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A closer look at the '69 4WD GP contenders



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Jochen Rindt


Lotus-Cosworth 63


Oulton Park


1969 International Gold Cup


The late sixties revolutionised the world in many ways and its ideals were even reflected in Grand Prix racing. The arrival of the Cosworth DFV at the time of the Paris student revolts marked F1's own emancipation as youthful, exhuberant underdog garagistes finally found a powerhorse to match their kit-car machines, enabling them to enjoy unparalleled freedom. Then, in that hippie summer of '69, came three more technical innovations, of which one was to change the face of F1 and two went belly-up within one season. The one least likely to succeed, if only judging by the flimsy and uncharismatic looks of those first aerofoils, took the sport by storm, whereas the ideas that theoretically seemed to make more sense, completely failed. We are talking about turbine engines and four wheel drive.

The latter is the theme to our picture. It shows Jochen Rindt being forced to drive the unpopular Lotus 63 through Old Hall corner at the 1969 International Gold Cup at Oulton Park. Rindt finished second, which sounds rather nice, but it actually was a very distant second a lap down on winner Brabham's Jackie Ickx in a low-on-class field in which, incidentally, Graham Hill took to the track with an F2 Lotus 59 after Andretti crashed the second 63 tub at the Nürburgring. Still, Jochen's second place was a podium finish, which marked the car's best result by far in its single season of existence.

But did it achieve the best result by a four-wheel-drive Grand Prix car ever? Well, no.

Two other performances have more right to that title: Johnny Servoz-Gavin's drive to 6th at the 1969 US GP (indeed the only occasion a 4WD F1 car ever scored Championship points - although the 4WD system was actually switched off!) would be deserving, as would be Stirling Moss winning the wet 1961 Gold Cup (yes, that race again) driving the curious Ferguson P99 - a racing project by tractor company Ferguson! Designer Claude Hill, the man responsible for the P99, was in fact the true Formula One pioneer of 4WD, building on the first experiences by Freddie Dixon and Tony Rolt just before the war. Eventually it took Ferguson too much time to get a car up and running, but still it raced eight years before four separate companies started off on the 4WD trail that became an integral part of the 1969 season.

The driving result of Harry Ferguson's Project 99 was a very interesting machine in many aspects. As a front-engined car it looked obsolete on the spot but the choice of front engine position was no incident: it was determined by the 4WD system, which needed a central engine and gearbox location hooked onto a centre diff' from which the drive was transfered onto front and rear differentials. Even more oddly, the engine was canted to the left to fit into the space frame and to minimize frontal area, while the driver's seating was slightly offset. It had a single World Championship outing at the hands of Jack Fairman and Moss, before Stirling drove it to a convincing victory in the Gold Cup. It returned to competition in the 1963 Tasman Cup, driven by Hill and Ireland, and started a new life when it was introduced to Indianapolis by the legendary Andy Granatelli of STP fame - at Indy the system looked less out of place, hailing back to an albeit marginal tradition dating back to several pre-war experiments in the thirties. In P99 guise it was tested by Fairman at the August Indy trials before it transformed into the P104 'Novi'. The Ferguson system then found its way into the Jensen FF road car.

In Europe, apart from BRM's brief flirt with 4WD - Dick Attwood banned from participating in the 1964 British GP with the four-wheel-drive P67 - the 4WD concept did not catch on in F1. In 2-litre guise the P67 proved a class act in hillclimbs, however, its superior traction giving Peter Westbury several wins. So why did it return to F1 designers' minds during 1969? Quite simply, it was for the same reason wings and turbine engines were tested: the quest for better grip.

In the late sixties the magical 150bhp/litre performance border looked set to be crossed and designers started to worry about finding solutions to transfer all that power onto the road. Traction control didn't yet cross their minds but several other interesting ideas cropped up. In theory, 4WD wasn't a bad idea. Actually, it was a great idea. By more evenly distributing torque over all four wheels there was much less wheel spin to account for, thus allowing for better traction off the line and in cornering. On top of that, the car could use equally sized tyres, reducing drag and allowing for a more uninterrupted air flow across the side of the car.

The downside of it was brought on by the lack of practicality (the more complicated the solution, the easier it breaks) and reality not being very helpful. Firstly, there weren't any wet races in 1969 for the 4WD cars to show their advantages. Secondly, the tyres (effectively four fronts) weren't up to it. Thirdly, in their embryonic stage the undeveloped systems gave the cars plenty of extra ballast (in the case of the Matra MS84 over 60kgs) in places where you didn't want it. This prompted the difficulty in finding a good weight distribution. Gradually over the season, more power was transfered to the rear wheels (especially by Lotus, and in Matra's case completely) but although this led to better balanced cars, the cars were still overweight by a large margin whereas the potential advantage of four-wheel-drive was partially or completely undone. And so the concept was abandoned.

A season before it looked ever so promising as Lotus introduced their turbine-powered 4WD 56 Indycar. It prompted Matra, McLaren and Cosworth to follow Chapman's lead and to start working on developing a 4WD F1 car for their own. The Matra was a heavily adapted 4WD version of the MS80 that helped Jackie Stewart take his first title. Derek Gardner's 4WD design used the Ferguson drive system and applied a technique it shared with all the other 4WD cars of the day: the DFV was turned back-to-front with the driver sitting just in front of the gearbox, which had front and rear diffs running fore and aft. The car debuted at the Dutch GP in June and unexpectedly scored its single point at the US GP. This was after most of the other constructors had dropped their 4WD projects. In effect, Matra had as well, as the MS84 was an overweight rear-wheel-drive car at the time JSG had his first outing in it.

Jo Marquart's McLaren M9A was a totally new design which eventually raced only once. The venue was the British GP, which saw a record number of four 4WD cars entered: Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the MS84, Derek Bell in the M9A, John Miles in the first Lotus 63 and Jo Bonnier in the second, having swapped his trusty 49 with a disconsolate Rindt, who after practice refused to have anything further to do with the wretched machine. The same applied to Bell and the M9A. Afterwards, Bell told he had taken on a huge job in driving the car… After the M9A retired due to rear suspension failure it was inconspicuously wheeled away after just the one race.

Just as the McLaren the Lotus 63 was a new design, but Maurice Philippe naturally borrowed several parts from the 56 Indycar. It had much more in common with the 64 Indycar, however. The 63 made its debut at the Dutch GP, where Hill deserted it after practice. Because both Rindt and Hill didn't like the 63, third driver John Miles was entrusted with driving the car, although Mario Andretti also had one go in it (and duly destroyed one of the two tubs). Miles got completely nowhere with the machine while ironically the time Chapman forced Rindt to drive it, at the non-points Oulton Gold Cup, the Austrian took it to second place.

An almost forgotten part of the 4WD saga was Cosworth's ill-fated attempt at designing a full GP car. Although outwardly extremely ugly, Robin Herd's design was ingeniously thought out, featuring two sponsons between the wheels, linked by a stressed sheet floor and magnesium bulkheads. The front bulkhead formed a box containing the front diff' while each sponson carried three separate bag tanks. Common with general 4WD design practice it featured a reversed magnesium-block DFV unit whereas the linking parts between the self-designed gearbox and the front and rear drives weren't the usual Ferguson concept but of a totally original design. The gearbox had a shaft drive to a centre differential on the right-hand side of the driver, in turn moving the cockpit slightly to the left. The car has had two different shapes. Here is the original shape, with a tea-tray aerofoil and an oil radiator on top of the engine. Trevor Taylor, who did most of the testing chores, is driving. Later, a smaller rear wing was fitted while the nose wedges were extended to the full width of the front tyres. In this shape the car can still be seen in the Donington F1 Museum. The car was planned to drive at the 1969 British GP (which would have increased the number of 4WD entries to a massive five) but it was silently withdrawn. When Herd left to form March, plans to redesign the car were aborted.

Two years later 4WD briefly returned to the GP scene when Chapman introduced the 56B, an F1 derivative of the 56 USAC car, powered by a gas turbine supplied by aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. In its brief existence it suffered several setbacks, throttle lag its most common problem, which hit the driver hard on road circuits.

In the end, it was the pace of development and the large sums of money involved in perfecting 4WD that nibbed the concept in the bud. Furthermore, the drivers detested it. If ever, 4WD - especially when applied with the wrong power distribution between front and rear drive - prevents a driver from steering the car on the throttle. An instinctive driver like Jochen Rindt looked awkward in his efforts to make the Lotus 63 slide through a corner. So, 4WD disappeared from the sport for over a decade before it resurfaced at Audi in 1981, when the Ingolstadt marque introduced their quattro rally car.

Since then, 4WD has formed an integral part of the World Rally Championship. Then again, the shock performances of 1998 by Philippe Bugalski's two-wheel-drive Citroën Xsara F2 on asphalt surfaces - outpacing the best 4WD WRC machines at the San Remo and Corsica events - underline the fact the technology is more suited to rough and loose surfaces. In the pre-war days 4WD would have been a godsent.

Reader's Why by Michael Ferner

Best result of a 4wd Grand Prix car?

Not quite: Same race and eight years earlier, the P99 Ferguson actually won although that was perhaps because it was driven by Stirling Moss who was anyway never beaten at this particular track!

The first 4wd racing cars of note appeared at Indianapolis in 1932, two 5.1 litre V8 Millers that both retired within minutes of the start of the race. Several more attempts were made in the thirties, but only one finish was recorded (4th in 1936).

Then, in England ex-motorcycle racer Freddie Dixon and teenage sensation Tony Rolt (who had first raced in an International Formula Libre race at the age of 18!) built a 4wd special, but WW2 ended their experiment. After the war they got support from Ferguson Research (of Ferguson tractor fame), but still it took until 1960 for a car to be built, and like the Scarab it was obsolete before it even turned a wheel because it was front-engined. When Moss took the chequered flag at Oulton Park he not only recorded the one and only 4wd GP win, but also the last for any front-engined car - quite an achievement!

Surprisingly, the P99 was put away thereafter but resurfaced at a hill-climb in 1963 (where Jo Bonnier drove it to victory) before Andy Granatelli tested it at the Speedway and commissioned Ferguson to build him a car for his famed Novi V8. While this was not exactly a success, it triggered a movement that finally swapped over the pond again. In 1969 the top 3 F1 constructors, plus Cosworth each developed 4wd GP cars, albeit to no avail.

Meanwhile, the original Ferguson had proved successful in hill-climbing, winning the 1964 RAC Hill Climb Championship and inspiring BRM to build a 4wd GP car that never raced on a circuit, but in 1968 won another Hill Climb Championship. Still, in Grands Prix 4wd led nowhere and was soon forsaken.

Three further examples were developed until 4wd was banned in 1983, the March 2-4-0 and the Williams FW07D and FW08B. Only the March ever raced, and then only in hill climbs, again. In the end, 4wd proved to be just another thoroughly expensive cul-de-sac!

The staunchest supporter of 4wd in Europe was Colin Chapman. His love affair began when he replaced Granatelli's cumbersome, home built turbine racer with his Lotus 56 in 1968. Of the five cars built, three were wrecked during the month and two ran away with the race but retired. For the following year Chapman deviced two designs, the 63 GP car and the 64 Indycar, both being failures. However, one of the surviving 56s was later modified for F1 use and ran as 56B, also without much success. That was the end of the line of 4wd Lotuses.

Incidentally, for Rindt to shine in an 4wd car has a somewhat unreal touch to it since the Austrian was above all known for his exuberant driving style and hated the 63 correspondingly. His rise to prominence had been meteoric in the sixties driving F2 Brabhams and F1 Coopers, but in GP racing he was actually out of luck until after this race. He went on to finish second and third at the following two GPs and then finally won his first, at Watkins Glen. That was the breakthrough he was longing for and ultimately led to his crushing superiority in 1970 and his tragic triumph. But, even more than that he will be remembered by enthusiasts for his incredible winning streak in F2, where he was undisputed king as long as he drove!