Ford Cosworth DFV – The V8 That Changed F1

The Cosworth DFV is not the most successful engine to run on an F1 circuit, nor is it the most powerful engine to ever be put in an F1 car, but the impact that this V8 had on the world of racing still makes it a contender for one of the best engines to ever come from the sport.

In 1965, Colin Chapman began his hunt for a new engine to put in his Team Lotus racing cars. The search was brought about after the FIA hiked the maximum engine capacity from 1.5 to 3 litres, something Coventry Climax, Lotus’s engine supplier, did not want to cater to. The Lotus founder headed to the London based automotive engineering firm still in its infancy – Cosworth.     

Colin Chapman congratulating Jim Clark after the DFV’s debut race. Author: Koch, Eric CC BY-SA 3.0

The co-founders of Cosworth, Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (who’s surnames were blended to make the company name) had a pre-existing relationship with Chapman, having both worked at Lotus before creating their company in 1958. Costin and Duckworth agreed to develop the 3 litre engine that Chapman sought, but they were going to need an investment.


In 1966, Chapman, Costin and Duckworth, persuaded the Ford Motor Company to fund the engine design, of which they would own the rights to. With the approval of the Detroit head office, £100,000 was given to Cosworth to produce a 1.6 litre engine for Formula Two, and a 3 litre V8 for Formula One, ready for the 1967 season.    

The Ford Cosworth DFV. Author Morio CC BY-SA 3.0

The contracted Formula Two engine was completed later in 1966 and was named the FVA, with an exact displacement of 1,598cc. The FVA was a 16 valve, double overhead cam engine that produced 225bhp. The FVA inspired Duckworth, moulding many of the ideas that he would use to build Chapman’s V8.  

The 90 degree V8 was completed in 1967, just in time for the third race of the season. The engine had been named the DFV or ‘Double Four Valve’, ‘Four Valve’ referred to the amount of valves per cylinder, the ‘Double’ highlighted that this engine was a V8 progression of the four cylinder FVA. 

With a bore and stroke of 85.67 x 64.89 mm, the DFV had a complete displacement of 2,993cc. Like the FVA, this V8 was a true double overhead cam engine with a drive train of nine gears. On its debut, the engine produced 370 Nm of torque at 7,000rpm and 408bhp at 9,000rpm – this figure rocketed to 510bhp at 11,200rpm by the end of the Cosworth’s F1 career.  

DFV inside a Ligier JS11. Author: Ericd CC BY-SA 3.0

The rigidity of Duckworth and Costin’s creation is also something to note. The V8 was cast completely from aluminium and was so tough, Chapman deleted the whole rear sub-frame when building the Lotus 49, opting to bolt all of the rear suspension directly to the engine. This made the car, that was about to debut with the Cosworth engine, extraordinarily lightweight.  

Lotus 49 rear, note the suspension mounting directly to the engine. Author: Deep Silence CC BY-SA 3.0

The Cosworth’s debut race is a story in of itself. Jim Clark drove the Lotus having only met the car days before the race. His team mate pulled out early after one of his timing gears failed, and finished with Clark bringing home the gold.  

Lotus 49 on its debut race.

Chapman was informed in late 1967 that the Cosworths would be sold to more teams than just Lotus in the following year. This change put a stop to Lotus’s monopoly, ushering in a golden age in racing.  

Author: Tom CC BY-SA 2.0

McLaren, Brabham, Williams, Matra, Tyrrell and Ligier are just a few of the names that flocked to the Ford engine. In the 70’s, it was common for nearly all cars on the field to be powered by the DFV. Costing around £135,000 in today’s money, the engine was regarded as quite cheap, a lot of racing teams were buying the engine, mating it to a Hewland gearbox, and then building a car around it. 

Author: Morio CC BY-SA 3.0

The V8 ran for 18 seasons, not being retired until 1985. In that time, the engine amassed 176 victories in F1, 12 Driver’s World Championships, 10 Constructor’s Championships and even won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, twice.

The engine’s last race would be at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1985. It is thought that this engine gave way to the insane turbocharged engines that were to follow in what would be known as ‘The Battle of The Boost’. While the insane power of these turbocharged machines is still unmatched, they did not see the same success as the DFV.

Continue scrolling to find out about the turbocharged engine that replaced the DFV


The V6 Ford-Cosworth GBA Engine

Originally, Ford’s engine designer Kieth Duckworth believed the answer was a 4 cylinder turbocharged engine when the time came to replace the DFV V8. The DFV, or Double Four Valve, began development in 1965 and after 19 years of service for several F1 teams, was looking tired and in desperate need of retirement. In 1984 Ford set about designing new engines, and, after several failures, it quickly became apparent that a 4 cylinder was not the way forward.

The Ford-Cosworth GBA V6.

Duckworth discarded the idea of a 4 cylinder and opted for a 1.5 litre 120 degree turbocharged V6. By the 1985 season, all teams in F1 had adopted turbocharged engines, a trend that’s roots can be traced back to Renault’s decision to do so in the late 70’s. Known as one of the boldest decisions ever taken in the sport, Renault chose to use it’s 1500cc turbo V6 in F1 where it would be competing against naturally aspirated 3000cc engines. The Renault engine’s success was noted and a new era was ushered in which was known as the battle of the boost.

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