ENGINES: COVENTRY CLIMAX LTD.
Name: Coventry Climax Ltd.
Established in 1903 by former Daimler engineer Pulham Lee to design engines for small car companies and for specialist applications, Coventry Climax first became well known for supplying motors for the tractor used by Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition in 1914. After World War I the company began supplying engines for small car companies such as Clyno and in the 1930s expanded to include Triumph, Morgan and Standard. The economic problems of the 1930s hit the business hard and Leonard Lee, who had taken over from his father, diversified into the production of water-pumping equipment for fire brigades.
After World War II the Ministry of Defence changed its requirements for fire-pumps, demanding a faster flow and lighter weight. In 1950 Leonard Lee hired Jaguar engine designer Walter Hassan to design a new pump and he produced the 1020cc Feather Weight engine, known as the FW. The engine was displayed at the Motor Show in London and attracted attention from the motor racing fraternity. Lee concluded that success in competition would lead to more customers for the company and so Hassan designed the FWA, a feather weight engine for automobiles. The first Coventry Climax racing engine appeared at the 1954 Le Mans 24 Hours in the back of a Kieft chassis but this failed to finish the event. The engine became popular in sportscar racing and was followed by a Mark II and then by an FWB which had a capacity of nearly 1.5-liters. The new Formula 2 regulations suited the 1.5-liter engine and it quickly became the engine to have in F2. The following year the first Climax engines began to appear in Formula 1 in the back of Cooper chassis. Initially these were FWBs but the FPF engine followed. Stirling Moss scored the company's first Formula 1 victory in Argentina in 1958, using a 1.9-liter version of the engine. In general terms, however, the engines were not powerful enough to compete with the 2.5-liter machinery and it was not until the 2.5-liter version of the FPF arrived in 1959 that Jack Brabham was able to win the World Championship in a Cooper-Climax. At the same time the company produced the FWE engine for the Lotus Elite and this enjoyed considerable success in sportscar racing, with a series of class wins at Le Mans in the early 1960s.
In 1961 there was a new 1.5-liter formula and the FPF engine was given a new lease of life, although the company began work on a V8 engine, designated the FWMW, and this began winning races in 1962 with Jim Clark. There would be a total of 22 Grand Prix victories before 1966 when the new 3-liter formula was introduced.
At the start of that year Coventry Climax embarked on a V16 engine but it was not a success and eventually the company announced its withdrawal from F1. The company passed on its old engines to Bob King's Racing Preparations in Wembley and Climax engines continued to appear in 1967 although the arrival of the Cosworth DFV marked the end of Climax's F1 history.
Coventry Climax had been taken over by Jaguar Cars in 1963 but in 1968 Jaguar became part of British Leyland and Coventry Climax became part of the Special Products Division, building engines for fork lift trucks and for military uses, notably the Chieftain tank. In 1986, Coventry Climax was put into receivership. The factory in Coventry was closed and the engine contracts were passed on to Horstman Defence Systems.