9/1/2000 | 5 MINUTE READ

Cosworth: The Two Companies

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It's a name that to many is the epitome of motorsport engineering.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

It's a name that to many is the epitome of motorsport engineering. Its very roots stem from the fact that it was founded by a couple of young engineers who wanted to modify standard engines for race cars. Later on, its logo on a car—usually a Ford—adorned the model with instant street cred—it was a must-have machine for boy racers and car thieves alike. That was until 1998 when it all became rather confusing... 

Assembling the RS4 engine
Assembling the RS4 engine for the Audi Avant quattro at Cosworth Technology.

When you visit St James Mill Road in Northampton, about 60 miles north of London, you are confronted by an array of buildings that proudly boast the Cosworth Racing banner. Drive a little further down the road, though, and you come to one that is not adorned with the bright red and blue sign writing but one that is in two shades of grey announcing Cosworth Technology. They may live cheek by jowl, but the twain do not meet as Cosworth Racing and Cosworth Technology are now quite separate businesses owned by different companies.

Although "Cosworth" is regarded in the motorsport world as rather a blue-chip engineering company, it has had something of a chequered history as far as ownership is concerned. After being established in 1958 by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth—thankfully opting for "Cosworth" as an amalgam of their family names rather than the Tinduck alternative—the company soon made a name for itself in motor racing. It really hit the headlines, though, in 1967, when Jim Clark won the Dutch Grand Prix in a Lotus powered by a Cosworth DFV engine. What was so sensational about this result was that it was the first Formula One engine produced by the company and it won on its first outing.

From that time on, the company never really looked back.

However, Cosworth did not put all its eggs just into the motor racing basket. In 1979, for example, the company built its first foundry. In 1983 it began supplying Mercedes-Benz with cylinder heads for a high-performance road car, and a year later it set up a new engine plant for low-volume production.

During this time, though, the company itself had been through a variety of ownerships. In 1980 it was taken over by United Engineering Industries, which, in turn, was taken over by Carlton Communications eight years later. In 1990 the Cosworth part was sold to Vickers, the British engineering group that also had Rolls-Royce Motors in its portfolio at that time, which kept it for eight years. In 1998, though, came the most fundamental change, when Vickers sold Cosworth to Audi.

At the time, this caused enormous surprise. Cosworth had had such a long and successful relationship with Ford, especially on the motorsport side, that many, even within Ford itself, believed it to be part of the company. In acquiring Cosworth, Audi effectively had Ford's motorsport life in its hands. It was there-fore with some relief in Dearborn that the German company sold the racing side to Ford in 1999.

The glamour boys may have been sold off to the blue oval, but the key engineering facilities remained with Cosworth Technology, as the rump was renamed, or "CT," as it now likes to be known. These included the HQ building and the engine and powertrain design and development center in Northampton, including the engine test cells, the two foundries in Worcester, some 50 miles to the west of Northampton and the limited-run low-volume engine plant at Wellingborough some dozen miles away. Audi also acquired the company formerly known as Intelligent Controls Inc of Novi, Michigan, now known as the Vehicle Information and Diagnostic Systems center.

One of CT's unique selling points is its patented aluminum castings process. In 1978 the company invested a great deal of money in setting up a subsidiary company, Cosworth Research and Development, to develop a new casting process and provide a facility for the casting of performance engine components. As many past attempts to produce aluminum castings by reducing the growth of flaws in the mould had failed, Cosworth successfully developed a process whereby the flaws in the mould were eliminated. This resulted in castings of outstanding integrity, substantially porosity-free and with excellent mechanical properties being produced with exceptional dimensional accuracy and stability.

The process calls for the metal to be heated in a large covered vat so that impurities can sink to the bottom. A special electromagnetic pump forces the aluminum into a mould that is then sealed and rotated until the metal has cooled. As the mould is made from zircon sand, it means that tighter tolerances are allowed in the cast parts so that the smallest channels for engine cooling and lubrication can therefore remain "as cast," avoiding the need for later machining and so reducing machining times and costs.

Among the components currently cast in this way are the heads of Audi's V6 engine and the blocks and heads for Aston Martin's 6.0-litre V12 that nestles under the hood of the DB7 Vantage. These are then delivered to the engine plant in Wellingborough where the V12 motors and transmissions are assembled ready for delivery to the Aston Martin plant. The Audi V6 heads, though, have a longer journey to make before they are complete.

The newly launched limited edition RS4 Avant quattro is the most powerful production car in the Audi range powered by a 2.7-litre twin-turbocharged V6 pumping out 380 bhp. As befits such a high-performance machine, every one of the 4,000 engines that will be made in the 12-month production run will be a bespoke item. After being cast in Worcester, they are sent to the Györ plant in Hungary for machining, they are then returned to the UK for assembling in Wellingborough before making their way to Neckarsulm in Germany where they join the car. From an initial output of 25 engines a day, daily output is scheduled to have increased to 35 by the time the 4,000th one comes off the line next April.

The racing heritage may have been sold off, but as far as Audi is concerned, it has retained the real jewel in the crown: Cosworth's proven ability in designing and building high-performance engines for the road.