Model history: Following the example set by his colleagues Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren, American racer Dan Gurney set up shop for himself in 1964 under the All American Racers (AAR) banner. Among his partners were Carroll Shelby and the Goodyear tyre company. In its first full season, AAR served as an entrant, fielding a Lotus 38 in the Indy 500 for example. There were much bigger plans for 1966; a Grand Prix and USAC (Indy) campaign with cars of their own design and construction. Gurney decided to call his car 'Eagle' after the bald eagle, the national bird of the United States.
To design the new Eagle, Gurney hired Len Terry, who had been responsible for the 1965 Indy 500 winning Lotus 38. The talented designer had left Lotus shortly before due to a conflict with Colin Chapman. Gurney also obtained the services of British engine-guru Harry Weslake. Next to Weslake's engine shop in Rye, England, a subsidiary was established using the 'Anglo American Racers' name. A rule change, which saw the maximum allowed displacement in Formula 1 double to 3 litre in 1966, made life a lot easier for Gurney and Terry; they could now use one basic design for both the Grand Prix and Indy Eagles.
Terry used the same basic design of the highly successful Lotus for the new Eagle F1 and Indy car, which were known as the Mark 1 and Mark 2 respectively. Since then the F1 machine has been commonly referred to as the T1G but Gurney is adamant that that was never an official type designation. Just like 1965 Indy winner, the Eagle featured a fully enclosed monocoque constructed from sheets of aluminium. The chassis extended all the way to the back, cradling the engine and supporting the suspension. The design's most striking feature was the beak-shaped nose that clearly resembled the eagle the machine was named after.
The first Mark 1 chassis was ready in May of 1966, which was well ahead of the planned V12 engine under development at Weslake. To keep up the momentum, the new car was fitted with a readily available Coventry Climax four cylinder engine, which displaced just under 2.8 litre. While down on power compared to the larger engined rivals, the Mark 1 Eagle performed remarkably well. Gurney placed it fifth at the high-speed French Grand Prix in only its second outing. The tall American repeated that point-scoring feat in Mexico later in the year. Compatriots Phil Hill and Bob Bondurant did not fair that well behind the wheel of the four cylinder engined Eagle.
Meanwhile, cylinder-head specialist turned engine builder, Harry Weslake slaved away at his finest creation yet. The result was a sophisticated V12 with twin overhead camshafts actuating four valves per cylinder. Its twelve headers curved upwards and fed four long exhausts that added further to the visual appeal of the Formula 1 Eagle. Weslake's target figure was a very ambitious 500 bhp at 12,000 rpm but at his first outing Gurney had to make do with an already impressive 364 bhp at 10,000 rpm. By the spring of 1967 the output had increased to around 420 bhp, making it one of the most powerful engines on the grid. This was very welcome as the sturdy Eagle was also one of the field's heavier cars.
The V12 engine must have certainly appealed to the local crowd during its Italian Grand Prix debut at Monza. Reliability woes made it a difficult debut for the new machine. There was no easy fix and it was not until March of 1967 that the V12 Eagle could really make an impression. Fitted with an updated version of the engine, Gurney drove the car to its maiden victory in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. A second V12 engined Eagle was placed a lowly tenth by Richie Ginther. In the hands of the likes of Ginther, Hill and Italian Ludovico Scarfiotti, the first two Weslake engined Eagles nevertheless had a difficult season.
Addressing the weight issues, Terry had developed a very special version of the F1 Eagle for Gurney to race in 1967. The fourth Mark 1 chassis built, it was constructed from mostly exotic metals. The aluminium of the monocoque skins was replaced by magnesium and titanium was used for many of the suspension parts and also the exhaust system. This was not free of risks as magnesium is very volatile. Gurney, reportedly, refused to use seatbelts in the lightweight Eagle as he preferred to be thrown out of the car to being burned in case he was ever involved in an accident.
The lightest Eagle yet had a difficult debut at the Dutch Grand Prix in June of 1967 due to fuel injection problems. There was none of that at the subsequent Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. Gurney took an historic victory; it was the first Grand Prix win for an American car since Jimmy Murphy won the 1921 French Grand Prix in a Duesenberg. He set new records for the fastest race lap and average in the process. A second Grand Prix win slipped through his fingers when a broken universal joint forced Gurney to retire from a 42-second lead in the penultimate lap of the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
Unfortunately from there on it was downhill for All American Racers Formula 1 effort. Numerous reliability issues prevented the Eagle from scoring many more points and early in the 1968 season the funds had dried up. Gurney competed in several more Grands Prix with a McLaren before ending his driving career in 1970. There was more success on the other side of the Atlantic with Bobby Unser scoring AAR's first Indy 500 victory with a Terry designed Eagle in 1968. He finished ahead of Gurney himself in an earlier Eagle. Dan Gurney's Eagles would continue to compete at the sharp end in Indy racing for many years to come.
The Eagle Mark 1 remains as one of the most beautiful looking and sound Grand Prix cars ever constructed. It was one of the last of the 'clean' designs before F1 machines became be-winged, rolling billboards. Most importantly it also scored a rare, historic victory in the championship dominated by European teams/manufacturers. All four cars have survived their career unscathed and are accounted for today. Fortunately they are all in full running order and demonstrated at special occasions.
Chassis 102 was the second Mark 1 Eagle built and the first one fitted with the Gurney-Weslake V12 engine. It made a difficult debut at the 1966 Italian Grand Prix. All pieces eventually fell into place during the 1967 Race of the Champions at Brands Hatch where Gurney drove this car to AAR's first F1 victory. It served throughout the 1967 season but no notable results. Today it is part of the collection of a well known American historic racer. It is seen here during the 2010 Monterey Motorsports Reunion where Dan Gurney's career was celebrated. It was demonstrated by Dan's son Alex Gurney, who is a very successful racer in his own right. A few years earlier, during the 2006 Monterey Historics, the beautiful machine was raced with great verve by Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal.
Completed early in 1967, chassis 103 was the last Eagle Mark 1 constructed in aluminium. It made its debut in the Race of the Champions in the hands of Richie Ginther, finishing 10th and well behind Gurney in the victorious sister car. Chassis 103 was only raced twice more that year with Gurney scoring an impressive third during the Canadian Grand Prix at its final outing. For many years the car was owned by a British historic racer until it was auctioned by Christie's in 2002 for an impressive $700,000. Chassis 103 is seen here a few months earlier, during the 2002 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
The most famous of all Formula 1 Eagles, chassis 104 was the experimental Mark 1 constructed from magnesium and titanium. Sometimes referred to as the 'Ti-Mag' car, it was used by Gurney to score his historic Belgian Grand Prix win at Spa. It was used for the remainder of the year and for much of the 1968 season. In 13 attempts it finally only managed to reach the finish twice. The second was lowly ninth in the 1968 German Grand Prix. The legendary machine was later acquired by Briggs Cunningham and displayed for many years in his museum until it closed in the late 1980s. Like most of that collection, it subsequently passed into the hands of another Florida-based collection where it resides until this day. Chassis 104 is seen here at the 2010 Monterey Motorsports Reunion where Dan Gurney's long career was celebrated, and at the 2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
I was a junior in high school when Gurney won that race in Spa, and I found out about it in the Monday morning sports section of the Washington Post. At a time when America was involved in so many conflicts at home and abroad, when our space program had recently suffered the deaths of three astronauts on the pad at Cape Kennedy, Dan Gurney's accomplishment, along with his win with A. J. Foyt in the Ford Mark IV at Le Mans, gave people like me a renewed sense of pride in what could be accomplished by Americans with talent and dedication. Many years later I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Gurney, and he was everything you'd want your hero to be. Friendly, personable, And gracious. Thank you for this reminder of a great victory.