1961 Ferguson Climax P99

1961 Ferguson Climax P99 1961 Ferguson Climax P99 1961 Ferguson Climax P99
Chassis #: P99-01
Sold for $648,948 (£410,000) at 2010 RM Auctions - Automobiles of London.
To win a race, an advantage is needed. If that advantage proves to be very successful, chances are it will be immediately banned to keep the playing field level. If this theory holds true, then the Ferguson Climax P99 four-wheel-drive F1 racing car was a victim of its own success and ingenuity.

Harry Ferguson was the first man to build and fly his own airplane in the British Isles. He later invented and patented the three-point linkage and draft-control systems used worldwide on tractors. After World War II, he won an estimated $9 million for patent infringement by Ford on the 8N tractor. Ferguson would use this new-found wealth to bankroll a company to build four-wheel-drive cars in England. A number of prototypes were built, and were met with little sales success as the industry was still in a post-war funk and few were willing to take a chance on the new technology.

So Ferguson, along with racers Freddie Dixon and Tony Rolt, decided to build a Grand Prix car to showcase the four-wheel-drive's potential. Claude Hill from Aston Martin was hired to design the space-frame chassis. A 2.5-liter engine was intended to fit under the bonnet and power the car. Unfortunately the rules changed and Formula 1 was restricted to 1.5-liters, which meant the extra weight of the four-wheel-drive system would be a handicap. But since it rains a lot in London, the team still felt they would have an advantage. A new series was soon established, the Inter/Continental series (which allowed the 2.5-liter engines), and the Ferguson was built to accommodate both Climax motors.

The work to build this new F1 racing car took less than a year to complete. Dixon had calculated that the differentials, bearings, gears and other drivetrain parts could be lighter if the energy was dispersed to four wheels rather than two. Ferguson's central differential system - which would later become the setup used by Peugeot and later Audi to earn them rally success in the 1980s - could balance out the delivery of that power to the wheels. Another ingenious technology was the Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock brake system, which would later be used by the mainstream automotive community three decades later.

Sadly, Ferguson passed away before his dream car could take to the track. Rolt took over the dream and passion for the project, seeing it through to completion.

When Cooper and Lotus began using mid-engine cars in the early 1960s, the hopes for a strong finish with the P99 seemed highly unlikely. The mid-engine setup had transformed the Formula One world, making the front-engined cars nearly obsolete.

The inaugural racing debut for the P99 was at the 1961 British Empire Trophy at Silverstone, and Jack Fairman drove the car in Rob Walker's team colours of dark blue and white. After mechanical problems, the P99 was retired prematurely from the race. The cars next outing was at Aintree in the British Grand Prix. Rob Walker entered the P99 for Jack Fairman and a Lotus 18 for Stirling Moss. When the Lotus broke, Moss took over the P99. He was black-flagged after a push-start, so his rapid progress through the field came to nought.

In September of 1961, Moss and the P99 competed in the Oulton Park Gold Cup. The weather was cooperating with the strengths of the vehicle - it was 57 degrees and there was a steady drizzle resulting in a wet track. As the checkered flag fell, it was Moss who crossed the finish line first, followed by Jack Brabham 46 seconds later. This would be the only Grand Prix ever won by a four-wheel-drive car. After the race, Formula 1 promptly banned four-wheel-drive. Moss had the option of using the Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock brakes but preferred to turn them off and use his own judgment. This technology would re-appear in 1967 on the Jensen FF.

The next race for the Ferguson P99 was in 1963 in Australia. By now, it was powered by 2.5-liter engine and raced in the hands of World Champion Graham Hill. The car finished 6th in the Australian Grand Prix and 2nd at the Lakeside International. The car returned to England and was lent to hillclimb racer Peter Westbury, who won the 1964 British championship with it. It also ran competitively in 1965 and 1966 and was retired in 1968.

Matra, Lotus and McLaren all tried the Ferguson system, while Cosworth devised their own. The new technology for 1969 was wings, which proved that it was possible to achieve the same traction without the weight penalty. In total, only eight four-wheel-drive F1 cars were built.

The Fergusson P99 spent over 35 years in the Donington Collection. In 2004, it was recovered to the Ferguson Family Museum on the Isle of Wight and overhauled. The work to the car was extensive; it was completely stripped and was found to be in remarkably good order. It was meticulously re-assembled using all of the original parts, including the twin-choke Weber 58 carburetors. The bodywork was re-fitted and it still wears the original Rob Walker team paint and livery.

In 2005, Sir Stirling Moss drove it at the Goodwood revival and at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix in 2008. In 2006, Barry 'Whizzo' Williams drove it at Goodwood.

The P99 is currently powered by a 2495cc DOHC Coventry Climax four-cylinder engine offering 243 horsepower. There is a five-speed transmission and four-wheel Dunlop hydraulic disc brakes.

In 2010, the vehicle was offered for sale at the Automobiles of London sale presented by RM Auctions. It was estimated to sell for $735,000 - $890,000. As bidding came to a close, the car had been sold for the sum of $410,000, inclusive of buyer's premium.

By Daniel Vaughan | May 2011

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