Mike Costin, as half of the revolutionary Cosworth, all but dominated Formula 1 during the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s. The Cosworth DFV won 12 drivers’ titles, helped win 10 constructors’ titles, two Le Mans, and later powered six F3000 titles, 10 Indy 500 victories in a row and nine successive CART champions.
But there was more to Mike Costin and Cosworth than that. He and former Cosworth colleague Jack Field joined Ed Foster and Simon Arron for the latest instalment of the Motor Sport podcast in association with Mercedes-Benz.
Ed Foster: Hello and welcome to another Motor Sport Magazine podcast in association with Mercedes-Benz.
We have a real treat today. We have Mike Costin and Jack Field formerly of Cosworth and Simon Arron, our features editor, and Alan Hyde, the man behind the camera.
Jack arrived at Cosworth in 1961 having got to know Mike and Keith [Duckworth] at Lotus where he arrived in 1955. He was the Stores Manager selling the parts while Bill Brown sold the engines. Once Bill left he became the marketing manager of racing products.
Mike left school at 15 and took up a five-year trade apprenticeship at De Haviland Aircraft Company. He met Colin Chapman at a 750 Motor Car Club meeting and soon worked with him after his falling out with the Allen Brothers. He built up Lotus Mk 6 kits during the night and worked at De Haviland in the day, getting only about four hours sleep in that period – an astonishing feat.
Soon Keith Duckworth arrived in 1957 and from there the famous Cosworth was created, on September 1958. In the following years Cosworth developed race engines for the Lotus Cortina, Formula Two units and of course the famous Cosworth DFV, which became the most successful engine in the history of the sport. Twenty seven years after it was created, the Cosworth DFV – in the shape of the Zetec-R V8 – won the drivers Formula 1 World Championship in 1994 with Michael Schumacher.
What an incredible history. Jack and Mike thank you for joining us, it’s a treat to have you here.
Mike, how did you first meet Colin? How did it all start?
Mike Costin: I hadn’t had anything to do with any form of motor racing, I’d been to the odd motor race as a spectator. A friend of mine, another apprentice, Peter Ross, suggested to Colin that I would be a likely lad to give him a hand because he had a lot of work on Mk 6 cars and he’d split from the Allen Brothers. I did a deal with Colin basically that we’d work in our spare time to build kits of the Mk 6 and when we got to number nine that would be our works car and we would run that in racing, in 1953 and we would share the driving. I really fancied doing a bit of racing though I had no idea what it was all about.
The first race Colin briefed me if I could get behind Phil Suiter, who was the hotshoe at the time in that form of racing. He said “follow him and you’ll learn a lot.” That was the last time I followed him, I ended up in front after that.
Then Keith came along as a student in his vocation period from Imperial College and started working for us. In those days I was his boss and we struck up a friendship, I had the greatest respect for the way he approached his engineering and that really blossomed because when he came and worked for us full time as the development engineer on the five-speed gearbox, the queerbox it was, we were in consultation with each other as to what the mods would be that he would be putting in and he did a fantastic job. But Colin didn’t appreciate it, whereas I thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread, he really was, even though he was a young ex-student. In fact, somebody put a notice on his desk saying “who needs experience? I’m a college student.” [Laughs]
EF: Jack, you were at Lotus from 1955-61 when you went to Cosworth. What was Colin Chapman like to work for? Was he a hard taskmaster?
Jack Field: No, he never really bothered me except he didn’t pay me a lot of money!
Simon Arron: I don’t think he paid anybody a lot of money.
JF: That’s one of the reasons I could afford to start because I still lived with my parents and he twigged that early on. I used to be a parts salesman at a Vauxhall dealer across the road and on his way into work if there was anything strange he wanted he used to ask me if I could find something that could be modified to suit. While he was away at work I used to go through the General Motors Bible if I could find anything that I thought could do it. I had all the measurements there. I would get it for him on his way home.
After a year or so of dealing with him on various things he asked me if I wanted to become a millionaire, so I said “yes I would like that very much!”
He said “one day we’ll be one of the big six. You will grow with the company and you will finish up a very rich man.”
So I joined with him for £2 a week.
SA: So what have you done with your millions?
JF: I’m still getting that after 3½ years! £2 a week! I think Mike at that time was on £3 a week, so 50% more than that.
EF: I’ve got a question from a former Cosworth employee, could you please explain the terminology “Jack Tax”?
JF: I was doing the costing at Cosworth and I’d go through cost of raw material, how long it was on the different machines, each machine has a price and I’d work it out very carefully then add 25% and they called it “Jack Tax”. I did it just to cover any errors I made on the calculations. When Alf Vickers joined the company he moved it up to 30%. I said “why 30% Alf?”
He said “well, how about your wages, how about storekeepers? It covers all that.”
Prices went up dramatically when Alf joined the company!
EF: At the time Graham Hill was works driver and Jim Clark was winning everything with the Lotus 18. What were they like to work with?
MC: The story about how Graham met Colin and myself was perfectly true. At Brands Hatch, we were very busy with several cars that we were interested in and there was this chap talking to us all day. He was either talking to me or to Colin. At the end of the day we gave him a lift back to London in the transporter, which was an old Bedford bus, bought him some fish and chips, dropped him off at a tube station and Colin said “who’s that mate of yours?”
“I thought he was a mate of yours!”
That was it, that was Graham. Come Monday he was at the works wanting a job and Colin gave him a job in the gearbox shop, not that he did much work on gearboxes. He was very lucky because the gearbox shop was the only place that had a telephone and he spent most of his day on the telephone chatting up people to give him a drive, John Coombes, Dan Margulies, let him drive their cars.
So Graham was Graham, you couldn’t say he was anybody else. Colin, yeah, I got on all right with him, I only ever had a couple of “get stuffed” matches with him, apart from that I worked for him. Colin was never a friend of mine, I don’t think he had many friends really, Jim Clark being the main one, he had employees. Cosworth was different because with Keith we had a social side as well.
SA: You hear the reputation for being mercurial, were there any days you saw the face like thunder and kept your heads down? Or was his humour generally okay?
MC: Colin never really mixed with people apart from going over job lists. He spent most of his time planning ahead, having given me the instructions as to what is done, I’m talking about the early days, it was largely from a job list that he would write. Apart from that you didn’t see much of him. Sometimes I didn’t see him for two or three days before a race meeting, but one of the advantages he had with me is he knew I’d be there at the right time with as much of the work done as possible and arrive just in time for scrutineering.
EF: Cosworth was started in 1958 but you stayed at Lotus until ’62 because you had three years of your contract first, so Jack, you started at Cosworth before Mike.
JF: We always knew that Mike was going to come.
EF: What were those early days like? It must have been a step into the unknown?
JF: The early days – first ones in in the winter used to have to light all the oil heaters. Mike’s first office there was up in the roof wasn’t it?
MC: Yep. Keith and | were both up in the roof.
EF: I seem to remember reading somewhere that you said you were lucky to be alive with all of Keith’s smoke from his cigarettes.
MC: Yes it was a blank end our office and we had a vertical ladder up the wall which was made from packing case parts, screwed to the wall. Two of us in this office, it was blanked off to his end, so all his smoke had to come past me to get out into the rest of the roof and below was the welding spot where all the welding and braising was done. It wasn’t a very healthy atmosphere with Keith and his 60 a day.
EF: What did your Lotus colleagues at the time think of you going off and setting up this engineering firm? Did they think you were mad going off on your own or were they quite supportive?
MC: They did think it was weird because a couple of them said ‘here you are, you’re director of all the companies, you have your name above the door in the office, secretary, and now you’re doing down to a tin pot place down the road in Edmonton.’
I said ‘yes but I reckon I’m doing the right thing.’
EF: It turned out alright didn’t it?!
SA: Did you have any particular objectives and targets in the first place? Did you have any broad vision of what you wanted to do?
MC: No, we just thought a couple of likely lads like us, in engineering, ought to make our way in motor racing. That was the basis of it. We didn’t know we were going to end up in engines, we started out in our spare time, what spare time we had, helping people with their Lotus cars.
It wasn’t until Keith really decided and said ‘we’ve got to do something about this situation. It got to be a full time job.’ He’d got some family money to survive on, he wasn’t married and I had a wife and three kids to support. We decided I’d better sign on the dotted line for another three years and he carried on on his own.
He had a hard time for the first year or so but then the Ford 105E came on the scene. Keith because of his contacts at Ford, from his university, had a few Ford 105E bits to look at, blocks and cranks and things, because they were smuggled out in people’s boots from Dunton Research. It was decided that was the engine to go for, because he was going to modify the Fiat 1100…
SA: For Formula Junior?
MC: …for Formula Junior. It was fortunate really that when we made the Lotus 18 I could convince Colin that we should use the Cosworth engine because although we ran one against the other with the Spinzel, what did he call his car?
MC: Yes, well Graham was a director of that, so he was rooting for Speedwell and I was rooting for Cosworth but I could say ‘look, the BMC A-series is at the end of its development period, it can’t get much better anyway, and here’s this 105E Ford with over-square bore and stroke ratio that has started its career. It should be a better bet.’
Fortunately Colin went along with that which was fortunate for Cosworth because we decided to make 25 chassis at the beginning of the year, for the Lotus 18, and that meant Keith was going to do 25 engines, plus a few that he did for other people as well. By the end of that year we had made five batches of 25, so that was 125 engines.
The deal was Lotus bought batches of 10 engines and shipped them down to Cosworth and Cosworth stripped them and rebuilt them, modified the parts and tested it and that was for £145 each. That was really the thing that kicked off the quantity production at Cosworth.
SA: I was doing a bit of research earlier, and everybody knows the DFV stands for Double Four Valve, I didn’t realise what MAE stood for, Modified Anglia Engine. It’s so simple!
SA: I love the simplicity.
MC: Quite right!
EF: Jack, what made you go from Lotus to Cosworth in ’61? Obviously you got to know Mike and Keith at Lotus. Was it a belief in their engineering?
JF: I met my future wife at Lotus and by 1958 we were engaged and I thought ‘Gosh, I need to look at how I’m going to buy a house’. I certainly couldn’t do it on what Colin was paying. I went back to Vauxhall’s Bedford dealer and they offered me a van on the road, freelance, as long as I didn’t call on any existing customers, I’d get one per cent commission. £11 a week up from about £3 a week from Colin and one per cent, but I had to do over £1,000 a month for it to be viable.
Very quickly I latched onto the M1 where they were building, 90 per cent off the trucks were Bedford, so I lucked in there, first of all getting the difficult parts that were keeping vehicles off the road by chasing round all the London Bedford dealers ’til I found something, get it back quick. Then eventually I got all their orders, I said ‘just ring them up’ I got all their orders for the easy stuff as well as the hard stuff.
I was averaging about £4,000 a month with this grey van really just working for myself, getting about £40 a month commission, nearly doubled my salary but I could see an end coming soon. I thought ‘when the M1 is built my turnover is going to go over the cliff’ and I had a phone call from Keith to come and see him, so I thought ‘I’m on £1,000 a year, if he can carry on paying me that, it’s not commission which is always a bit dodgy.’ After Lotus I wasn’t sure that this company Cosworth was going to look after me much better than Lotus did. But he paid me £950 a year for the first three months and £1,000 a year. That’s how I joined, it was enough to pay my mortgage which was £16 a month at that time…
EF: I wish my mortgage was that.
JF: I know! Mind you the house was only £2,700 brand new.
SA: I wish my house was that!
JF: It’s probably worth half a million now!
EF: Cosworth did so many things, but the thing it’s most famous for is the DFV. Where did the idea originally come from for that engine?
MC: Before then we had gone into four-valve engines, after the SCA single cam, we’d gone onto the FVA, four-valve engine and that was very successful. Then of course Climax said ‘we’re out of racing’ and Colin was going to be out of Formula 1 if he didn’t do something. He started look around to see who was going to finance it to pay us to develop the engine, it went to Esso, they didn’t catch on or any other fuel company, David Brown were interested but they wanted to in complete charge of the thing and Keith said ‘stuff that’. Then it came to Ford and of course Walter Hayes took it onboard because he knew Colin from right back when, I think Walter ghosted a bit for Colin on The Daily Mail or some paper and he came up with the goodss £75,000 for the DFV and £25,000 for research engine which we called the FVB which was a 1,500 version of the FVA. That was the one we put in our racing car and I used to race. The deal was done, Ford wanted an agreement which was going to go to several volumes and eventually, finally, they said ‘you’d better write the agreement’ to Keith, and he wrote the agreement, it came to three pages and they accepted it. It stood us well for the next few years. Then we got down to the layout for the engine and it all went on from there.
EF: You alluded to it earlier, you did quite a lot of testing. You were the first person to test the DFV weren’t you? At Snetterton? You did something like 175 mph down the Norwich Straight?
MC: Yeah when we worked out the gear ratios and rolling radiuses and things. It was quite frightening afterwards because when you think in those days braking was plus or minus on the garage which was about 250 yards before the hairpin and the hairpin was a sort of six feet wall right around it of railway sleepers. It wasn’t a place to have your brakes fail.
SA: If you did you’d be on the A11 wouldn’t you?
MC: Only 100 yards off it.
EF: Obviously it was a very early example of the DFV and there was a lot of development to come but did you know then that ‘hang on, we’ve built something pretty special here.’
MC: It was based on the power really, the target figure was 400 hp. The first seven engines built in 1967 all were between 403-408hp on our dyno. We never thought we could test them more, plus or minus one per cent that was a very short, small range of performance for those engines. Those were the seven engines that we built for the ’67 season. I knew there was an awful lot of work that had to go in during the season to keep them running.
EF: Did I read somewhere that Jack Brabham helped solve one of the problems on the DFV? I seem to remember you saying ‘we never wanted to tell him because he might have asked for some money!’
MC: [Laughs] That was interesting because when we developed the stroke of the fuel distributer on the fuel injection unit on the dyno, we plotted what was required for each stage, we thought ‘right, now for running in the corners with almost zero fuel going in, we need a bit of an enrichment in a little area wherever you blip to,’ so we decided when you heel and toe doing into a corner, how much throttle you gave it with the heel, and estimated that spot and richened it up quite a bit, so you’d go in and the engine would go weak and you’d blip it with a bit of richness.
That didn’t particularly work. Whenever the engine came back for its overhaul the cam that did this would be put in a jig and we could check and make sure nobody had been messing about with it. One day we checked one of Brabham’s engines and lo and behold it followed exactly our curve from the original plots off the dyno. What he’d done, he’d cut out that richness bit and it was a straight curve as required on the dyno. We thought ‘well, that most likely is a benefit.’ But as you say we didn’t say anything!
EF: I’m sure there are other examples, but the fact that it went out and won its first race, was there a small sigh of relief? I know there was a retirement, Graham Hill, but was it a small sense of relief that it went out and was successful straight away? Because you don’t know until you race the thing that it’s 100 per cent going to work do you?
MC: That’s right. You have no idea really. It was very fortunate that one of them finished, because subsequently we found a lot of problems in two areas. We’d already found a lot of problems because on the design of the DFV there were things which were wrong. The first thing was the breathing, crankcase breathing, which was very bad. We knew that on the dynamometer before we ever went into the car. Those engines in 1967 had some fairly dreadful tubing to try and get over the oil breathing problem. That was a problem that stuck with us up until Keith redesigned the scavenge system to take out a lot more than we… we were using about six gallons per minute of oil going round the engine and in those days the recommendation was you designed for twice that volume to take the kind of gas coming out, getting past the rings. We doubled that and said ‘right 12 gallons a minute is quite a lot of weight.’ But Keith redesigned the whole of the scavenge system and included the centrifuges to take the air out of the oil and we pumped up to 55 gallons a minute, and that cured all our breathing problems.
The other problem of course was the problem with the gears: we had all sorts of problems in the timing gears. That was a very difficult problem, we hadn’t got the benefit that you have now of being able to measure everything and it wasn’t until we actually checked up where this fantastic load that was breaking everything inside came from, and then Keith went off and designed what we call the quill hub. That was the last of the real problems. I suppose neither of those problems could necessarily have been seen by a designer, so I still think Keith did a very good job.
EF: When Keith finally retired from Cosworth wasn’t he presented with this multi-quill timing gear all polished up, with the words ‘with these quills you wrote a new book in the history of motor racing’.
MC: That’s right. I should think every Formula 1 engine now still has to have some form of quill hub to make the drives to the camshaft survive.
SA: What are your most vivid memories of Zandvoort ’67?
MC: Well I wasn’t there! In fact I didn’t go to any races that year. Keith went to every race, the only one he didn’t go to was Mexico, he said ‘you’re allowed to go to Mexico.’
‘Well I’m not going because my gut won’t cope with the Mexican food!’
So that was the only Grand Prix I went to!
EF: Keith was on 60 cigarettes a day but not Mexican food!
SA: What are your memories of the immediate aftermath of getting the phone call ‘we’ve won’ and that stuff? What do you recollect?
MC: I’m not the sort of bloke that jumps up and down. I’ve never had what’s called an adrenaline rush you know? In all my driving racing cars I’ve never experienced any form of adrenaline rush, I just enjoy driving. In fact really when I sided with Colin, the big part of our deal was we would share the driving. That was the real thing that got me to agree to it. I’m not a bloke who gets excited about anything much.
EF: Jack, obviously the Cosworth DFV, Colin wanted an exclusive license to use it for Lotus. Keith and Mike quite rightly said no and very quickly it became the engine to have. It was your job to sell them wasn’t it? It must have been quite a job on your hands with the sheer number going out the door?
JF: The first enquiry we got was from Ken Tyrrell of course, it’s been well recorded. But then I think we were helped greatly by March as well, they produced a Formula 1 car which anybody could buy, you could call it what you liked and go motor racing if you had a Hewland ‘box and Cosworth engine.
The decision was to make so many, say 12, and then sell them, so we just make what we can sell and next year say ‘right we’re making 20,’ by which time everybody was clamouring to get them. You’d say ‘we ration fairly’ so we used to look and see what engines were with each team and see if they were struggling because of not having enough engines then we used to decide who’d get the 20.
EF: Can I ask you what a Cosworth DFV would have cost me if I was a team owner back in the late ‘60s?
JF: I can’t remember the cost. We used to sell for £7,500 which I always thought, even in those days, was too cheap
EF: I’m trying to think what you could get done for £7,500 on a Cosworth nowadays. Nothing!
SA: Half a Pirelli left rear or something. Did the £7500, include the Jack tax or the Alf tax?
JF: That included all that, that was in parts. But you had to make sure the engine components came to more than the £7,500 otherwise you’d get engine builders knocking about. I think one of the best deals that was ever done on the DFV price was Alf called me in one day and said ‘who’s buying all these engines?’
I said ‘Alf, you know, it’s Tyrrell, McLaren, Brabham.’
He said ‘Who’s paying for ‘em?’
‘Well. they are.’
‘Where are they getting the money?’
‘Where’s the money coming from?’
We had one customer Count Zanon who used to buy them and give them away. He said ‘put some blue ribbon on it and send it to Ken or whatever.’ I think he used to do it just to get so he was well received in the paddock you see.
But anyway Alf said ‘so the money is coming from Switzerland?’
I said ‘Yeah.’
He said ‘How much is the DFV in Swiss Francs?’
90,000 Swiss Francs.’ It was 12 to the pound at the time.
‘Right, Keith won’t move on the price of £7,500, but I might be able to talk him into selling it in Swiss Francs, cos the Pound is going to fall in value against the Swiss Franc, so all we do every year is convert the 90,000 Swiss Francs back to Pounds.’
I said: /He won’t go for that’
‘No he will.’
A couple of days later he came back and said ‘That’s what we’re doing. The price of the engine is 90,000 Swiss Francs. What do they think of that price?’
‘They think it’s bloody expensive!’
I think the first year it went from £7,500 to about £12,500 so it covered Jack Tax and everything! That’s when it started to climb.
EF: There’s a question here: How Cosworth came up with the idea of building its own F1 car and why did you choose four-wheel-drive rather than rear-wheel-drive?
MC: Well 4WD was the thing to be talked about at that time and we were a very profitable company and Keith was always up for another challenge and he thought it would be a good idea to make a F1 car. One way or another he got hold of Robin Herd, who at that time was slightly involved already in creating March, and he employed him to come and design the car. He was given a free hand to design the car.
When he got to designing the hubs and drives to the hubs and Keith saw what he was doing, Keith was so upset he said ‘right, forget that, I’ll design those bits’ and he designed the wheels and hubs and the attachment system and he also said ‘ZF can do the front and rear non-slip diffs, but I’ll design the central 45/55 torque split for the 4WD,’ which was a really well-designed bit of kit that never gave any trouble at all in the small bit of running we did. I don’t think it would have given trouble. Funnily enough the hub attachment and the wheel happened to be very similar to what March came out with when they designed the car. If you wanted to wind up Keith you could say ‘Robin’s done a bloody good job designing those March wheels!’ That really wound him up!
It wouldn’t have gone anywhere I don’t think, the first thing was we were going to want some special tyres and Dunlop wouldn’t think about going into it. Everyone else made 4wd, but their answers to the problems were… the real problem was the feedback through the steering was so bad, I certainly couldn’t do more than five laps and I was knackered because of the forces. It was even worse driving the blooming Porsche that I once drove and that was the most difficult car I drove. If we’d have carried on, we had such a big job list and we were so busy with other projects that Keith said ‘that’s enough, Bill flog it.’ So Bill sold it to the museum for £4,000 without an engine and gearbox and that was the end of it. To do it you would have had to have had a large team of people to look after the engineering. In any case Robin Heard had pushed off because March had started properly and that was the end of it.
EF: Does your experience relate to John Miles’ of the Lotus 63 where he said it was difficult to load up and it let go in an unpredictable manner on corner exit altering the trajectory of the car.
MC: You’ve got to bear in mind I wasn’t liable to push it too far anyway. I was quite staggered that Colin agreed with Keith that I should do the first bit of testing. The car was so badly set up it was un-driveable in a straight line, whereas you needed ¼ inch toe on the back axle or the back wheels, it had been set up by the Lotus people with 2½ inches toe out. They were taking the mickey out of me saying ‘you can’t drive because you haven’t driven anything with this much power’ so I told them where to go.
The clutch packed up, so I told AP, Lockheed, that their twin-plate they designed for the DFV was a stupid thing so I went and saw Bob Dance, we took it back in the workshop, had a look at the clutch and the friction disc had fallen apart as I told them it would, Bob was running the Cortina’s at the time and said “do you have one of our Cosworth twin-plate frictions” and we stuck that in and it became the standard for the next few years.
I got halfway down my list, and said ‘let’s see where my wheels are pointed.’ We put some drums on and it came out that the toe-out was ridiculous, so we put that straight and the next day we took it to Snetterton where it handled very nicely and the engine performed pretty well. As you say, after about 10-15 laps I was really motoring and enjoying it and the engine was behaving extremely well.
EF: I want to go on to further things in the Cosworth history, but I have a couple of questions from former colleagues. What was your most rewarding time at Cosworth? Was it the development of the DFV or was it something entirely different?
MC: No I think life at Cosworth was enjoyable whatever we were doing. We were a fantastic company really in so far as everybody knew everybody else, certainly until we employed a few hundred people. In fact I dare say even to this day I know more people on the shop floor who haven’t retired yet than are known by the board of directors put together because I spent a lot of time on the shop floor discussing with things being made and overhauled and tested. The whole lot was equally enjoyable. I can’t really find any particular period.
EF: I have a vested interest in this next bit, because my mum’s got an Escort Cosworth RS that she goes to do her shopping in. She asked for the spoiler to be put back on, I won’t say what her age is!
The Sierra Cosworth project fundamentally changed the company as it was so busy you had to split the road and racing divisions. One thing I wanted to know about, what were the tests you had to go through or this engine, because some of them were unbelievable tests imposed by Ford that you had to put this engine through weren’t they?
MC: They were standard tests.
EF: Blimey, I didn’t realise they were standard.
MC: Oh yes, Ford had a three-inch thick file of all the tests and you had to go through it, that’s it. Not only that – having passed all these tests, then you get engineering sign off, then it goes to production and the production director, having been caught out at times before, the engineering signing off and him going to production and him having problems, he says ‘OK, I’ve got a load of people now, they’re going to test the engine, they’re going to do all the same tests you’ve done. There not even engineers and the engine has to pass.’
But tests like 180 hour test, you start the engine, it’s got to be an ‘off tools’ development, pre-production engine. About 15 seconds after it started it goes max, rpm, full throttle for 180 hours. All you’re allowed to do is change the oil every 25 hours, after that everything has to be within limits when you strip it, pistons, valves, valve seats has to be within limits. 300 hour test, which is half of a 600 hour test where you’re on a 12½ hour cycle from max speed, torque, tick over, backwards and forwards for 12 hours and you repeat that cycle for 300 hours and you strip the engine, everything’s got to be within limits and then you’re allowed to replace gaskets only, rebuild it and do the same test again: another 300 hours.
Then scuffing tests, piston scuffing, you have 4,000 litres of freezing water in a tank and you fill the engine with this and start it and run it at maximum speed, flat out and the water temperature has to go up at least one degree a second to 120 degrees and you stop the engine back to tick over, switch all the water cocks and the freezing water comes down and fills the engine with freezing water again and straight back. You have to do that ten times and then strip the engine down and there mustn’t be any sign of piston or ring scuffing. That’s a difficult thing to do.
EF: My dad taught me never to rev a cold engine but you can actually!
Jack, I asked Mike earlier, what was your most rewarding time at Cosworth?
JF: When I was moved over from DFV, just looking after the four-cylinder, Cosworth components with the help of Alastair Lyle who I wasn’t supposed to use on the design side. Keith said ‘right you go over there with Frank Webb, Bill Pratt. You can’t use anybody from the design office, you can’t test any engines, if you can’t get the stuff made in the machine shop you get it made elsewhere. Go from there.’
At that time it was turning over about half a million. To me going to somewhere like Atlanta where they have all the run-offs, all the amateur races, first time there I took orders for 47 engines, cos you have the Atlantic engine, the two-litre engine, then Alastair Lyle said can you do us 1,300 so he did us 1,300 VGH, got it tested down at Swindon and that went into sports car. The other one was the 1,100 BDJ and Alastair said ‘it’s not going to be much good.’
I said ‘will it do better than a Mk 11 or DSCA’
‘Right, we’ll go for it then.’
So there we were, we’d got 1,100, 1,300, 1 600 Atlantic, two-litre and it was all coming out of Cosworth’s door. The turnover went through the roof.
EF: It was incredible, the rate of the growth of the company. Looking back now, what were your thoughts when it got so, so big? Was it as much fun when Cosworth was this huge company? Or was it the early days when it was just a handful of people coming up with engineering solutions?
MC: Well yes, it did get more tedious because we had a bigger staff and more things away from engineering, a lot of meetings and things like that.
EF: I’m with you on that one. I hate meetings!
MC: Eventually it did get very difficult, but things happened and finally Keith decided one day he was going to disappear and by then of course we were a large company and few people who, we had a managing director in those days who did a fantastic job for the company while it was there. We were owned by Vickers and they talked me into staying on another year: I wanted to retire at 60 but they talked me into staying on till I was 61 and being called chairman. I wasn’t chairman really but they decided it would be better if I was called chairman. Then I retired at 61 and I’ve been lucky to stay to my ripe old age now, for the last 26 years, enjoying life. Certainly the last few years weren’t nearly as good as the first few years.
SA: What do you think today – I’ve been to Cosworth a few times in recent years. Do you recognise it? It occupies huge part of an industrial estate in Northampton, both sides of the road and there are more and more units going up it seems, everywhere you look there are Cosworth buildings. Do you identify that as being the same company you were involved with all those years ago?
MC: Not really, but on the other hand it’s about the same size now, no its not, maybe it’s about 20% larger than when I retired. But Cosworth racing of course is a very small part of it and the rest is now Mahle, it’s now called Mahle Powertrain UK. But it’s still the same area, same size, but bigger, of course the racing side I think they’ve got this deal with Honda so they’ve had to build yet another factory further down the road.
SA: They’ve still got Keith’s original drawing board there, which is nice.
MC: Have they?
SA: Yes, there’s an array of bygone engines and Keith’s drawing board on which he drew the sketch for the DFV is still there. There’s still a great pride in the company’s heritage.
MC: I’m glad they kept that because it does show right back to the start. It was largely the part of a chap called John Given, in the days where I used to run all the testing ourselves. I took on John Given to stay from his apprenticeship to run the test department. Eventually he became our works and bricks man. A lot of people at Cosworth ended up not doing the job they started with and he was one. Most of our factories, he was responsible for dealing with the architect and the builders right the way through when we built factories down the road and in Wellingborough.
EF: When was the last time you wielded a spanner and what was it for?
MC: I wield spanners every day now.
EF: What do you mostly work on?
MC: [Laughing] Yesterday was central heating!
EF: From the Cosworth DFV to central heating.
Would you prefer to be a highly competitive and accomplished racing driver or a highly respected engineer?
MC: I was never a highly respected racing driver. I used to enjoy racing but I would never have been a Verstappen because I was quite capable of getting round a circuit very quickly but I was always careful otherwise. I used to say ‘I only drive at 90 per cent’
Keith would say ‘I know, you drive at 90 per cent until some bugger’s in front of you!’
I suppose I’m better known as an engineer, although really again I was an assistant engineer. I’m an assistant engineer to a lot of really good engineers, primarily Keith. But we had a lot of really good engineers and although I was their boss I was still involved in what they were doing. Of course when we split the company in about 1985, when Keith took on the Cosworth Sierra programme he didn’t know what he was signing up to. It wasn’t until we were in trouble getting the first engines built and tested that he called me in one day ‘right, we’ve just got to split road engines’ – we used to call it road engines, working for Mercedes and Opel, Vauxhall and Chevrolet that sort of thing. You’ve got to bear in mind up until ’85 we’d done more General Motors projects than Ford. ‘That’s right, we’ve got to split it down the middle. I’ll be Chief Engineer Racing, you be Chief Engineer Road Engines. You’ll have to go and find somewhere to do it as well.’
That’s where John Given came in, I said ‘John, we’ve got to find some premises.’ Virtually the next week I set off, John found a place just across the road where he took over half of a garden machine supplier, I moved over with Mike Hall, chief designer, and a few of the lads and it all developed from there.
EF: We’re running out of time sadly, what was your fondest memory of Keith when you look back on your time together?
MC: Keith wasn’t a very excitable person, neither was I. We got on very well together socially, we had a good few laughs and I think that’s about the weight of it really. We had a long, good relationship with plenty of laughs as well as work.
SA: I’d like to ask both of you what you think… you both lived at the hub of an era when Formula 1 was relatively accessible. What do you think when you see the sport today and it is so much less accessible in many ways. Do you still watch it and what do you think about it?
MC: I always watch the F1 races, and I must admit I don’t find it so interesting, simply because now it’s almost a foregone conclusion.
SA: Do you find the engineering interesting in the hybrid era?
MC: That’s just too complex, I couldn’t understand any of it. I wouldn’t even try! I do have a grandson who works for Mercedes, an aerodynamicist and I enjoy talking to him and trying to get something out of him but he’s very tight lipped about it all.
JF: I don’t think I would have liked to have been there now. I preferred it when there were kit cars running. I remember in the early days at Lotus, when they went off to Spa or somewhere, load the cars up in the back of the Commer bus, of course the battery was always flat, so factory used to turn out, push the Commer back onto Tottenham Lane and down the hill to get it started, halfway down the hill it would start and they were off to Spa or somewhere and I wondered how they managed to get there! But you reckon that was quite a new bus!
MC: Colin designed the bodywork, he scrounged the Commer chassis, designed the bodywork to carry two Mk 9’s. It never did carry two, you just about squeezed one in, and the other one had to go on a trailer behind.
SA: That’s Colin’s packaging isn’t it? Tight and compact.
MC: That was Colin’s design. People say to me ‘how do you rate Colin against Keith as pure engineers?’
I’m afraid I say ‘two entirely different people but if it comes to pure engineering Colin is not even knee-high to Keith.’ Mind you, that’s just the way I see it. Lotus people won’t have it any other way.
EF: What an incredible amount of success Cosworth has had and still has to this day. Mike and Jack thank you so much for coming in and joining us.