‘After the Tractor’ Harry Ferguson & the R5 4WD

Duncan Russell looks at the development of four wheel drive and Ferguson Research.

During the early 1950’s with demand for the TE continuing to rise, in 1953 for instance the Ferguson TE had 73% of the UK tractor market. Harry Ferguson began to look at other engineering sectors where he could have some influence and occupy his fertile mind. The court case against Ford was over and following this exhaustive period of his life it was time to move on.

For many years Harry Ferguson had been considering motor cars and how his engineering expertise and influence could benefit the average motorist. For some time he had been interested in the work of two engineers. Tony Rolt a young officer with the Rifle Brigade was involved with motor racing before the war, racing his ERA at Brooklands and Donington. The other engineer was Freddie Dixon a tuner of Riley engines of some note with a very fertile mind for off the cuff engineering. Dixon and Rolt had worked together as Dixon had prepared and tuned Roll’s ERA racing car. They formed Dixon Rolt Developments after the war and began to develop 4 WD vehicles which Rolt, using his influence demonstrated to the military. One such vehicle was named the ‘Crab’ unusual in that it steered by swinging the front and rear axles rather than turn the wheel hubs, this caused some novel handling but was also very impressive during a braking demonstration in that it would always stop in a straight line.


The ‘Crab’, Dixon and Rolt’s first attempt at a 4 WD Vehicle.

Ferguson got to know Dixon and Rolt and after some discussion decided to invest in their work and Ferguson Research was formed to look into automotive systems particularly transmissions and braking. Unfortunately the trio were not to last long as Dixon soon left due to clash of personality with Harry Ferguson.

As in the early work with tractors Ferguson’s idea was not to go into production but to develop and sell the ideas to others to incorporate in their design. Ferguson cars were built but only as prototypes to show how the ideas worked. However the automotive systems development even went as far as building engines and by the mid 50’s the transmissions incorporated a torque converter, Ferguson Research had bought the rights to the torque converter transmission from its inventor Count Teramela.

Claude Hill joined Ferguson Research from Aston Martin and it was his design which led to the development of the differential and transmission to transmit the power to all four wheels equally. He also developed a flat four engine designed to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. The engine was coupled to a torque converter and power transmitted to all four wheels and the vehicle was stopped by anti-lock brakes. Ferguson research had developed the Dunlop Maxerat system of anti lock brakes used on airlines for motor vehicle use.


Ferguson R1 the first experimental car, 4WD and flat four engine.

A total of three prototype road cars were built, two estate cars and a saloon.

Ferguson R4 Prototype

The last estate car R5/2 built in 1959 also incorporated a supercharged version of the Ferguson flat four engine giving some 150bhp from its 2.2 litres. In testing at the Motor Industry Research Authority test track near Nuneaton it often exceeded 100mph.

Ferguson R5 Estate car prototype

Harry Ferguson has always been a follower of motor racing, it was at a race meeting at Silverstone in 1958 that he said Ferguson Research were turning to motor racing to prove the worth of all wheel drive and anti-lock brakes or the Ferguson Formula as it became known, A racing car was built and designated P99.


The Ferguson P99 with Stirling Moss al the wheel, testing at British Grand Prix 1961.

The car conformed to the then current Formula I regulations. However all the forward thinking in the transmission was to no avail as the car was front engine when the rest of F1 was following the Cooper lead for rear engines. P99 was entered for the 1961 British Grand Prix by Rob Walker Racing to be driven by Jack Fairman. It was tried by Stirling Moss in practice but he considered the P99 was not developed sufficiently to be a serious contender in the race. Stirling did drive P99 in the Oulton Park Gold Cup race in 1961 where the damp conditions suited the 4wd and anti­lock brakes perfectly and Stirling won by some considerable margin. Unfortunately Harry Ferguson did not see P99 completed as he died in 1960. P99 remains the only 4wd Formula 1 car to win a race. The next person to use P99 to achieve success was Peter Westbury who won the British Hill Climb Championship in 1964. The car continues in Ferguson ownership being in the good keeping of our President Janie Sheldon who brings it out annually at the Goodwood Revival meetings to be driven by Barry ‘Whizzo’ Williams who finished 3rd in the 2009 race for 1960’s F1 cars.

From Journal 64, Spring 2010.