‘Traction for Sale’, Ferguson R5 4WD

Traction for Sale Mike Thorne

Tim Hanson, your editor, suggested that I write a review of this handsome new publication written by Bill Munro and Patricia Turner. Traction for Sale is the story of Harry Ferguson and his team in their development of permanent 4WD drive systems for road vehicles, this included their own prototypes and the conversions to 4WD of some mass produced cars and vans. Also embraced in this story are the developments they pioneered in racing cars: this was the era of Harry Ferguson Research (H.FR.) later to become Formula Ferguson Developments Ltd. (FFD) and eventually Ricardo FFD. Harry Ferguson’s interest in producing a ‘Safer Car for the Masses’ dates back before the merger with Massey Harris but unfortunately he did not live quite long enough to see the success of his 4WD Racing Car. Following his death in October 1960 the business was headed up by H.F’s son-in-law, Tony Sheldon with the able assistance of Tony Rolt (former Team Jaguar Racing Driver).

It cannot be over­emphasised that it was Tony Rolt who was the driving force in all this experimental work, right from the early days of Dixon-Rolt Develop­ments, the HFR era and well on into the days of Formula Ferguson De­velopments Ltd., which was in fact Rolt’s own company, with no direct business connection with the Ferguson Family Trust.

This book had a long gestation period. Bill Munro first became interested when, during his research into Jeeps in 1998, he contacted Ricardo FFD (formerly FF Developments) and met one of their long time engineers, Will Turner, whose wife, Patricia, had previously written an unpublished history of Harry Ferguson Research. It was suggested that Bill should make use of this and so the seeds were sown.

‘R5′ OWK 21 was the last Ferguson research car to be built before the company changed direction and began to adapt the technology to fit other makers’ cars.

I jumped at this opportunity to write a review as I have a strong interest in all H.Fs pioneering work not only his developed of the Ferguson System but the work he and his team became involved with, later in his life, to engineer safer road cars with the inclusion of 4WD and anti­locking braking systems.

This hardback book runs to 350 pages, profusely illustrated with archive photo­graphs and line drawings. It is clear that Bill has done much in-depth and wide ranging research and the manner in which he has presented this is evidence of his fascination with the subject and dare I say addictiori. I have found this book compulsive reading.

‘R3C’ is the third generation research car, pictured with Major Tony Rolt in the garden of Harry Ferguson’s home at Abbottswood, Gloucestershire.

The book is very detailed and I feel I can give you a flavour of this with the follow­ing bullet points taken from the back cover:-

  • In a story spanning seven decades, Traction for Sale tells of the efforts made to bring Ferguson full time four wheel drive to the mass market.
  • The Story of Harry Ferguson Research Ltd in developing the Ferguson Formula of All-wheel Control.
  • Full story of the Ferguson research cars.
  • The story of F.F. Developments, the comp­any founded by Tony Rolt to take the tech­nology forward when the estate of Harry Ferguson ceased to fund any further research.

Details of:-

  • Leading production cars: The Jensen FF, AMC Eagle and the Ford Sierra XR 4X4
  • Converted cars: The Ford Mustangs, Ford Zephyr MK4 and Capri, the Schuler Super Ranger and Opel Monza and Senator.
  • Formula One cars: The Ferguson Climax P99, BRM P67, Matra MS84 and Lotus 56B.-
  • Indianapolis cars: The Novi-Ferguson cars, the Paxton Turbocar and the Lotus 56.
  • Peter Westbury’s: Felday 4 and Felday 5 sports racers.
  • Group B rally cars: Peugeot 205T16, Lancia Delta S4, Ford RS200 and MG Metro 6R4.
  • Other vehicles that either made it into full production or never got beyond the planning stage.
  • Non four wheel drive work carried out by H.F.R. and transmissions contracts fulfilled by FF Developments.

To summarize I feel this book is a ‘must have’ for anyone who is stimulated by pioneering engineering concepts and is also another insght into H.F’s versatility. There was much more to him than just the ‘Little Grey Tractor’. When this work started, 4WD was generally confined to military and off-road vehicles. The philosophy behind all this development work was to engineer a safer road car for everyone. Today, of course, 4WD is almost common place.

The forward to Bill’s book is written by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, his concluding paragraph is, in my opinion, spot on. ‘This is a great story, told in the kind of detail that will appeal to all of those who appreciate inventive engineering’.

Here is a link to Bill Munro’s website with details of how to buy copies of the book (and others) at preferential rates…..

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© Mike Thorne, First published in the Ferguson Club Journal, Issue 93, Winter 2019/20