The Father of the DFV
January 26th 2001
David Tremayne
courtesy and copyright of

Boxing Day last year saw the passing of a man to whom British motorsport owes a deep debt. While looking at the fabulous achievements of the Ford Cosworth DFV engine that he inspired, here is also an insight into what made Walter Hayes such an influential player.

A lot of journalists like to think they could tell team owners how to run their organizations. But Walter Hayes really could. Men of the calibre of Colin Chapman and Ken Tyrrell were all too happy to listen to his erudite suggestions.

It falls to few journalists to change the history of a sport, but without question Hayes did when he persuaded Ford Motor Company that it should finance the creation of a new F1 powerplant.

Think about that now. It would be the equivalent, perhaps, of Piers Morgan, the oft-beleaguered editor of the British national newspaper the Daily Mirror, being summoned into the employ of Vauxhall and somehow getting the company to stump up £10m to fund a new 835bhp V10 designed by a pair of guys plying their trade in F3000 engine preparation.

Yet when Hayes succeeded in gaining access to £100,000 of his employer’s moolah to put the way of engine designers Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin, the course of British motor racing was changed.

The fruits of Cosworth’s labour, and of Hayes/Ford’s clever 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.’

It’s always easy with the benefit of hindsight to look back on things and discern an indelible and inevitable pattern that was nothing like so apparent at the time. In 1997 a group of people gathered at Donington Park to commemorate the might DFV’s 30th anniversary. Jackie Stewart said a few words, as is his custom, and paid his own tribute to the engine that propelled him to all of his three world titles while also making champions of Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Mario Andretti, Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg, not to mention Lotus, Matra, Tyrell, McLaren and Williams. It was also the engine that made winners of other teams such as Hesketh, March, Penske, Shadow and Wolf.

‘It is great, 30 years on, to think that everyone has fond memories of a day I would rather forget!’ he began. ‘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…?’

Today the alliteration comes so naturally, even if Ford has willingly gifted its F1 association Jaguar, that its easy to overlook just what an impact Clark’s success had back then, not just on motor racing, but on the industry. How much Ford’s bold decision to link with Cosworth did to strengthen the British stranglehold on F1. It was a huge step forward for Lotus, Ford and Cosworth, and also for racing’s standing within the motor industry.

The Cosworth DFV came at a time when the British Maufacturers desperately needed a new proprietary engine, following the withdrawal at the end of 1965 of Coventry Climax as the customers’ favourite engine supplier. In 1966, the first year of the new 3-litre F1, only one of the British-based teams was well placed, and that was Brabham. Jack had a deal to run the Oldsmobile-derived single-cam V8 Repco engine in his lightweight cars, whereas Lotus struggled initially with the underpowered 2-litre version of the Climax V8, and latterly with the hideously complex and overweight behemoth from BRM, the H16. Lotus did better with the engine than BRM itself, which isn’t saying much, while the sportscar Maserati V12s that Cooper used were feeble and unreliable. The Honda was overweight too, and Ferrari had a power deficit. Dan Gurney’s Eagle Weslake was beautiful, powerful and sleek, but often unreliable.

The DFV changed everything overnight. It was triumph of design that in one imperious stroke redefined F1’s parameters, and bequeathed a dramatic legacy to British motorsport. All of a sudden aspiring owners, such as Ken Tyrrell, could once again put an F1 team together around the engine which was not just the best but which, crucially, was available commercially to anyone. It paved the way for teams such as Williams to gain their first footholds on the mountain.

And yet it was not initially Ford’s plan to sell the unit. In 1967 Lotus had an exclusive on it, but suddenly it occurred to the ever-shrewd Hayes that the sword could cut two ways. While Ford suddenly had an engine capable of winning everything, if it literally did that without opposition, the Ford name could quickly become tarnished. Hayes soon suggested to Colin Chapman that it might be a good idea if they offered it for sale to others, to prevent that.

Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if Mercedes-Benz suggested something similar today to McLaren…

Incredibly, Chapman quite meekly complied with Hayes’ wish, and thus the pair of them further influenced history.

The DFV’s derivatives last raced in F1 in the early Nineties, before privateer teams gained access to its replacement, the 1989 HB. Hayes himself died on December 26th 2000, in the London Independent Hospital.

He had been born on April 12th 76 years earlier in Harrow, the son of a printer. Gradually he established himself 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 now long-departed Sunday Dispatch.

Five years later came the call to Ford. He joined 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 situation can be imagined. Ford management at that time was used to having the working man buying its products, for that was their image. But here was this young man, 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 and Costin’s jewel. No money was ever better spent in motor sport. Ford’s famous blue oval was somewhere to be found on every one of the DFV’s 155 GP victories, and the powerplant itself would also win at Le Mans, and at Indianapolis.

It is not surprising that Hayes 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 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.’

Jackie 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.’

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

Arguably, the DFV was the greatest race engine in history. Fittingly, the name of Walter Leopold Arthur Hayes will forever be linked to it.