YOUR favorite racecars – 1. Eagle Gurney-Weslake MK1

YOUR favorite racecars – 1. Eagle Gurney-Weslake MK1

Formula 1

YOUR favorite racecars – 1. Eagle Gurney-Weslake MK1

Back in January, we ran a story about favorite racecars and asked RACER.com readers to select their top five. Your votes flooded in and, in the end, we had more than 400 different racecars to consider… but 10 clear favorites emerged.

Many of you had found it tricky to narrow your favorites down to just five, yet some of you had a clear No. 1 and no others. And, like ours, many of your selections were ones that fulfilled multiple criteria from a personal point of view – aesthetic beauty, period when you were first becoming addicted to racing, success, livery, piloted by your heroes. We understand, completely!

Your favorite racecars #10: Porsche 956/962

Your favorite racecars #9: Chaparral 2K

Your favorite racecars #8: Lotus 49

Your favorite racecars #7: Lola T70

Your favorite racecars #6: Ford GT40

Your favorite racecars #5: Porsche 917K

Your favorite racecars #4: Ferrari 330 P3/P4

Your favorite racecars #3: Lotus 38

Your favorite racecars #2: Lotus 79

1. Eagle Gurney-Weslake MK1

A car that can still make men weak at the knees, the Eagle-Weslake MK1 was the beauty queen of the 1967 Grand Prix season – the last year in which Formula 1 cars were untainted by wings (although a few chin spoilers could be spotted by year’s end, notably on the Brabhams). There is a school of thought – emphatically not followed by this author or any RACER writer – that pre-1970 F1 cars or Indy cars appear naked without downforce-producing devices, incomplete when so much of the rear end is exposed or like cigar tubes. “They’re all the same except for colorschemes,” is an accusation that recurs with monotonous regularity down the generations in F1, and is now actually true in IndyCar.

We can only hope such critics make an exception for the Eagle MK1 which could never be accused of looking commonplace. That predator beak, those fabulous tailpipes, the midnight blue and white stripe livery…Heck, even its six-spoke wheels (unique and self-built) are gorgeous and distinctive.

Formula 1’s switch from 1.5 to 3-liter engines for 1966 presented Dan Gurney and the fledgling All American Racers an opportunity to go grand prix racing in a relatively cost effective way. The key to it was that a similarity in dimensions between the ’66 F1 units and the 255 cu.in. (4.2-liter) Ford V8s Gurney would use in Indy cars allowed one basic chassis design to be tweaked for both types of racing, the main difference being the heavier-gauge aluminum specified for the Indy car monocoque. Gurney explained to his primary backer, Goodyear, the logic of doubling up in this manner, and the men in Akron, Ohio, gave the project the go-ahead.

In early ’65, designer Len Terry was released by Lotus to start work on what would be the Eagle MK1 in F1 and MK2 in Indy car racing. In May, he watched one of his last Lotus designs, the Ford-powered 38, win the Indy 500 with Jimmy Clark at the wheel. Not surprisingly, the Eagle drew much from Terry’s Lotus 38 but the duality of its design meant compromises for both versions: the Indy car didn’t have the offset suspension used by the Lotus, while the original F1 car was slightly bigger and heavier than it could have been if designed as a standalone.

Still, its overall looks were stunning, taking the grace and simplicity of the Lotus 38 concept to a new level. The final touch was the “eagle beak” radiator duct, a design cue suggested by Dan The Man. Very elegant, very American, very Gurney.

BELOW: In the second episode of RACER’s exclusive video series, Dan Gurney: All American Racer, presented by Bell, Dan tells Robin Miller about taking the Eagle into F1 and talks of Nurburgring and Spa-Francorchamps, the two most daunting tracks on the grand prix schedule at that time.

Built in Santa Ana, Calif., but run “in the field” from a UK base in Rye, East Sussex, the MK1 made its debut in the 1966 Belgian GP (LEFT – that’s Len Terry with Dan), powered by a 2.7-liter Coventry Climax four-cylinder engine. It was classified seventh. At Reims, the following race, it finished fifth, albeit three laps behind race-winner Jack Brabham who thus became the first driver/constructor to win a Formula 1 grand prix.

At Brands Hatch and Zandvoort (BELOW), tracks with enough twists for Gurney to exploit his considerable driving skills and the decent torque of the big four-cylinder Climax, he qualified third and fourth, respectively, but both races ended in mechanical DNFs, and when an electrical issue halted him at the Nurburgring, it was obvious that here was a car and driver in desperate need of more power…. It would arrive at the next grand prix, in the form of the Weslake V12 that Gurney had commissioned a year earlier.

 


When Formula 1’s engine capacity was increased from 1.5 to 3 liters for the 1966 season, the scramble was on for car constructors to find a suitable engine partner. Brabham was ready with his Oldsmobile-based Repco V8s, Ferrari thought it was ready, and Lotus had a deal with Ford and Cosworth in the works for ’67 but in the mean time would have to make do with a 2-liter Climax and BRMs of the V8 and H16 variety.

And Gurney? Well, he had worked with Rye, UK-based Harry Weslake on a project to develop new cylinder heads for his Ford V8-powered sports cars, but asking Weslake’s small engineering company to build an F1-spec V12 from scratch seemed a bridge too far to outside observers. Yet Dan recognized some of his own “can-do” spirit in Harry, and knew that the company’s research into high-speed combustion was creating some stellar power-to-capacity figures, and so in 1965, Weslake had set to work on a 3-liter V12.

The four-valve 60-degree-vee engine’s first two races, at Monza (RIGHT) and Watkins Glen in ’66, were troubled. Its extremely compact dimensions added to the svelte look of the Eagle MK1 chassis, but oil-scavenging problems and overheating blunted those early performances, so Gurney reverted to the Climax engine in Mexico, finishing fifth, while Bob Bondurant drove the Weslake-engined Eagle to a DNF after a fuel system failure.

The oil scavenging issues never were fully resolved, and resulted in the car losing around 30hp after the opening few laps of any given race. What Weslake was able to work on, however, was making the horsepower’s starting point higher. Whereas in Monza ’66, the V12 was pushing out 365hp, by the time it was reintroduced for the 1967 season, at the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in March (TOP), those Weslakes had 410hp. Gurney and teammate Richie Ginther started and finished first and third in Heat 1, took first and second in Heat 2, and Gurney held on ahead of Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari to clinch the Final.

Yet the car in which Dan won the RoC was not the same one he used to clinch the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix two months later. Ever-ambitious, always on the hunt for “the next step,” he decided to pare the weight of the Eagle, and so the fourth and final MK1 chassis, 104, replaced aluminum monocoque skin with magnesium, steel suspension with titanium, and even its AAR-fabricated titanium exhausts saved another 20lbs. There were safety hazards to all this, of course, given magnesium’s readiness to burn – Dan even jokingly called the car a Ronson – but power-to-weight ratio was improved considerably. His Race of Champions winner, chassis 102, had weighed 1,309lbs, whereas 104 was down to 1,150.

No. 104 made its debut at Zandvoort and Gurney qualified second, but that old bugaboo fuel pressure caused a DNF. However, the car’s light weight and inherently sound aerodynamics helped produce a 196mph top speed at Spa, and Gurney split the Lotus 49s of Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill on the grid. Come the race, despite a 20sec mid-race pit stop to cure the usual problem, Gurney was there when Clark and Jackie Stewart suffered mechanical issues, and he set the fastest race average of all time, 145.988mph, and reset Spa’s lap record at 3min31.9sec.


It would be great to record that this win (ABOVE, Dan flanked by Stewart and Chris Amon) opened the floodgates for AAR. A summer of battles between Clark and Gurney, operating from two separate teams, would have been magic. But while the new Lotus 49’s reliability record was poor, the Eagle’s was lamentable, despite Bruce McLaren – another great engineer/driver – being brought on board to drive a second car (LEFT). A fuel leak (Dan) and ignition problems (Bruce) took the Eagles out of the French Grand Prix after qualifying third and fifth. There were more mechanical DNFs at Silverstone. And Dan’s retirement at the Nurburgring was particularly cruel as he was 42sec ahead of his closest rival when a halfshaft failed. Finally, at the inaugural Canadian Grand Prix, something good happened for him, and he finished third behind the Brabhams.

Back to Monza, a year on from the Weslake’s debut, Dan and temporary teammate Ludovico Scarfiotti were both out with engine failure after five laps. At The Glen it was suspension failure, in Mexico a holed radiator… The saddest thing about all this was that the Eagle qualified top five at almost every race; it was one of the best cars out there. Yet there were too many mechanical maladies, usually engine-related. Meanwhile Lotus tended to have the opposite problem; car frailties but a reasonably reliable Cosworth engine. In 1968, things got harder for Eagle, for more cars were DFV-powered and, being unique, the Eagle was an expensive AAR’s funds were dwindling. Before season’s end, Gurney was driving a McLaren M7A.

While frustration reigned on that side of the Atlantic, Dan, now 37, was seeing his Eagles soar in IndyCar. Roger McCluskey (RIGHT, pictured at Indy) had driven an Eagle to victory at Langhorne in ’66 and since then, the marque’s wins and momentum had built rapidly throughout ’67 and ’68. If Gurney was spreading himself and his dollars too thin, it was probably wise to wind down the European campaign, both as constructor and driver. He sorrowfully subbed for Bruce McLaren at three Grands Prix (and in Can-Am races) in 1970 when his former teammate, friend and fellow constructor/driver was killed, but that was the end of European racing for Daniel Sexton Gurney.

I confess that every time I think of Gurney in Formula 1, it bugs the hell out of me that he didn’t stay on at Brabham at the end of ’65. Bearing in mind he was quicker than the proprietor, who in turn was quicker than Hulme, it’s easy to extrapolate to where Dan wins the Formula 1 World Championship in ’66 and ’67. I’ve always hated reflecting on truly great driving talent going to waste, or not being reflected in the results, and Gurney’s right up there with Chris Amon and Gilles Villeneuve in the pantheon of great drivers to whom F1 stat books do no justice.

But on the other hand, half of me says that if Dan had stayed at Brabham and not entered All American Racers into Formula 1, he wouldn’t be Dan…and we wouldn’t have the stunning Eagle MK1 to gaze on adoringly. Your votes reflected the fact that Mr. Gurney took the right decision for the sake of many generations of racing fans worldwide.

Some of your comments…

Steve Daniels: “A seminal shape. The color, the striping, the beak, all those exhaust pipes, and the dreams of a nation, fulfilled.”

Bill Bailey: “From the most-perfect nose of the pre-wing era to the hand-crafted titanium exhausts (none of the tubes in contact with each other!) this car is quite literally the best machine American hands could make. Driven by an underrated master to just one win, its beauty was etched indelibly into racing history that wonderful June of 1967 (just a week after Gurney won Le Mans, to boot!).”

Camilla Lemstrom: “Too many reasons as to why this car is awesome. One of them is?Dan – another one is the story behind this machine. And the looks for sure.”

Jim Hatfield: “A car pure in line, blue and white color scheme an American classic, and a 12-cylinder engine a beauty in its own rght.  Doesn’t hurt it was driven by my second favorite driver, Gurney.”

Scott Walschlager: “One sight of this car evokes the pure excitement and danger of racing in his era of F1.”

Tom Hale: “American cars in Formula 1 are rarer than hens’ teeth! The most outstanding has to be the 1967 Eagle. Phil Remington and crew were master fabricators. I wish I could have made the aquaintance of Mr. Remington. Oh the stories he could have told. One wish I have is to meet Dan Gurney. Someone please write a book about this man soon! What a car, what a giant in racing history.”

David Tremayne: “Was any ‘conventional’ mid-Sixties F1 car quite so gorgeous, from its elegant beak to its understated colour scheme, smart wheels and exquisite engine detailing? Way to go Dan, Len Terry and Harry Weslake!”

Peter Robilio: “An American car built by an American who took on the giants at Spa and won.”

Terry Malone: “As one of the people that built and worked on the car at AAR 1966-1976, I’m of course a little bit biased.”

Philippe de Lespinay: “Big Dan and Len Terry outdid Terry’s Lotus 38 design with absolutely the best-looking post-War grand prix car ever built. While the British-built engine gave trouble, its Pete Wilkins-built titanium exhaust system is the prettiest of any racing car ever.”

 

 

 

 

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