Friday, August 31, 2007

DFV turns Four Oh

How the sands of time slip thru the hour glass, as its come to my attention that the most successful customer Formula 1 engine of all time has just recently celebrated its fortieth birthday.

“Power for the People” seems an appropriate headline since that’s exactly what the magnificent Ford Cosworth DFV lump turned out to be. As the ubiquitous Double Four Valves V-8 power plant became the mainstay of Privateers competing in Formula 1.

Interestingly the Ford Motor Co. ponied up $200,000 for the Northampton engine manufacturer to design and produce this legendary power plant for exclusive use by Lotus in 1967 for the onset of the three liter era.

The legendary engine manufacturer was the genesis of Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth. With Costin being the brother of renowned aerodynamicist Frank Costin, whom applied airplane aerodynamics to the development of early 1950’s racing chassis such as Maserati, Lotus and Vanwall.


Although Cosin claims that Colin Chapman wanted exclusivity for eternity. Fortunately Cosin’s partner, the departed Duckworth told Chapman to go jump in a lake! As the three liter engine would become the mainstay of Formula 1 for two decades.

While garnering 155 Grand Prix victories, enroute to becoming the second most successful engine in history. (Eclipsed only by Ferrari) The maiden win came on June 4, 1967 at Zanport. (Holland) With the aging lumps final victory at Detroit in 1983 at the hands of Michele Alboreto aboard a Tyrrell.


A total of 47 different Constructors utilized the Cossie during its lifespan, winning twelve World Championships with Lotus, Matra, Tyrrell, McLaren, Williams and Brabham.

After its initial span of success from 1967-74, Ferrari’s Flat 12 cylinder boxer engine proved to be the DFV’s Achilles heel with Niki Lauda at the helm. Yet it was once again Colin Chapman resurrecting the Cosworth power plants ascension to power with the development of the groundbreaking Lotus 78.

As the ground effects era was ideally suited for the packaging of the compact 90 degree V-8, while the Flat 12 was unsuited for ground effect tunnels. Thus the DFV returned to glory for another half decade prior to the start of the Turbo era.



The DFV would soldier on a further decade as the power plant for F3000 from 1988-95. Making one last gasp for the initial 3.5 liter normally aspirated era in 1989 before fathering Ford’s resurgence in Formula 1 with the 3.5-liter HB series, as these lumps powered Benetton and McLaren to further Grand Prix victories while the HB successor, the Ford Zetec-R ultimately powered Michael Schumacher to his debutant Formula 1 World Championship in 1994.


Sadly Cosworth’s 39 year run in F1 came to an abrupt close with the abandonment of the 2.4 liter V-8, which was the first engine to rev over 20,000 RPM’s. When Williams chose to switch to Toyota power at the end of 2006. Leaving Cosworth without any customers for the current season.

Although I never saw the original three liter era in combat, they’re definitely wonderful to witness as vintage F1 grids in today’s Historic racing as the engines snarl a symphonic rhapsody of low mechanical revolutions.

Recall that these engines required manual shifting along with employing overhead valve trains. As it seems quaint to notice the various chassis antiquated dashboards with a large tilted RPM gauge rotated so when the tach needle hits high noon. The engine is at its 9,000 RPM redline!

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