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Friday
Aug122016

A Gathering of Eagles

By William G. Sawyer, Editor at Large

Karissa Hosek © Courtesy of RM Sotheby’sFew, if any, individuals have contributed as much to modern American racing as Dan Gurney. A veritable Renaissance man, he made his mark as a driver, constructor, team owner, and businessman. The grandson of a ball-bearing magnate and son of an opera singer, Gurney possesses an irrepressible creative spark evident in the mechanical innovations he championed, and the business associations he fostered. Although he’s best known as an F1 driver, it was his impact on Indianapolis that underlines his greatness. A key figure in the rear-engine revolution, Gurney brought Lotus and Ford to the Brickyard, and later — with the help of Carroll Shelby — persuaded Goodyear to finance his entry into race car construction with All American Racers (AAR). These moves ushered in advances in chassis and tire design that created unprecedented increases in lap speeds and fan interest. Later, Gurney wrote the White Paper that led to the creation of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) at a time when the old guard at USAC struggled to leave Roadster era business practices behind. Unlike those who followed — both at CART and Tony George’s Indy Racing League — Gurney, more than any other racer, always acted in the best interest of the sport. That it allowed him to create a thriving company is all the better. Not surprisingly, we can’t resist the opportunity to add an Eagle to the Virtual Collection. The only question is: Which one will it be?

1966 AAR Eagle Indianapolis Chassis #201

Karissa Hosek © Courtesy of RM Sotheby’sThe very first Eagle Indy Car, this design, along with its F-1 cousin, started the AAR legend. Designed by Len Terry, it borrowed heavily from the Lotus 38 Terry created for Colin Chapman. It was 50 lb. heavier than the Formula 1 version because USAC, Indy racing’s sanctioning body, required the monocoque be made of 16-gauge aluminum instead of the 18-gauge used on the F1 car. The 255 cubic inch quad cam Ford V-8 was not used as a stressed member.

Fittingly Gurney took the wheel of this chassis, the first Indy Eagle ever built, at Indianapolis in 1966. However, clutch problems on the first day of qualifying hampered his pole position dreams. Forced to qualify on the second day, he started the race in 19th spot where fate put him in the midst of a race-halting mid-field pile up that ripped a front corner off the car, and ending his race well before the first turn.

The following year Formula One phenomenon Jochen Rindt piloted #201, now powered by a Gurney-Weslake Ford stock block engine, at the Brickyard. However, his engine dropped a valve on lap 108, ending his race. According to oldracingcars.com, chassis #201 competed in 12 races with drivers as diverse as Gurney, Rindt, Sam Posey, Bentley Warren, and Carl Williams.

RM Sotheby’s estimates it’ll take $600,000-$800-000 and a trip to Monterey to put this historic vehicle in our Virtual Collection.

1969 AAR Eagle Mk5 Formula 5000 Chassis #510

Karissa Hosek © Courtesy of RM Sotheby’sOriginally known as Formula A, Formula 5000 was a road racing series powered by 5 liter stock block engines. Tony Adamowicz won the 1969 SCCA Continental Championship in AAR Eagle Chassis # 510. Not long after the president’s assassination in Dallas in 1963, Adamowicz, known as Tony A-Z, left his position as an army communication specialist working with JFK to try to earn a living racing. He hooked up with businessman Marv Davison and mechanic Mac Tilton to make a run at the SCCA Trans-American Championship for Under-2-Liter cars. Surprisingly, Adamowicz and Tilton drove their 911 from track to track, yet managed to win six races, place second twice, and set five lap records on their way to the 1968 Trans-Am Championship. Try doing that today.

That success led to Davison’s purchase of the Eagle, and Adamowicz’ second consecutive championship. Following a series-long battle with David Hobbs, Tony A-Z won by a single point on the strength of two outright victories, one second place, three thirds, a fourth, and a fifth-place finish.

When Davison pulled out at the end of the season, this chassis was scheduled to make a second run at the gold with John Morton behind the wheel. However, as so often happens that deal fell through, and Chassis #510 was stored in an enclosed trailer for a quarter century. The car eventually found its way to Doug Magnon and the Riverside Museum collection. Following a comprehensive restoration, #510 returned to racing in the Historic Formula 5000 Championship driven once again by the irrepressible Tony A-Z, the only man ever to drive this chassis in competition. That he won a second championship driving the same car he won with 40 years earlier was an amazing accomplishment for the 75 year old, who is now suffering from brain cancer. (You can join friends, family, and fans helping with Tony’s recovery by donating at https://www.gofundme.com/TonyAdamowicz.)

RM Sotheby’s estimates this chassis, which reportedly listed for $11,500 when new, will bring $125,000-$175,000 in Monterey.

1969 AAR Eagle Santa Ana Chassis #704

Karissa Hosek © Courtesy of RM Sotheby’sThe second Indy Car Tony Southgate designed for Gurney (the 1968 Mark 4 that won that year’s Indy 500 at the hands of Bobby Under was the first), the Santa Ana — named for the city in which AAR is located — was the longest and lowest AAR Eagle up to that time. Powered by an 800 hp. Turbo Ford, Denny Hulme qualified 25th at Indianapolis, but his car eventually succumbed to clutch failure on the 145th lap. Though he had trailed race leader Mario Andretti for quite some time, the failure dropped Hulme to 18th place at the finish. This is in stark contrast to chassis #703 driven by Joe Leonard and entered by Smokey Yunick. Leonard also trailed leader Mario Andretti for several laps before debris holed his radiator. Following a 14-minute pit stop, the car returned to competition and eventually finished 6th. Swede Savage drove chassis 704 in four races later that year, powered this time by a Gurney-Weslake Ford V-8. Oldracingcars.com reports it was driven by Hulme, Savage, Bud Morley, Dee Jones, and Dean Vetrock, and appeared at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2006. Expect it to bring $175,000-$225,000 at RM Sotheby’s in Monterey.

 1983 Eagle Indy Car Chassis #8114

Courtesy Can-Am Cars Ltd. © 2016This car represents the beginning of the end of creativity at Indy. Gurney, John Ward, and Trevor Harris collaborated on the development of Boundary Layer Adhesion Technology (BLAT) ground effects featuring an uncommon nose design, a twin vortex generating shape, and an innovative method of routing the exhaust that combined to create downforce equal or superior to conventional underwing designs.

Pandemonium reigned in the CART boardroom after Mike Mosely won at Milwaukee by over a lap after starting dead last in a car powered by a lowly Chevy stock block engine. It took a few years, but the powers-that-be eventually outlawed the car and aluminum stock block engines as Indy Car started down the road of heavily regulated design and cookie cutter cars devoid of the creative challenge Gurney thrived upon. Apparently, they felt any unfair advantages should belong to them alone.

Can Am Cars Ltd. In St. Louis, MO is selling the Eagle Al Unser, Jr. drove in his debut season. This car, powered by a Cosworth DFX, won the Indy Constructors Award for outstanding craftsmanship and innovation. The rookie qualified 5th at Indy, eventually finishing 10th.  Little Al’s best finish that season was a 2nd at Road America. Unser made one last run in his rookie ride at the 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed. (Can-Am Cars Ltd. also has 1968 and 1969 Eagle Indy cars for sale.)

Common sense says chassis # 201, the first AAR Indy Eagle ever, should gain entry to the Virtual Collection, but common sense isn’t one of my virtues. The BLAT car, chassis #8114, represents everything that made Dan Gurney one of the most influential individuals in American racing. Unbridled creativity, coupled with a middle finger to the establishment, and its position as the beginning of the end of Indy Car racing’s golden years are, for me, just too compelling to ignore.

 

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