Walter Hayes. The man with the vision.
David Tremayne
May 2017
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It falls to few journalists to change the history of a sport, but without question Walter Hayes did just that when in 1965 he persuaded Ford Motor Company that it should finance the creation of a new F1 engine.

The fruits of Cosworth’s labour, and of Hayes/Ford’s prescient investment, was the Ford Cosworth DFV V8 engine. It appeared at the Dutch GP in 1967, won first time out in the back of Jimmy Clark’s new Lotus 49, and didn’t stop winning until it had clocked 155 successes. No other engine in F1’s history has ever approached such levels of success.

“That engine was literally done by Keith Duckworth, and he designed all the test rigs for it, too,” Hayes recalled in 1997. “And he allowed me to spend £100,000 in instalments… I think we should recognise it as a kind of foundation point in our life when we in a sense established this country – in an international fashion, not a silly flag waving fashion – as the place where you go to have motor racing cars and engines made.”

Speaking at an event at Donington Park to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the DFV’s maiden success, Jackie Stewart said: “It is great, 30 years on, to think that everyone has fond memories of a day I would rather forget! I was driving for BRM and I was not at all well placed on the grid and I was not at all well placed at the finish, but it was surely the day that history and the motor industry will well recall. One of the most profound occasions, when a man called Jim Clark, driving a car called a Lotus, with an engine called a Ford, won. Ford, in Formula One…?”

The Cosworth DFV arrived at a time when the British manufacturers desperately needed a new proprietary engine, following the withdrawal at the end of 1965 of Coventry Climax as the customers’ favourite engine supplier. And it changed everything overnight. In one imperious stroke it redefined F1’s parameters, and bequeathed a dramatic legacy to British motorsport.

Hayes was born on April 12 1924 in Harrow. His father was a printer, and Walter gradually established a career in journalism, doing a variety of reporting jobs until he became associate editor of the Daily Mail. In 1956, at the tender age of 32, he was appointed editor of the Sunday Dispatch.

Five years later he joined Ford Motor Company as director of public affairs, and part of his brief was to put some sparkle into what the public at that time perceived as dull, workmanlike products. The Ford management at that time was used to having the working man buying its products, for that was their image. But now this young man was suggesting that Ford should challenge Ferrari for the Le Mans sportscar race, and put money into Grand Prix motor racing. Few were blessed with his vision.

It says everything for Hayes’ powers of persuasion that Ford did go to Le Mans, where it would win four times between 1966 and 1969, and did spend that famous £100,000 on Duckworth’s jewel. No money was ever better spent in motorsport, either from the point of view of those who raced the engine, or from Ford when it came to return on investment. Its famous blue oval was to be found on every one of the DFV’s 155 GP victories, and the powerplant would also win at Le Mans and Indianapolis.

Hayes had the foresight to put Stewart under contract to the company in 1964, where he joined the great Jim Clark, and in 1968 underwrote the Scot’s salary to ensure that he joined Ken Tyrrell’s nascent F1 enterprise instead of going to Ferrari.

It is not surprising that he rose at DFV-like speed through the ranks at Ford. A man very much given to deep thought before action, he was elevated to the position of vice-president of Ford of Europe, and became vice-chairman in 1976. In 1980 he was made a vice-president of the American parent company. Henry Ford’s grandson, Henry II, liked him, not just for his intelligence and wit, but also because he could think fast. In 1975 Ford faced a drink driving charge; Hayes’ sound advice was to fall back on Benjamin Disraeli’s tactic as he faced the media. “Never complain, never explain.”

Hayes received a CBE in 1982 for services to the motor industry, retired in 1989, but was called back to direct Aston Martin after Ford had acquired it. The idea was that he would wind things up, but instead he injected new life in to the company and introduced its saviour, the Jaguar-derived DB7. He retired for good in 1994, but was in demand all over for his after dinner speaking. To the end he was a thinker first, then a man of considered but decisive action. Stuart Turner, who had followed his footsteps in leaving journalism for an industry role, called him a giant of the game, “a man who had an unconventional approach, yet an outstandingly mature man.”

Stewart said of him: “He was always a gentleman of great dignity and style, and had this tremendous peripheral vision. He was involved in many prestigious charities and trusts, about which he rarely spoke, and besides being a great writer was probably the greatest public relations officer that the motor industry has ever had.” Arguably, the Ford-Cosworth DFV was the greatest race engine in history. Fittingly, the name of Walter Leopold Arthur Hayes, who died on December 26, 2000, will forever be linked to it.