely separate from Aston Martin and operates as a totally independent engineering and manufacturing company.

Tickford has thirteen test cells capable of handling engines from 50 bhp all the way up to 1000 bhp. All of the test beds are fully instrumented and able to analyse exhaust emissions in special and comprehensive ways. Computer controls allow many of the dynamometers to run arduous durability cycles unmanned for 24 hours a day. Like many of Britain’s engine R&D firms, most of Tickford’s engine work these days is concerned with emissions research and testing for the world’s motor and petroleum industries. Because of increasing concern with exhaust emissions and fuel economy, the engineering departments of automobile manufacturers are often stretched and need to call in specialist firms like Tickford to assist in development and testing. As with most of Britain’s engine research companies, Tickford is involved in motor racing, some 15-20% of the company’s business is currently derived from this sphere. Like Cosworth, the company sees racing as an integral part of its business and an arena in which it can demonstrate engine design and development skills, unfettered by industrial confidentiality agreements which cloak much of the firm’s work. Tickford is probably best known in racing circles for the special 5-valves per cylinder heads used by Lotus on Judd CV engines a couple of years ago. An unusual feature of this design was the use of three overhead camshafts per head. According to Tickford’s engineers, properly designed 5-valve per cylinder heads offer greater inlet valve curtain area than traditional designs. Moreover, Tickford claims that its proprietary 5-valve design also offers a more compact and better shaped combustion chamber. Cosworth DFZ and Judd CV engines (with Tickford 5-valve heads) produced 4.2% or 4.3% (about 25 bhp) more power than the original 4-valve head designs.

Currently, the main racing effort of the company is focused on engine development and preparation for a number of teams, especially in Formula 3000. This 3-litre formula restricts engines to 9000 rpm and four valves per cylinder. Performance improvements on F3000 engines, therefore, represent a real challenge to engine design and development teams. Last year Damon Hill and Gary Brabham were satisfied users of Tickford DFYs. The Middlebridge team also use Tickford engines, and the company supplies cylinder head kits to a number of Cosworth engine builders. Although the company’s engines didn’t win the championship, Tickford motors often set the pace and the company’s DFYs were the only Cosworths able to match the Mugen V8 engines. This year the company’s racing efforts are also focused on Formula 3000 and at least four teams are using Tickford engines.

The performance curves of these motors are impressive. Tickford’s engineers have concentrated on broadening the power band rather than looking for peak horsepower readings. Even so, maximum brake mean effective pressure (BMEP) figures of these F3000 engines are as high as 16.7 Bar (245 lb/sq in). But more significantly, the BMEP remains above 16 Bar (235 lb/sq in) all the way from 6600 up to the regulation limit of 9000 rpm. Additionally, as the company’s engineers like to point out, maximum power has not been obtained at the expense of mechanical reliability. Not a single Tickford-prepared engine failed during a race in the 1990 International F3000 season.

Both David Morgan, Director of the engines business, and Chris Bale, Chief Engineer, are racing enthusiasts and would like to see the company participate more fully in motor sports. A design team under their direction has conceived a 3.5-litre V12 engine (which naturally has five valves per cylinder), but sponsorship will be needed before construction can begin. In the meantime Tickford’s skills are turned to less exotic but equally exacting work assisting automotive manufacturers develop high-performance engines for road use. A version of the Tickford 5-valve design, using only twin cams, has been schemed for possible use in high-performance production road cars. The superior combustion characteristics of this head design will permit very high specific output to be combined with low emissions. Turbo-supercharging is another of Tickford’s specialities. Over the years the company has acted as a consultant to companies such as Ford and Rover. For example, the company developed a fine turbo engine for the old Capri. And recently, it has been revealed that the high-performance turbo version of the Rover 800 series was developed by Tickford. — DDH