My diary for 1 June 1967 says I took the ferry from Dover to Ostend, attended practice for the Dutch Grand Prix on 2 and 3 June, covered the race for The Guardian sports pages on the 4th and came back Ostend to Dover at 7pm on the 5th. Craig was 5 months old and he was 50 this year. It was first outing and first win for the Ford-Cosworth DFV, the most successful engine in the entire history of motor racing.
It was a triumph for Jim Clark and a crowning achievement for Ford, which had reinvented itself as aspirational rather than bargain basement. Ford hasn’t forgotten the connection. Last weekend the Association of Scottish Motoring Writers presented the Jim Clark Memorial Trophy to George Franchitti whose sons Dario (44) and Marino (38) have achieved motor racing stardom.
Owing to his tax exile status Jim Clark was not able to take part in testing the first Lotus 49, completed during May 1967. The first time he saw it was when it was unloaded from the transporter at Zandvoort. Its basis was not unfamiliar, for it was an evolution of Chapman’s Lotus 43, the abbreviated monocoque designed for the stop-gap, complicated, overweight but cleverly conceived BRM H16 engine of 1966, which Clark had taken to its only grand prix win in America.
The Type 43 had been the first Lotus in which the engine formed a stressed portion of the car. The 49 with the Ford-Cosworth DFV was the second; slimmer and smaller than the 43, made of 18swg aluminium, it was in effect a bathtub containing the driver and 40 gallons of fuel, with the engine bolted firmly on the back. At the front a bulkhead subframe carried the pedals, the oil and water radiators and the front suspension. Everything at the rear, the wheels, gearbox, final drive and suspension hung on the engine block. In conception it was magnificent, in execution it was elegant, in accomplishment sublime.
There seemed no point expecting it to win. Getting two cars to the start of the Dutch Grand Prix was achievement enough.
Clark’s initial reaction was guarded. The engine had a great deal of power but it was not evenly distributed. “You think you’ve only got one engine, then all of a sudden you start going and you find you’ve got another engine as well.” He had not done any testing, but nobody else had done much either. Long pre-race trials were still uncommon.
There was not much time to make changes when the cars reached Zandvoort. Graham Hill had already driven chassis number 49/1 so his was effectively race-ready. Clark climbed into 49/2 with Hill’s spring-rates and damper settings. He had not even been to the factory to have a seat fitting although he did feel that this should not have been necessary. “It was a matter of packing and padding and setting the pedals and steering wheel,” he said. “After all these years, Lotus had a pretty good idea of my shape.”
On the second day of practice a hub ball-race in a rear wheel broke up and Clark, always apprehensive about reliability, refused to drive until the problem was put right. His horror of mechanical failures had grown to a point where he was becoming quite difficult with the team. It was not without cause. After eight years he had seen every sort of accident attributed to mechanical failures and was very taut.
He had never trusted new cars. Only the previous year Lotus had tried to get him into one that was too small for him. “I got back from testing at Indianapolis and tried out the Formula 1 and Formula 2 cars and found I couldn’t even get into the damn things. I was sitting with one hip higher than the other.” Lotus had built them an inch narrower in its effort to reduce frontal area but they no longer fitted the driver. Hollows had to be beaten out in every cockpit to accommodate the Clark buttocks. He had not put on weight. “They just thought, `He drove the bloody thing last year and he seemed to have plenty of room. If he didn’t complain he must have had too much, so we’ll make it an inch narrower’.”
There was no such trouble with the 49 because it had to be big enough for tall gangling Graham Hill. Clark tried the firmer springing Hill preferred at Zandvoort and typically could not make up his mind which he favoured. “Actually I don’t know,” he said after practice. “I like Graham’s springs that I had on yesterday, I think they were probably better than the ones I’ve got on now, but I want to try softer ones, go back to my own settings. I’ve put them back on for today and the car feels all right, but I think it was probably just as good on Graham’s settings.”
Clark’s first impressions of the 49, except for the hiatus over the rear hub ball-race, were of approval. It seemed quick, but he was startled by the way the engine power came in, his ‘two engines’. “You want to be able to drive occasionally at lowish rpm and pull away with a lot of torque. The DFV doesn’t have this at all. When the power comes in at 6,500rpm it does so with such a bang that the car is almost uncontrollable. You either have power or you haven’t. The throttle control is a bit basic, very stiff with no decent travel. It feels a bit odd with only a wire cable and the throttle responses are not good at all.”
This was not the customary Clark, loyal, trusting, acquiescent. He was looking for an even response all the way up the rev range and he no longer minded telling the team what he thought. The sudden rush of power at 6,500rpm led to wheelspin, “… sudden loss of grip in a corner, especially if you’re in a bit of an attitude”, (a euphemism for sliding the car through a bend) was potentially dangerous. At Zandvoort, coming on to the straight where the track was oily, when the engine reached 6,500rpm in fourth gear the back wheels began to over-speed and the car was squirming down the track with the tail wagging from side to side. “It was quite alarming, I was swinging the steering from one side to the other trying to keep the car on the road.”
The brake ratio was uneven but was cured by different pads. The wrong material had been used and braking at the front was deficient. The clutch did not work very well either, yet the car felt solid and handled well for its first outing.
The race on the sand-dunes by the coast swept by the same winds that blew over Edington Mains, his farm 400 miles across the grey North Sea, became enshrined in motor sporting folklore. Hill led from the start, Clark followed from the third row of the grid until Hill’s car coasted into the pits with broken teeth in the timing gear. Clark took the lead and won an exhilarating victory. “I would never have thought it possible,” he said. “When I drove the car first, apart from the trouble with a rear hub, I felt we could do very well. I probably still had faith in Colin. I had a lot of faith in the engine designer Keith Duckworth too, and felt that between them they could achieve a winning car. I worked with Keith’s engines for a long time in Formula Junior and gained great respect for him. I felt sure the engine had a chance of finishing. Zandvoort is not hard on the gearbox and clutch, so I thought they would stand up. After that it was down to me.”
Ford head of Public Affairs, Walter Hayes who had guaranteed Cosworth £100,000 of startup money, and Keith Duckworth could scarcely believe their good fortune. Clark won by half a minute. A Lotus 49 was on pole position for the next 11 grands prix; the car was a year ahead of the opposition. Not since the days of Mercedes-Benz in the 1950s with Moss and Fangio had a grand prix motor racing team been so overwhelming. It scarcely mattered when mechanical frailties and a certain amount of bad management robbed it of a string of successes for the rest of the season. Or so it might have seemed to any other team or any other driver.
It mattered to Jim Clark.
Newly revised edition of Jim Clark: Tribute to a Champion available now: