For most motor racing enthusiasts the Ford DFV F1 engine remains one of the true icons of history. Designed on a tiny budget to keep Colin Chapman happy the brainchild of Cosworth came to dominate F! Racing in the sixties and seventies and really gave birth to the kit car era.

How to go F1 racing in 1971? First design your tub – this was really the only bit that required brainpower and skill. The go out and buy a load of braking components, suspension parts and a Hewland gearbox. Having designed a body that should look good – remember if it looks good it probably is good – all that was needed was a trusty DFV at £7500 each.

Cars like this – the Lotus and Tyrell cars being the best examples – won countless Grands Prix and World Championship titles and outside of Ferrari (and occasionally Matra) the DFV powered the entire grid.

In today’s historic racing a DFV engines F1 car remains the pinnacle and definitely represents one of the boxes that needs to be ticked at some stage. So when I had the opportunity to change my faithful Elva Mk7S for a pukka F1 car in 2006 it simply had to be done. Enter the 1971/2 Surtees TS9B as driven by Derek Bell, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood and Andrea De Adamich. Even though I have owned the car since last year it was not until last week that I had the chance to try the car in anger at the official test day organised by The Masters Series.

Off to Donington Park then for a full day under the supervision of Rob Hall (Hall and Hall of course) and his team. Because the car was based on the TS8 I was happy that fitting would not be a problem. What I needed was instructions on how to manage such an engine. Rob soon gave me the instructions about keeping the revs up, being easy on the gearbox and treating the car like the thoroughbred it really is before he set off himself in the first session to make sure it was safe for an idiot like me to drive.

It may look like the F5000 car but that’s as far as it goes. Once I had mastered the slightly demanding method of starting off – remember they don’t really idle – I set off very gingerly. Immediately a few things were obvious. First the car feels very light and precise – like a very powerful go kart compared to the F5000. This car demands precision both in handling and definitely the gearing. My engine has sports cams and therefore pulls very well from low revs but even allowing for that the right gear is required for the corner. Blipping the throttle on the down change was the next shock.

Just the slightest touch on the throttle will shoot up the revs to an excessive level such that the car then pushes forward into the corner. It requires just the gentlest of touches each time to get enough revs – no more than that. Then the gearbox – this also requires the lightest of touches. Change gears with your hand and not the whole arm is the best description.

With finance in mind I stayed low on the revs all day – never above 9250 to be honest – and gradually began to learn this wonderful machine. By the end of the day I had taken seven seconds off my time and was only starting to explore the handling of the car. On first sight it is the most difficult car I have ever driven. However by the end of the day I could see light at the end of the tunnel. Guess what? DFV it may be and all that but it still does all the things most racing cars do – just better and a bit quicker. It demands more of the driver than anything else but I am sure will return the effort once I get the hang of it with more seat time. I cannot wait for the Masters Race day back at Donington in May. Box ticked? Not even by half!


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