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The Cosworth F1 car
and the history of four-wheel-drive in motor racing



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Mike Costin


Cosworth F1 4WD




Mid July 1969, the week before the British GP


From the dawn of motor racing four-wheel drive has lived an on-and-off life as a formula for racing success.

Dotted lines can be drawn from the 1902 Spyker to Bugatti's hillclimb racers of the early thirties and Harry Miller's complex Indy racers at the end of the decade, from Robert Waddy's late-thirties twin-engined 'Fuzzi' to the cut-and-shut DB Panhard F2 prototype (consisting of two DB 500 chassis cut in half with the back ends welded together!), from the stillborn Cisitalia-Porsche 360 and Archie Butterworth's awesome Steyr V8-engined AJB Special of the early fifties to the unfinished prototype Alfa Romeo 160 and the original Mercedes W196 (the inboard brakes the only legacy of an original 'sort-of-4WD' layout), from the first pre-war Freddy Dixon/Tony Rolt enterprises to the race-winning Ferguson P99. From there it's just a small step to the BRM P67 and the veritable 4WD boom of the late sixties.

And on many occasions four-wheel drive was only part of a concept, joining hands with some other novel idea to shift the boundaries of motor racing performance. The first 4WD car, the Spyker, was also the first with a 6-cylinder engine and it was to this element of Jacobus Spijker's creation that most attention went when it was introduced at the Paris Motor Show at the end of 1904. In its months as a demonstration vehicle it gained huge amounts of publicity for the Dutch marque, and this time the 'steering-wheel drive' as it was called back then took all the headlines. The Joseph Laviolette-designed machine was certainly the center of amazement at the Crystal Palace in the spring of 1905 when its 8.6-litre engine and all-wheel traction rocketed it up nearby Anerley Rise. Even more miraculously, it also managed to climb the steps in front of the exhibition building! In 1906 the Spyker had its competition debut in the Birmingham Motor Club hillclimb. Jacobus Spijker entered it to drive it himself, and on the boat to Harwich the entire Spyker crew prayed for rain. God must have had his Dutch channel open and answered their prayers, as the Spyker won the event quite easily. On a rain-drenched day it was in fact one of the few cars to reach the top of the hill…

In the thirties four-wheel drive became an inherent part of a very curious twin-engined contraption, the awful-looking but awesome Wuzzi, a design by sprinter and hillclimber Robert Waddy. In an age in which the twin-engine concept flourished briefly Waddy was the only one to in fact match two engines with front and rear wheel drive, with the more known double-engined cars such as the Alfa Bi-Motore (with a front and rear engine), the Bugatti T45 (two front engines in a row) and the Maserati V4 and V5 (two side-by-side engines) all opting for RWD. The spaceframe Wuzzi used two air-cooled JAP engines mounted on each axle and in this lay-out it proved shatteringly quick in a straightline. That once more confirmed the theory that all-wheel drive significantly improves acceleration.

As an aside, it's ironic that the two foremost 4WD advocates of the century, Freddy Dixon and Tony Rolt, eventually got hold of the Chiron 5.8-litre Bi-Motore - the car having passed through the hands of British amateurs Austin Dobson, Peter Aitken and R.V. Wallington, with Aitken turning the car into a 'Mono-Motore'. The pair decided not to rebuild it into its old form - and perhaps even introduce all-wheel drive to the car - but instead Dixon removed the superchargers and fitted no less than eight SU carbs to make it eligible for the then Formula A. Rolt raced the Alfa-Aitken Special for quite some time.

The twin-engined, four-wheel drive concept was shortly revived in the fifties when DB Panhard mated two DB 500 rear ends, each fitted with a Panhard 750cc motor driving a pair of wheels. The project remained stillborn. The same applied to the Alfa Romeo 160 originally developed for 1954, with a 2.5-litre flat-12 engine powering all four wheels. In this awkward cigar-shaped device the driver would sit behind the rear differential, a seating position that was briefly tested by Consalvo Sanesi in an adapted 159. Also the mechanical 'traction-control' form of four-wheel drive that was intended to be part of the Mercedes W196 never materialized. In this concept a simple one-gear differential would be running to the front wheels to drive them when in first gear, in an effort to evenly distribute the Mercedes engine's raw power during starts. After it turned out that the chassis could cope admirably without this form of traction control the idea was quickly abandoned to save weight.

And then, in the sixties, four-wheel drive became a significant asset in the turbine onslaught on the Indy 500. But it wasn't the turbines that called four-wheel drive back to Indy. Four-wheel drive was there first, with the turbines proving a logical follow-up.

Four-wheel drive at Indianapolis enjoyed a first flurry before the war and shortly after, all with Harry Miller's and Miller-derived 4WD Specials - some of them ingenious, others embarrassing, but all of them outworldly, such as Lou Russo's twin-engined Fageol Twin-Coach Special of 1946 or Billy de Vore's rather daft Pat Clancy Special six-wheeler, with power going to all four rear wheels! Then, after a period of relative stability and conservatism, the technique returned to the Brickyard in 1964 - with a car none other than the Ferguson P99. Long-time Indy trier Andy Granatelli - almost the equal in vision to Harry Miller - had met Stirling Moss during one of his trips to Europe, and Moss had recounted the dominance of his wet-weather victory at Oulton Park in 1961, with the P99, in hindsight probably the best developed and thought-out 4WD racing car of all time. Granatelli did not hesitate to approach Tony Rolt at Ferguson with the proposal to try out the P99 at Indianapolis. Ferguson indeed flew out with Jack Fairman and the car, and the Englishman put in some impressive trial laps at 140mph.

Granatelli was convinced. He then effectively ordered a new Indy racer at Ferguson that was to be propelled by the powerful but unreliable Novi V8, with power transmitted through a four-speed constant-mesh gearbox. The 4WD system in use would be the same basic Ferguson FF system as used on the P99. Torque could be split variably between 70/30 and 60/40 whereas the P99 has a fixed split of 50/50. Jim McElreath was entered to drive the car for the 1964 Indy 500 but found he could not adapt to the technique of four-wheel drive. So Granatelli asked Bobby Unser to take over. Bobby soon showed McElreath the way, qualifying the car in 6th place at 154.50mph. Unfortunately his race was over on the second lap as he tried to avoid the fatal accident to Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs, clouting the wall himself.

For 1965, Unser was back for a middle third-row start, having set a qualifying speed of 157.467mph. He got up to 7th after ten laps but dropped down the order after the car developed an oil leak. If that was bad, 1966 was even worse, as Greg Weld destroyed the car during his qualifying attempt. Despite its ill fortunes four-wheel drive had left an lasting impression on the Indy congregation - just as the rear-engined 'funny cars' from Europe had just a couple of years before. And during the 1966 event one Bill Cheesebourg introduced another revolution in the back of an old ex-Offenhauser roadster: the Novi turbine. It failed to qualify because the car (the brakes, to be precise) couldn't handle the speed at the end of the straights but Granatelli didn't fail to notice that it strode away from the opposition before the corners came up.

So for 1967 four-wheel drive was back to Indy but that was not the center of attention. The Canadian Pratt & Whitney engine to the side of Parnelli Jones in the STP-Paxton Turbine car was! The two innovations combined left Parnelli a comfortable winner - if not for a transmission ball-bearing to fail within 7 laps of the finish. And so the striking "Swooshmobile" (or "Silent Sam") missed out on a spectacular debut win.

Before being banned in 1970 - USAC taking the easy way out in an attempt to effectively ban turbines - 4WD cars flourished at Indy, with Granatelli in 1968 returning with the even more sophisticated Lotus-Pratt & Whitney 56 turbine. Sadly, the car will be first and foremost connected with tragedy, as it was originally intended for Jim Clark while his replacement Mike Spence got killed when testing it. Its speed undoubted, the other examples of the car duly delivered pole and middle front row position to Joe Leonard and Graham Hill, with Art Pollard starting on row four. But again the turbines snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when Leonard's car while leading with nine laps to go broke the extension shaft in the fuel pumps, with Pollard's 56 succumbing to the same fate three laps earlier. There had been one caution period too many, and running at low speed had caused the engines to overheat, resulting in the shaft failure.

Another 1968 four-wheel drive entry was the Hewland-inspired Lola T150 entered by George Bignotti for Al Unser. The Hewland system owed much to the Ferguson concept and was equally simple, using many existing components of the Hewland transmission range. The system was developed for a Ford V8 and had Mike Hewland worrying over its reliability once he found that Bignotti was planning to put a turbo engine in the Lola. But the system held out and Al Unser put the car sixth on the grid before spinning out on lap 40.

Already in 1969 the writing was on the wall for four-wheel drive, for the USAC rulebook was hammering down on 4WD cars as a attack from the flanks on turbine technology, over which Andy Granatelli had taken USAC to court in 1968. Although pretty sneaky the USAC strategy worked to the effect that Colin Chapman and Granatelli didn't even bother to go with turbines for 1969. His 1969 campaign proved disastrous nonetheless as one of the new 4WD turbo Lotus-Ford 64s had its right rear hub fail, causing a wheel to come off and resulting in Mario Andretti hitting the wall at 150mph. Needless to say that Mario wasn't impressed, and neither were the team's other drivers, Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt, with Jochen in fact showing the same disinterest in the Lotus 64 as he would in the Grand Prix Lotus 63. With the repair parts not forthcoming Hill and Rindt were non-starters.

Eventually Andretti raced the team's spare Hawk and won the race while Parnelli Jones turned up with a Lotus 56 derivative originally built up from the left-overs of Leonard's pole-sitting car of 1968. However, Jones had to do another rebuild after a sizeable Riverside shunt, now in fact creating his own copy using bits and pieces of Hewland and Ferguson hardware. While Art Pollard retired with transmission failure - what else could one have expected? - lead driver Al Unser didn't even start the race after breaking a leg while riding a motorcycle in the paddock!

By comparison the 4WD Lolas gave the technique its biggest success, Bobby Unser putting Bignotti's Offy-powered car on the outside front row and finishing in the same place behind Andretti and Gurney. Qualifying one place behind was Mark Donohue in another T152 (finishing seventh), with Bud Tingelstad on row six in a 1968 T150 and retiring. The same car, changed to conventional rear-wheel drive and rechristened the Colt, won the 1970 and 1971 500s in Al Unser's hands.

Inspired by the success of four-wheel drive paired with turbines engines on the Indy oval, Grand Prix teams flocked to create a 4WD F1 challenger for 1969. McLaren, Lotus, Matra and even engine builders Cosworth - they all jumped on the 4WD bandwagon, as they saw it as the logical answer to the huge increase in power that the new 3-litre formula had managed to induce. But they soon found out that circuit racing is different from hillclimbing or oval racing. The cars were overweight, the tyres not up to the job and the drivers moaned endlessly of corner understeer.

Or was it that the teams never tried hard enough? Matra and Lotus were the championship contenders of 1969, with McLaren also coming on strong, and in these circumstances a race team would put considerable pressure on the developers to directly work for them instead of on some fancy 4WD project. As such, 4WD would always have been the subject of a half-hearted attempt by Matra, Lotus and McLaren, in the idle hope that their lucky shots would prove right on the mark. Instead, the weight problem was never solved, the drivers insufficiently coached to adapt their driving styles - but you try to convince racers like Jochen Rindt to drive smoothly! - and all too easily compromises were made to please the everyday wishes of the team that went racing every fortnight.

In fact, when Jim Clark was approached to test Peter Westbury's Felday-BRM in 1966 - a sportscar using the Ferguson Formula system - he wasn't totally against the idea in the way Rindt was. After a couple of laps of Brands Hatch he came in, as Alan Henry says, with a thoughtful look on his face. "Hmm, I'll have to think about this one." And that he did. Instead of abandoning the car there and then, or trying to convince the designers to change its fundamentals, he could already feel the inherent advantages while not being totally tuned into them. During the day he went about adapting his driving style to the car's cornering behaviour that felt so different from that of a RWD car. Now using his already gentle technique to precisely line up the car for cornering instead of steering the car on the throttle, his lap times fell sharply at the end of the day.

Of the 4WD Grand Prix efforts reaching the 1969 grids - or endeavouring to do so - the Cosworth F1 car was the only 4WD concept not to be developed as an aside to a successful RWD racing campaign. So why did Cosworth fail? Of course they had their DFV programme to manage, but there was never any pressure on the developers to put their weight behind another car that was winning races. As a matter of interest, the idea of a four-wheel driven car was born by the success (and not its failure) of the first car Keith Duckworth's DFV was mated with: the Lotus 49. While having put on a shattering display of dominance in its first year, beating the lights out of cars powered by the existing Repco, Weslake, BRM, Ferrari and Maserati engines, the early 49 also suffered from an amazing amount of wheelspin coming out of corners. Of course, the developmental powers of the Lotus organisation and the driving prowess of Clark and Hill soon ironed out those problems to reach an even more dominant position in 1968. But that was after Duckworth had seen enough to put him on the 4WD trail.

And then were other developments that would soon negate the advantages of four-wheel drive: wider tyres, aerofoils, to name but a few. Nevertheless Duckworth received the blessing from Ford's Walter Hayes to pursue the project and Keith set out to create the perfect machine, in the process wooing Robin Herd away from McLaren to head the design team. Duckworth himself developed a special 4WD DFV that was totally cast in magnesium, and a proprietary Cosworth gearbox containing Hewland gears.

As with every 4WD car the engine was turned through 180 degrees with the clutch facing forward. From there the gearbox side-stepped power by way of several gears to an angled bevel central differential on the right hand side of the cockpit - creating a slightly off-set driving position. From the centre diff fore and aft shafts ran across the entire length of the wheelbase. The rearward shaft went as far back as the back of the engine where a transfer box took power back to a centrally-positioned rear diff. By using the driveshaft inboard disc brakes could be employed at the front and the rear.

At first sight it was all very cleverly worked out, but as Robin Herd recalls, "It was possibly rather shallow thinking. If we'd all thought a little bit longer, then we would probably have realised that with trends going the way they were, four-wheel drive wasn't practical." The same applied to Lotus, Matra and McLaren, who all stumbled over each other to not get left behind.

But to their credit - while Cosworth had been the first ones to start, they were also the first to abandon the idea. Whereas Lotus, Matra and McLaren all ran their 4WD cars in anger during the 1969 season - with Lotus and Matra even holding out to the end of the year - Cosworth drew the line during the pre-British GP test pictured. Having entered the car for Trevor Taylor to drive in the Grand Prix the team wisely withdrew after Taylor and Mike Costin had discovered three fundamental problems during their preliminary tests. First, in an effort to redistribute weight, Herd had positioned the oil tank behind the driver's seat, which to their behinds' ever-lasting regret Costin and Taylor found extremely uncomfortable. Thus the tank was moved to the rear. So far so good. Then the front drive-shaft broke, prompting a quick redesign of the shaft. Again, problem fixed.

However, the third problem proved to be insurmountable. This was the excess understeer caused by the front differential. Especially in fast cornering the load was directed completely to the outside front wheel, causing the inside wheel to lift and, having drive, spin helplessly in the air for a matter of time. As a result the front wheels wanted to slip wider and wider instead of negotiating the corner as on rails. With suspension travel already minimized, the only option was reducing the amount of front-wheel traction - or create some sort of limited-slip differential. But that would take away the whole point of four-wheel drive on a race car!

Cosworth did try LSD, however - and despite that happy summer of 1969 we are talking about the diff here, not the magic stuff! - and they even persuaded Jackie Stewart to slip into the Cosworth for a few laps, who reported back that, "It's so heavy on the front, you turn into a corner and the whole thing starts driving you. The car tries to take you over." It was after this failure that Duckworth, Costin and Herd decided to abandon the project.

The rest carried on, with known results. The four-wheel driven Matra MS84 did score a 4WD car's only World Championship point, with Johnny Servoz-Gavin taking sixth at the 1969 US GP. After the race he made his customary complaints about the "undriveable" car, only to be embarrassed by the news that the front differential had in fact been disconnected! It sums up the view that the drivers took to four-wheel drive. They not only hated it, they were prejudiced against it. Endless tyre development and the arrival of aerodynamics did the rest.

On road cars, however, four-wheel drive - and especially the "torque-sensing" variant - is having something of a revival lately. Having introduced the torque sensing ("Torsen") technique to its quattro road car and giving it an upbringing in a rally environment during the early 80s Audi sparked off a trend that would transform rallying, and would inspire Subaru to ditch their remaining FWD and RWD cars to create a whole new 'All-Wheel Drive' niche for themselves. Remaining one of the few to hang on to permanent mechanical four-wheel drive Subaru sets itself apart from the arrival of electronic semi-permanent 4WD systems on the increasingly popular SUVs and SAVs - some of them fairly simple, like VAG's and Volvo's Haldex systems (that would allow 4WD purists to claim that a car like the Volvo V70 Cross-Country is strictly nothing but a "poser's car"), others extremely clever, like the new Porsche 'Allrad' system and the witchcraft on BMW's X5, combining four-wheel traction with goodies like traction control, ESP, Dynamic Vehicle Stability and Hill Descending Stability, all of which is contributing to a completely variable torque split and thus maximum drive and grip in any circumstance.

In 1969 four-wheel drive was undoubtedly a bridge too far - with not enough effort and thought put into it, and with parallel developments such as the wide rear tyre and aerodynamics negating its potential advantages. But in an age where even radio-controlled Grand Prix engines are no longer the absurdity they would be seen as being only a couple of years ago, what chance of these hyper advanced 4WD systems like that on the Porsche and BMW SUVs being a success in modern tech-dominated F1? All hypothetically speaking of course…