Walter Hayes 1926-2000
David Burgess-Wise
January 10th 2001
courtesy and copyright of Autocar

Ford’s Driving Force. We pay tribute to Walter Hayes, the man behind the Aston Martin DB7, Ford’s GT40 and the Cosworth engine that transformed F1

 In his years as Ford’s most senior public affairs executive, Walter Hayes, who died on Boxing Day aged 74, was the confidant of Henry Ford II and privy to many of the state secrets of the corporation.

He was also the moving spirit behind many of Ford’s most inspired ventures, particularly its decision to back the production of the Cosworth DFV grand prix engine which saved Formula 1 racing from slipping into the doldrums.

He also played a key role in the development of the Ford GT40 and Aston Martin DB7. And right to the end, Walter Hayes remained a journalist at heart, editing Aston, the magazine of the Aston Martin Heritage Trust he had done so much to set up.

He began his career in Fleet Street and became editor of the Sunday Dispatch in 1956, aged 32. Though he had no motoring background, Hayes instinctively realised there was a need for “a new type of motoring column” and he employed a young sports car manufacturer named Colin Chapman to write it. He later remarked: “I’d paid Colin Chapman so much money as a journalist that I sometimes think I started Lotus!”

In 1959, Hayes joined the Daily Mail but walked out in in 1961. Then, out of the blue, came a phone call from Sir Patrick Hennessey, the chairman of Ford Britain. Hayes had been recommended to Hennessey, anxious to revive the flagging public image of Ford, by his wartime colleague Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Mail.

Hayes recalled of his meeting with Sir Patrick: “I’d never ben in a factory before: I was just enchanted.” Hayes’s first launch was the Cortina, which would become Ford’s first million-seller, though Hayes recognised that the car, as launched, was lacking in excitement.

The first move was to develop the Cortina GT, with a special performance camshaft designed by Keith Duckworth of Cosworth. Hayes said: “The GT was an enormous success and went on to have a most extraordinary career. But its very success presented its own challenge, and a ‘super GT’ was obviously needed because the competitors were beginning to nibble at us.”

Hayes called in his old friend Chapman, who had already developed an ingenious 105bhp dohc conversion for the 1500cc Ford Classic engine.

Meanwhile, Cosworth had developed a 1558cc version of the Lotus-Ford unit for racing in the important 1600cc class. Lotus fitted this engine to special Cortina bodyshells and, despite its vulnerable A-frame rear suspension, he Lotus-Cortina became a motorsport legend.

When Ford Advanced Vehicles was formed in 1964 to develop the GT40, Hayes was appointed as director. “I promptly cancelled my summer holiday so that I could be in at the beginning,” he recalled. The GT40 programme, which created another motorsport legend, ended with four successive Le Mans victories to Ford’s credit. By this time Hayes had met Henry Ford II and travelled extensively with the man whose name was on the building.

Mr Ford increasingly came to rely on Hayes’s plain-spoken advice. “Walter Hayes filled the role of court jester,” former Chrysler boss Bob Lutz once told me, “because he dared to say the unsayable to the King.”

The prime example of Hayes’s wisdom came in leading Ford down previously untrodden paths came in 1965, after Coventry Climax announced that it wouldn’t be a grand prix engine to meet the new 3.0-litre F1 regulations for 1966.

Over dinner at Chapman’s home, Hayes conceded that he had been considering stepping up Ford’s involvement in motorsport and even considered building a GP engine in-house. His avowed aim was “to continue to sustain the domination of British equips in the highest form of motorsport” and persuaded both Ford’s extrovert engineering vice-president Harley Copp and the company’s policy committee under Henry Ford II to put £100,000 to enable Cosworth to develop new engines for Formula 1 and Formula 2. Initially only available to Team Lotus for its new Type 49 GP car, the new Ford-Cosworth DFV engine caused an instant sensation when it won first time out, with Jim Clark taking an easy victory in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

The rest, as they say, is history. Every GP team wanted to use the new engine, which was its first world championship in 1968. It went on to win a record 155 F1 races and bring an end to the long reign of the Offenhauser engine at Indianapolis.

It’s arguable that without Hayes’s intervention, grand prix racing could have gone into terminal decline in the late ‘60s. Instead, as his son Richard commented last week: “Once the DFV’s abilities had been made clear, he made Colin Chapman share it with other teams. This enabled any team to put together a car that could potentially win a grand prix.

“Ken Tyrrell told me last summer that if Father had not made this decision there would not be so many UK-based Formula 1 teams today, and there would not be such a big motorsport supplier industry.”

Hayes became vice=president of public affairs for Ford of Europe in 1968, and vice-chairman- a job created especially for him- in 1976. He moved to Dearborn as vice-president in 1980, the same year he was appointed CBE, and returned to Britain in 1984 to become Ford of Europe’s vice-chairman again.

Three years later, Hayes persuaded Henry Ford II to acquire Aston Martin Lagonda. Hayes became AML chairman in 1991 after retiring from Ford, and remained in the post until 1994. He was made life president of Aston Martin Lagonda afrter the death of Sir David Brown.

Hayes’s own DB4 was one of the cars used as inspiration in the creation of the DB7, an ambitious project which he masterminded.

He remarked: “I used to joke that on my 70th Birthday, 12 April ’94, I would drive the first DB7 off the line and disappear into the distance. However, that proved not to be possible because launching a new car and a new engine and a new factory simultaneously has always been a major problem for companies large and small.

“But the car did come off the line on 1 June, so we only missed the target by six weeks, and that was quite remarkable!”