By John Lamm
June 1967 was a magic month for Dan Gurney. On the 11th, Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Ford GT40 MK IV. A week later, Gurney triumphed in the Belgian Grand Prix with his Formula 1 Eagle.
All American wins for the All American racer.
Los Angeles’ Petersen Automobile Museum is celebrating the half-century since Gurney’s twin monumental wins. A year-long exhibit opening January 28 is titled The Eagles Have Landed. On display will be 12 Eagles, including All American Racers’ first Indy car from 1966, the 1993 Toyota IMSA GTO machine and the last Indy Eagle, built for the 500 in 1999.
Also on display: the champagne bottle Gurney used to start the tradition of winning race drivers spraying the bubbly on all those around them.
Two cars in the exhibit have come from The Revs Institute’s Collier Collection. One is the Formula 1 Eagle that Gurney drove to win at Spa in 1967. Second is the blue Eagle-Offy with its Jorgensen sponsorship that Bobby Unser drove to victory in the 1975 Indy 500.
That contribution could have left two year-long holes in Revs’ Naples, Florida museum, but the Gurney family would have none of that. They have provided a pair of famous Eagles for those two spots in the Revs museum.
First is the 1967 AAR Eagle Indy car, which is steeped in racing history, thanks to Gurney. Among his many achievements is the manner in which he put the United States on the international automobile racing stage.
Example: the Len Terry design of the United States Auto Club and Formula 1 Eagles. Working on a small budget in Costa Mesa, Calif., Gurney’s All American Racers team created similar-but-different machines that were the equal of their American and European rivals.
On May 30, 1967 Dan Gurney was in the middle of the front row as the Indianapolis 500 was green flagged. His Ford-powered All American Racers Eagle — chassis 212 sponsored by Wagner Lockheed Brake Fluid — proved as quick as the competition, save for one: Parnelli Jones’ Granatelli STP turbine car.
Rain forced the race to be suspended after 18 laps. When the drivers were let loose the next day, Jones dominated. Gurney led laps 52-53, but on the 160th lap the Ford expired. He was out. Worse luck yet awaited the leader, Jones, whose car stopped with four laps remaining when a $6 part broke.
A.J. Foyt won that race and afterwards bought AAR 212. Donnie Allison took it to 4th in the 1970 500 for Foyt’s team. Eventually Marv Carman, a Midwest driver, converted Chassis 212 into the supermodified category, but it was badly damaged in a shop fire. In 2012, Gurney’s son Justin bought 212 and had John Mueller and Jerry Wise restore it.
AAR Eagle 212 became Dan Gurney’s 84th birthday present, from his son, on April 13, 2015.
The second Eagle came to prominence on September 1, 1972.
Bobby Unser was angry that day. Qualifying for the California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway was beginning. But Unser’s All American Eagle Offy engine was broken. His teammate, Jerry Grant, was set to qualify. How fast would he go? A record 200 mph?
Aerodynamic improvements had brought higher qualifying speeds at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From 161.2 mph in 1965 to 171.6 in 1968 to 178.7 in 1971.
For 1972, USAC allowed the race cars to have wings not attached to the bodywork. Aerodynamicists got to work. At Gurney’s All American shop in California, Roman Slobodynskj penned a new Eagle. It had a chisel nose and a gigantic rear wing. On that wing’s trailing edge was a “Gurney flap” for added downforce to pin the car to the pavement at high speeds.
In May, Unser had raised the Indy lap record by a stunning 17.2 mph to 195.940. He dropped out, but during 1972 would be on the pole for six of USAC’s 10 races, winning four of them.
But at Ontario, Unser wanted the first 200-mph qualifying lap and this track — similar to Indy’s 2.5-mile layout — was the perfect place to do it.
With Unser’s car in the garage, Grant was to qualify. Eagle engine expert John Miller bumped Grant’s Offy’s boost to provide 1100 hp. Grant was off. He later described how the Eagle could get “sideways,” but also controllable. His first lap: 201.414. Second lap: 200.874. Knowing he’d set the 200-mph record, Grant backed off. His average: 199.600.
On Saturday, Unser in his repaired Eagle did four laps over 200 mph, but being day two, Grant was on the pole for the 500. And he was the first man with a qualifying lap at 200 mph.
Then the cruel gods of racing intervened. Grant’s engine failed on the pace lap, and he was out before the California 500 started.
Fast forward to this year, and this racing history has provided museum exhibits of particular note on both coasts. West Coasters: stop at LA’s Petersen Automobile Museum for the Gurney celebration. In the East? Drop down to Naples to visit Revs and the sleek 1967 and 200-mph 1972 Eagles.
All American tributes to the All American Racers.