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 the FIA (the governing body of much of auto racing, including F1) hiked the maximum engine capacity for Formula 1 cars from 1.5 to 3 litres. This dramatic increase in size allowed for a dramatic increase in performance. Lotus founder, Colin Chapman was eager to utilise this larger displacement limit for use in his Team Lotus racing cars.

At the time, the Lotus’ engines were supplied by Coventry Climax. However, Coventry Climax were not interested in developing a new, bigger engine. This meant Chapman would have to look elsewhere for his new means of power.

He headed to the London based, now famous automotive engineering firm – Cosworth. At this time Cosworth was still in its infancy but the co-founders Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (who’s surnames were combined 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.

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

In 1966, Chapman, Costin and Duckworth, attempted to persuade the Ford Motor Company to provide £100,000 in funding for the engine, but Ford denied the request. After speaking with Aston Martin who also declined the request, Chapman spoke with Walter Hayes, Ford of Britain’s chief of public relations and a friend of Chapman’s to assist them. With Hayes’ help and connections and Ford Detroit’s approval, Ford of Britain agreed to provide the £100,000 funding to Cosworth to produce two engines. These were to be a 1.6 litre straight four engine for Formula Two, and a 3 litre V8 for Formula One.

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 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. On its debut, the engine produced 370 Nm of torque at 7,000rpm and 408bhp at 9,000rpm.

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

The DFV was to debut in the Lotus 49 which was designed around the engine. The V8 was cast completely from aluminium and was so tough, Chapman was able to delete the whole rear sub-frame, opting to bolt the rear suspension directly to the engine. This made the Cosworth powered car extraordinarily lightweight. This idea of using the engine as a structural component has featured in almost all F1 cars since.

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

In 1967, Cosworth and Lotus were ready to show what the engine and car could do. The debut race is a story in of itself. Graham Hill was specifically requested to drive the car on its first race, taking a strong lead until issues with the camshaft system forced him to retire early from the race. His team mate, the legendary Jim Clark in the exact same car then continued Hill’s lead, and brought home the gold. While claiming the win, serious issues with the camshaft assembly were highlighted.

Lotus 49 on its debut race.

Lotus would enjoy trampling on the competition in races with this engine. However, it wouldn’t stay that way forever. After discussions between Walter Hayes and Ford it was decided that even though originally the engine was to be used by Lotus only, Ford had seen the potential of dominating the entire of F1 with this engine and wanted to sell it to other teams. It was therefore informed to Chapman in late 1967 that the engine would be on sale to any racing team in the sport. This change put a stop to Lotus’s monopoly, but as any team now had access to a powerful, competitive engine, it ushered in whats described as 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. Racing teams big and small were buying the engine, often 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 incredible power of these turbocharged machines is still unmatched by even today’s F1 cars, they did not see the same success as the DFV. The DFV V8 enjoyed universal use in the sport, winning race after race, and would cement Ford and Cosworth as major players in race engine design.


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