Historic Racing Register

F1 WORLD CHAMPION 1959, 1960, 1966

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It seems nobody has written a book on the complete history of the Hewland gearbox despite the fact that it is a critical component of racing cars from the late 1950’s to the 1980’s.This lies in complete contrast  to the numerous shelves of books providing even the smallest details on most racing engines ,marques and courses.

However, what technical data that survives is sourced from magazine articles especially from the English magazines including Autosport and Motor Sport. Never-the-less an Authoritive book on Hewland gearboxes would be very helpful to restorers of historic racing cars and especially members of eligibility committees.

The trustworthy author, Doug Nye, did write the Hewland Gearbox story for Autosport magazine in 1968 and covers the technical details of the development of the transaxle from its origins in 1959. This newsletter item is a summary of that and I thank VHRR, member Ken Zinner for assisting with the research.

Mike Hewland ran a small engineering business at Maidenhead in the UK and his range of specialties was gear cutting. By chance, the head of a racing team (UDT) running Cooper F2 cars, Bob Gibson-Jarvie, sought some help from Hewland as significant gearbox trouble was being experienced. The results of this request were two-fold with six successful gearboxes being designed and built in 1959 and Hewland finding himself in the gearbox business.

It is interesting to note that at this time the Citroen box in the Cooper Climaxs in Australia were also giving trouble as it was designed to “pull” the car along and in this configuration was used to “push” the car along with reverse stress loads splitting the alloy case. Bill Paterson attmpted to solve the problem by employing extended external bolts and Austin Miller disgarded the Citroen boxes and used the VW based Porsche 356 box with great success.

Meanwhile, Eric Broadley of Lola Cars was impressed and commissioned Hewland to build a gearbox for his new rear-engined Formula Junior cars. This was the first Hewland transaxle being VW based and 12 were made during 1960-61. The VW box was well made in a cast magnesium and with it’s strength and lightness was chosen over the Renault and Citroen. Known as the Mark 1, the VW bearing carriers , selector rods, differential, crownwheel and pinion were retained however straight cut gears and a removable cap-end allowing a quick interchange of gears were introduced. Of course, it went into rear engined racing cars upside down and was strong enough to service the tranformation from “pusher” to “puller.”  

The story continues in 1961, a year that saw the introduction of the 1500cc capacity for formula 1 and the rapidly growing popularity of 1100cc Formula Junior. With the resulting reduction in top speeds designed as a safety measure, the engineers were concerned in managing the vast torque of the high revving small engines. Consideration was also given to lowering the centre of gravity of the cars as a way of increasing cornering speeds which is where the races would be won.

Mike Hewland was in a most advantageous position because the inverted VW gearbox had the output shafts above the input shaft from the clutch thus already providing the lowest center of gravity.  He captured the torque of the engines with his Mk 2 (1961) and the Mk 3 (1962) boxes with 5 gears and enhancements which included a design clear-up and a reduction in weight of 10lbs.

Under pressure from chassis designers who found the rear selector rod increasingly difficult to accommodate in future slim-line cars, the Hewland team formulated the Mk 4(1963) with 5 forward speeds, a Ford Consul differential and a forward facing selector rod on the right hand side. As a result, drivers found gear changes more positive and mechanics found ratio changes much easier. This model found universal acceptance and established the brand.

Two additional models followed in 1964 with the release of the Mk 5 for the high torque Cosworth Ford engine and the Mk 6  (4 Speed) for Formula 3 (1000cc) and used later on Formula Ford cars. By this time, nearly 900 units were racing on circuits world wide. 

Coming back a little, in 1958 Cooper cars were showing their potential to challenge Vanwall, BRM and the Continental marques with their increased reliability. Jack Brabham had visited the ERSA factory in Paris where Citroen housings were made and advocated strengthening measures to the casting. Jack was also concerned with lowering the centre of gravity of Coopers as his experience was telling him that cornering speed would be critical to lap times. The Citroen box could not be used upside down and the input shaft sat  well above the output drive shafts making a negative issue. To solve this complexity, he cabled Ron Taurenac in Sydney and the reply was prompt, “Jack, you have forgotten your speedway days, use a spur gear.” So, working with Jack Knight (hence the name Ersa Knight) Jack extended the bell-housing to contain a shaft from the clutch with a spur- gear linkage  to the input shaft thus lifting the gearbox against the engine and allowing the whole engine-transmission assembly to sit lower in the car. The 1959 World Championship followed.

As was stated at the beginning of this article, there is no single definitive history of the development of the Hewland gearbox and the reports in the various magazines from the MK VI onwards become a little confusing.

By 1965, Formula One had gone to a 3 Litre engine capacity and the use of V8’s required stronger gearboxes with internal oil pumps to ensure adequate lubrication and temperature control. Designs based on the VW were now superseded and Mike Hewland developed his own case with these concepts. Given the name LG500 (because it was a large gearbox) it was aimed to accommodate the American 5000cc engines and the first 4 speed example was used by Eric Broadley in the  Lola T70.

The contemporary report from Doug Nye indicates that the Australian Paul Hawkins (the same bloke that terrorised South Melbourne in his Austin Healey) persuaded Hewland to invest in the production of LG’s and an initial 30 were made to cover pattern and tooling costs. Hawkin’s vision of the Formula 5000 was correct and nearly 500 of these units were sold, with the design offering an alternative 5 speed model.  

The Nye story then introduces another Australian who needed stronger transmissions for his F1 cars. He commenced with the 5 speed version of

the MK IV (nominated the HD for “Hewland Design”) but soon found its limitations and commissioned a new and heavier model for his BT19. This of course was Jack Brabham in 1966 and the box was designated DG because somebody leaned over Mike Hewland’s shoulder at the drawing board and commented “ That’s a different gearbox.” The initials stuck!  However, there is a report that the initials came from Dan Gurney who incorporated this model into his eagles.

In this same year, the Mark 7 was created as an adaption of the MK 4 with 6 speeds for the 1000cc Formula 2 class. New customers for the DG included Cooper,BRM and McLaren for their F1 cars and a big demand developed in America for the Can–Am and Indianapolis series.

With 67 employees and numerous sub-contractors, the Hewland Company by 1968 was bigger and more successful than Mike had ever expected. Two additional models (the FT 200 for F2 and the FG 5 speed for F1) were added to the range, but production was aimed at filling orders for the 3 and 5 litre cars.

Today, Hewland Engineering Limited has annual sales of seven million pounds and makes a wide selection of transmissions including the Mk8/9 which replaced the famous MK4. Updated manuals are available for all models. Mike Hewland is still alive and is widely regarded as “the father of motor racing transmissions.” The company’s interesting website is

                                                             - Written by Roger James



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