Cosworth DFV V8 - F1's winningest engine

By: Mark Higgins, Photography by: Getty Images, Ford

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Of all the V8 engines in the world, whether road car or race car, one stands above them all

In 2021 the F1 Dutch Grand Prix returned to the famous Zandvoort track for the first time since 1985. Long before that, one of the most significant chapters in F1 history occured at this seaside circuit on June 4, 1967.

Sitting behind the heads of Jim Clark and Graham Hill nestling neatly in the beautiful green and yellow Lotus 49s was an all new engine about to take Formula One by storm.

The engine was the Ford-Cosworth 3.0 litre V8 DFV (Double Four Valve) that both parties were hoping would be at least reliable in its first race, the Dutch Grand Prix.


Jim Clark taking the Cosworth to a debut win. Zandvoort 1967

But they got much, much more with Hill claiming pole position and Clark taking a stunning debut win for the engine.

From that moment on the Ford-funded engine was the dominant force in Formula One from 1967 to 1991, bagging 155 wins from 262 starts and several World Championships. The engine was the brainchild of Cosworth Engineering, which was formed in 1958 by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (COStin and DuckWORTH), both former employees of Lotus.

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Keith Duckworth and the DFV

After the success of a Cosworth developed 16-valve 1600cc Ford Formula 2 engine, Lotus Chairman and Founder Colin Chapman convinced Ford to bankroll the development of a three-litre, eight-cylinder F1 engine. In return, Lotus would have exclusive use of the engine in 1967.

The Ford-Cosworth DFV was born for the grand total of GBP£100,000 (A $190,000).

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DFV poweing Brabham's last win

Cast from aluminium for lightness, the Ford-Cosworth DFV was extremely rigid and Chapman designed the Lotus 49 so the engine and rear suspension bolted directly to the chassis.

After Zandvoort, Clark and the Lotus 49 won another three GP’s during the 11-round season but couldn’t stop Denny Hulme being crowned World Drivers Champion, becoming the only Kiwi to win the title and giving the Brabham team back-to-back Drivers and Constructors titles.

But the performance of the Cosworth sent an ominous warning to all teams.


Cosworth powered Tyrell. The DFV was the default engine for most F1 teams

1968 saw significant changes to the F1 landscape. Sponsorship was allowed and the Ford-Cosworth DFV was made available to any team that wanted to buy it, for A$14,200 with Ford keen to get a return on its investment.

The twelve-round 1968 World Championship commenced January 1st in South Africa and the mastery of Clark and the Ford-Cosworth powered Lotus 49 took pole position and the chequered flag, followed home by teammate Graham Hill. It was the perfect start to the year.

But triumph turned to tragedy on April 7 with the world mourning the death of Jim Clark, killed in a soaking wet F2 race at Hockenheim, Germany.


Current Formula One garages are light years from where cars were prepped back in the 1970s

The Lotus team was devastated, with team boss Colin Chapman quoted at the time "He’d lost his best friend". Graham Hill pulled the grieving team together not only winning the Spanish Grand Prix but also the World Championship which he immediately dedicated to Clark.

Ford-Cosworth powered cars won all but one Grand Prix that year and finished 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in both the 1968 Drivers and Constructors Championships.

It was now obvious to everyone. If you want to win in F1 you had to have a Ford-Cosworth.

The following year cemented that, with every Grand Prix won by a Ford-Cosworth sweeping Jackie Stewart to his first of three Drivers crowns.


The domination of the Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 in Grand Prix racing continued unabated through the ‘70s and quite often the entire field, bar Ferrari was powered by the venerable Cossie.

Its incredible run of success included the drivers title in 1970, 71,72,73,74,76 and 78. The Cosworth also triumphed in the Constructors championship in 71,72,73 and 78. Ferrari rained on the Ford-Cosworth party with three titles; Niki Lauda 1975 & 77 and Jody Scheckter in 1979.

1980 saw Alan Jones being crowned world champion, driving his Williams FW07 to the constructors title as well.


Alan Jones won his 1980 F1 crown driving a DFV powered Williams

Entering its fourteenth season the Cossie was still going strong taking Nelson Piquet’s Brabham to the title in ’81 just pipping Jones.

For the 1982 season Cosworth introduced the DFY; an evolution of the DFV but with a shorter stroke and 520 horsepower at 11,000rpm to combat the invasion of turbo engines. Williams mounted Keke Rosberg won the ’82 crown despite winning just a single race, the Swiss GP held at Dijon in France.

But the Ford-Cosworth was struggling to compete against the turbos, which by now had discovered reliability to accompany their immense power.


The Ford Cosworth in the Lotus 49 on its debut in the 1967 Dutch GP, which it won, driven by Jim Clark

The Ford-Cosworth DFVs final hurrah transpired in 1983, fittingly at the US GP, held on the streets of Detroit in the shadow of Ford’s global HQ. Michele Alboreto won the race in a Tyrrell, the last for the Ford-Cosworth and as it turned out, for Tyrrell as well. Nelson Piquet won the world title, driving for Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham BMW team, giving a turbo car its first ever title, and like in 1967, it heralded the dawning of a new era.

The V8 scream of the Ford-Cosworth returned to the tracks from 1986 to 1992 powering the newly created Formula 3000 and despite a 9,000rpm rev limit, still produced 500 horsepower, almost on par with the 1983 DFY unit in Alboreto’s Tyrrell.

When Formula One adopted a 3500cc limit Ford-Cosworth re-entered F1 with its final ever DFV based engine. Known as the DFR, its scored a pair of second places by Jean Alesi driving a Tyrrell in 1990, before finally bowing out of F1 at the end of the 1991 season at the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.


Ford-Cosworth DFV variants started shortly after its 1967 debut.

In 1968 a 2.5-litre version, named the DFW was created specifically for the Tasman series, run in New Zealand and Australia over eight consecutive weekends in January and February. Jim Clark claimed the 1968 Tasman Series driving a Lotus 49T (T for Tasman Series), also winning the 33rd Australian Grand Prix at Sandown, beating Ferrari’s Chris Amon to the flag by one tenth of a second.

The Cosworth has also enjoyed multiple Indycar and Indy 500 titles and proving its reliability, the Ford-Cosworth DFV won the LeMans 24 hour twice outright with Mirage and Rondeau while another derivative, the DFL won the C2 class at LeMans on five occasions.


Although not related, in Australia the Ford-Cosworth name is synonymous with the fire-cracker Ford Sierra RS Cosworth (see this issue) that ruled Group A touring cars, forcing Holden hero Peter Brock to switch camps and race one. And who could forget the Mercedes 190E 2.5 Cosworth, which was not only a successful racer, but like the road-going version of the Sierra RS Cosworth, a highly sought collector car today.

But the Ford-Cosworth partnership will be remembered for the 3.0-litre V8 DFV: the engine that revolutionised grand prix racing and in 1980 gave Australia its second Formula One World Champion, Alan Jones.


Ford-Cosworth engined cars launched the F1 careers of Australian racers Frank Gardner and Paul Hawkins who both drove Brabham BT10’s in the 1964 and ’65 championships respectively.


Gardner started in nine Grands Prix and eight Tasman Series championships while making a name for himself in F5000’s, winning the European championship and especially touring cars, winning three British Touring car crowns before returning home to win the 1977 Australian Sport Sedan Championship in the Chev Corvair and heading the JPS BMW team.

Melbourne-born Hawkins, nicknamed ‘Hawkeye’ was the son of a motorcycle racer turned-church minister, was a three-time GP starter, famously crashing into the Monaco harbour in the 1965 GP.


While his Lotus sank to the bottom, he swam to shore. Hawkins starred in sportscars, winning the 1967 Targa Florio, the 1968 Monza 1000km in a Ford GT40, came second in the Watkins Glen 6-hour and two thirds with Jacky Ickx at the Nuburgring 1000km.

Sadly, Hawkins was killed age 31 at Oulton Park when his Lola T70 GT crashed and burned during the 1969 RAC Trophy race.


Cosworth had a go at designing its own Formula One car in 1969. It was penned by former Concorde design engineer Robin Herd who later set up March Engineering Racing cars with Max Mosely.


It was four-wheel drive and powered by a magnesium-cast version of the DFV engine that Duckworth developed for this car.

Like all 4WD’s the engine was turned 180 degrees with the clutch facing forward and connected to an angled centre diff on the right-hand side of the cockpit, forcing an offset driving position. Shafts running the length of the wheelbase fore and aft ran from the centre diff and inboard disc brakes were employed.

It proved to be a bit of a dog in the handling department with bags of understeer and the weight transfer lifting the inside wheel when cornering. Jackie Stewart was persuaded to drive it and said it "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 planned to debut at the 1969 British GP but was quietly withdrawn and the project shelved.


The original Ford-Ford-Cosworth DFV engine was fitted with Lucas mechanical fuel injection and produced just on 400 horsepower at 9000rpm, which equates to 133 horsepower per litre, running on pump fuel. By the end of its development, the DFV was belting out nearly twice the power.

Prior to the 1980s turbo era, for many seasons the Ford-Cosworth DFV coupled to a Hewland gearbox became the default for F1 teams, except Ferrari and most teams simply built their own design chassis, to accommodate the combo.

The DFV engine also introduced the ‘supersquare’ or ‘oversquare’ cylinder that was wider than it was higher.


Four valves per cylinder were operated by double overhead camshafts and while many thought so at the time, the DFV wasn’t uncommon from previous engines, it simply took advantage of the potential of four valves per cylinder, rather than just two for optimum breathing and burning efficiency.

A secret to its success was its aluminum construction, meaning it was very light, delivering a better power to weight ratio than the 12-cylinder engines it was competing against. Its other benefit was its rigidity, allowing it to be made a structural part of the car.


Another key to the DFV was its compact packaging, which while common in F1 these days was unheard of in 1967. This in turn helps designers produce a more compact and in turn, nimbler handling car.

A career spanning 24 years, 155 grand prix wins, powering two Australians to F1 world titles a decade apart and still going strong in historic F1 racing. Ford sure got more than bargained for with the Ford-Cosworth DFV.



155 race wins from 262 starts (1967-1985)

Engine: Aluminium 2993cc DOHC, 32-valve 90-degree V8 with direct fuel injection
Power: 304kW @ 9000rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 7000rpm
Weight: 168kg
Price: When new A$14,200


From Unique Cars #463, March 2022


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