Overthrow Offy Roadster

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"There were not many tracks in the world that had 90 degree turns that went on for a long period of time, that were relatively quick. Each turn was different."

Having successfully completed his rookie test, Gurney was able to enjoy getting the most he could out of the car he was driving for Mickey Thompson.

"It was an excellent car," Gurney says of Thompson’s ’62 Indy car. "I qualified ninth, after only being in it a day and a half. It looked good and it was good. But we weren’t even close to being ready."


Gurney says the Thompson Indy team effort was carried out like the drag races that Thompson excelled at.

"They’d have the engine completely apart every night," Gurney says. "They had a great spirit – the drag-racing spirit I love – a total can-do attitude: No matter, what, we’ll get it done."

Unfortunately, that didn’t afford the Thompson team a well-sorted engine. "It was rumbling and surging right from the very beginning. But nobody was complaining. It was a lot of fun working with Mickey. It was a big thrill to be part of it.’’

There was a bigger thrill coming, and that was being part of the Lotus-Ford that was aborning. The Ford-Lotus collaboration became done deal shortly after that race. "Next thing we know, we had something that was a going project.’’

Chapman had come and seen. He would come back to conquer. The next year, he would return with a Ford-powered Lotus for Jim Clark and a second car for Gurney. The project represented a major corporate commitment by Ford, and everyone involved knew they were playing a big game.

"It was part of what was going to become history," Gurney says. "It was the end of one era, and the return of Ford Motor Co. to Indy. It sort of legitimized racing from the state standpoint. In a very big way. Globally. When an outfit like that decides to do something, the reverberations reach far and wide."

As a Cobra team driver, in addition to F1 driving for Porsche, Gurney was involved in the test development of the aluminum small-block Ford V8 that became the Indy-car engine. It was essentially an aluminum version of the Fairlane 260 V8, sleeved down to 256 or 255 cubic inches (depending on whom you ask), drinking in its fuel-air mix through four Weber side-draft carburetors. The engine weighed 360 pounds and put out about 370 horsepower in race trim.

"We were involved in testing some of the prototype engines," Gurney says. "We ran reliability tests on the aluminum 255, which we ran at Daytona in a Cobra, where I recall that I was instrumented like an astronaut. They were monitoring my heart rate, and measuring all kinds of things. We also ran tests at Kingman, Arizona, and at the Speedway a couple of times, just to see how it was gonna’ measure up."

Chapman, Gurney says, arranged for Clark to run a Lotus F1 around the Speedway with the 1.5-liter Climax engine in the fall of ’62. It was just after Clark had won the USGP at Watkins Glen. "I paid very close attention to how fast he went. My recollection is that he ran about 143 MPH." Very quick indeed for an engine one-third the size of the Offys.

The Indy car that Chapman built as a Lotus-Ford was similar to the Lotus 25 F1 car, but bigger and heftier. Weighing 1130 pounds, it was five inches longer than the Lotus 25, with a three-inch wider track and heavier gauge wishbones and radius rods. The Indy-car wheels were high tensile magnesium/zirconium alloy fitted with larger diameter Girling disc brakes than the Lotus 25. The Indy Lotus had alternative chassis mounting points in for the rear wishbones, providing for an offset to allow the jacking of car weight to the left, in conjunction with longer links on the right front wishbone. The Indy Lotus had a ZF 4-speed with all four gears working, for maximum acceleration out of the pits.

No Red Carpet

In May 1963, the Lotus-Ford team arrived at Indy, along with Gurney. His British teammates had as condescending an attitude towards Indy cars as the Indy-car teams had shown toward the Cooper team in 1961.

"We pulled up to Georgetown and 16th, where the real entrance to the speedway was," Gurney says, "to the wooden arch over the entrance and a slogan that said something like: World Capitol of Motor Racing."

World capitol? Sez who, asked the Brits?

"Immediately, all the Brits reacted," Gurney says, "saying ‘Where do they get off, calling it that?’ And I had to kind of stay mum, at that time."

Gurney had brought Ford and Lotus together in the belief that a Lotus-Ford could beat the front-motor Offys. But he knew it would not be a cakewalk. The Lotus team saw that soon enough.

The greater sophistication and potentially faster race speeds of the Lotus-Fords notwithstanding, neither Clark nor Gurney could go faster than the fastest Offys. Parnelli Jones qualified the AJ Watson-built front-engine Offy roadster called Calhoun almost 1.5 mph faster than Jim Clark in the Lotus-Ford. A speed of 1.5 mph is an eternity in any race qualifying speed, on any track. Gurney’s qualifying session was problematic, and he qualified a full notch slower than Clark. Gurney was 1.5 mph slower than AJ Foyt in a Trevis-Offy. Of course both A.J. and Parnelli had years of experience at the Speedway.

"Before very far into practice and qualifying," Gurney says, "they all-realized that the so-called dinosaurs of track racing – the Watsons, the Lesovskys and the Kuzmas , the various roadsters with the long, illustrious lineage, – were not the pushovers they might have expected."

The intricately plotted and researched graphs which showed the lighter, more agile and more fuel-efficient rear-engine English capability of winning the race were not based on the cars necessarily going faster than the Offys, although they would soon do that, too. The Lotus was not touted as being capable of higher lap speeds than the Offys. Practice and qualifying would show that no one – no car – could go faster than Parnelli Jones in the Agajanian Watson Offy.

But the heavy Watson Offey generated so much more tire load in cornering forces and used so much more fuel to accomplish its speed that the Lotus-Ford would beat it on pits stops, if not speed. Chapman figured Jones Offy would need three pit stops to the Lotus-Ford team’s two.

That was once the race started. Before that was the month of practice and qualifying, with Gurney, a new member of a team that had been working together for some time.

"Colin and Jimmy were a team that was very close," Gurney says. "They could almost read each other’s thoughts. They were a very successful team that way. By the same token, Chapman was very fine with me."

With Chapman, Gurney says, "You were aware that you were on a team headed by a genuine creative genius." In his era, he was the guy. There were many other excellent creative people, but Colin had a special element about him.

"He loved the challenge. He was enthused about it. He used to write notes to himself, when you’re on an airplane, and he’d write them so small that nobody could read them over his shoulder."

"There was a special feeling about Chapman. All the people around him had absolute faith in his ability to outsmart the next guy. It was a very special group of people."

"We hadn’t done much testing before we got there. The attitude was, we were going to be there for a month, and we’d test what we had to there."

A very noticeable aspect of the Indy Lotus-Ford to Gurney was how noisy the car was to drive.

"An open cockpit at those speeds vibrates and blasts you around," Gurney says. "It’s not quiet. But you’ve got other things to think, and you somehow learn to tolerate it. If it’s buffeting so hard that your vision is affected, you have to fool around and improve it."

"Chapman came up with sort of an air scoop on the front edge, a two-inch opening that would be funneled up, to sort of blow a bit of air over your head. It was an attempt to make it quieter."

Gurney considered the Lotus Indy-car a good racecar." The car was excellent, considering the era. You just got in into high, and kept it there.

Gurney had learned what he knew about oval-track driving from Troy Ruttman, one of the masters. and the youngest driver to win the 500 at the time. "I had talked a lot to my friend Troy Ruttman," Gurney says, "one of the most gifted Indy-car drivers of all time. I had met him in Europe, when he was over there for the Race of Two Worlds. He gave me a lot of insight into Indy."

"He suggested that a loose car wasn’t going to be very good. And, in the end, a pushing car wasn’t either. Of course, that’s true of all racing. Troy said, ‘You need to have a little bit of push in the car. A little bit of under steer, to get settled."

Gurney says that he and Clark, despite being competitors, were good friends at Indy in ’63. Their lap times were close during practice. "I got to where I was very close with Jimmy. I admired him a great deal, and we remained close after Indy. We had sort of an understanding, a special relationship."

Then the month of testing ended and qualifying began. By that day, the Lotus-Ford team was having a problem with cracking wheels. The wheels for the Lotus Indy cars were new, and they were cracking. By qualifying day there was only one intact set.

"They told me, ‘we only have one set of wheels, so, Dan, you’re going to have to qualify on Jimmy’s wheels and tires."

Gurney was a realist, in addition to being a good racing politician. "I said, okay. But shouldn’t I at least get a couple laps of practice?"

Lotus granted Gurney four laps. Just enough for him to get the car up to speed.

"What I didn’t take into consideration was that Jimmy’s camber setting was different from mine. He was running slightly more negative camber than I was, and the tires were already kinda’ fully seated in. And when I put on Jimmy’s tires and wheels, the outside of the tire was more on the ground than the inside. It wasn’t much, but it contributed to the thing."

The ‘’thing’’ was a spinout, which at Indy is a major occurrence.

"I did my first lap and it felt okay. Then I did the next one to get a real feel for it, doing my best not to be second-fastest."

"I knew a bit more about it later," Gurney says. What he found was that Bobby Unser and other racers had notice that his car was visibly twitching through the turns.

"Unser told me he and some other guys had been watching me get into Turn 1 I had a big twitch in the car that I was just ignoring. They were taking bets on how long before I spun. I ignored the twitch. I was squeezing it a bit harder. Nobody had to tell me, you better fix your setup, and get in there a little smoother."

"It was my mistake. I was trying to feel it out, and go as fast as I could, because my next appearance on the track was gonna’ be qualifying. Well, I was trying to be the fastest Lotus. If you’re determined to be fast, and you’re unaware of how close to the edge you’re running, and then you add a few more things, plus trying to extract the maximum under constraints, in four laps total…What are you gonna' say? You’re gonna’ give it a try. And,-oh,- you’re going backwards. I guess they call that exercising judgment. In that case, it was not good judgment."

"I was able to catch it each time before," Gurney said of the twitch, "and I wasn’t aware that other people were down there betting to see when it was gonna’ happen."

Then the car broke loose. "The next thing I know I was in Turn 1 going backwards. It was my own fault. It was probably an hour before qualifying was to begin."

Chapman, Gurney said, was cool about it. "He knew that we were trying too hard, under awkward circumstances."

Gurney’s car was pranged, so the team back-up car was hastily assembled and that evening, still smarting from his collision with the wall that morning, Gurney got in three laps. Then he aborted the first tryout session when his foot got tangled in a safety strap.

"I had taken off a strap that had been fastened over the throttle, to use as an emergency pullback in case you had a situation where the throttle was stuck," Gurney said. There were other changes that had to be made. "I ended up having to have a higher windscreen than Clark. I was crammed into the car, and it was tight. Tighter than Jack’s hat band, as we used to say."

Their differences in physical size notwithstanding, Gurney and Clark were personally close. They also were close in terms of the lap speeds they were cutting at Indy, until carburetion day. Then the difference was marked.

"On carburetion day, the last day before the race," Gurney says, "I felt as though my engine wasn’t running correctly. It had one weak cylinder. And, try as I might, I couldn’t get the engine changed."

For Gurney to say it "felt" as though his engine wasn’t "running correctly," you know he wasn’t some yokel. This was the man who had driven F1 for Ferrari, for Porsche, and had won the Riverside 500, the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Daytona 3 Hour.

His complaints and requests for a new engine brought a Ford senior engineer to the pits. "He came to the car and said, ‘I understand you don’t think it’s running right.’"

Gurney said, yes, he didn’t. Then the guy did something that, as a high Ford honcho, he could do and took the throttle and went wide open with it. "Floated the valves." Made the engine scream, and made everyone wince, waiting for the possible consequences. It didn’t blow.

"Sounds fine to me,"" he said to Gurney. Case closed.

Gurney is philosophical about it today. "It was just the way those things go."

Still, it’s hard not to speculate what kind of ruckus AJ or Parnelli might have raised in the same situation. "Well, yes" Gurney agrees. "Had I been AJ, I would have gotten it changed…But anyway, I didn’t"

Lofty Goals

Gurney had a larger goal than a win for himself at Indy that year. The goal was a victory for the Lotus-Ford team and in pursuit of that goal, he accepted the engine he had. He says it occurred to him that Ford’s reluctance to supply him a fresh engine might have been to cover up for the fact that they didn’t have one.

Gurney knew better than most people just how big the Ford Motor Corp. Indy racing venture was – and wasn’t. For all the buckets of money Ford is said to have put into the aluminum-block Ford Indy V8’s first year, Gurney was surprised when he first visited the Indy racing division at the factory.

"The Ford engine and foundry people had gotten involved," Gurney says, "along with Chapman. But when I had paid a visit to Ford, they were in the design process of this engine, based on the 289, and I was expecting a big elaborate – even an early computerized design office where they would be working.

"It wasn’t," Gurney says. "It was a large warehouse. Dark, with one desk. And some fellow from Hungary, with a thick accent – probably in his late 60s – doing the drawing. That’s who they wanted to design and coordinate the foundry side of things."

Teammates No Longer

With the intense drama of qualifying for the world’s biggest auto race over, it might have been expected that the Lotus-Ford team would take the weekend off. Wrong. They flew to Monaco (not a particularly easy trip in those days) for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. They arrived in that capitol of continental high living and split up for their separate tasks for the weekend. For Clark, Chapman and the rest of the Lotus team, it was driving in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. For Gurney, it was driving against his Indy-team mates, driving for Brabham.

How weird was that? Not very, Gurney says. "It’s nothing like what it would be today. Formula One teams in those days, we were more like a group of gypsies that went around from track to track. There was a bit of camaraderie, even among the teams – even between Brabham, Cooper and Lotus. The conversation might not be as open and frank, but there was pleasant conversation." And no friction at all that Dan Gurney had flown 3500 miles with the Lotus team, to drive against them at Monte Carlo, and then fly 3500 miles back to Indianapolis, to drive with them again.

"It was actually pretty interesting," Gurney remarks. "After the race at Monaco, we were on a really tight schedule to make the plane back to the US to get to Indy in time. It was such a tight schedule that we realized there was no way we could get from the track to the airport in Nice by car, and the only way to make our flight was to go by speedboat. So we went by speedboat, and then at the other end, we had to get out of the boat a little way off the shore, and wade the last few yards, because the boat couldn’t go all the way in, then go across a runway and climb over some rocks."

Back to Indy, Gurney did not bother himself any further about the possible reasons for having to start with an engine that was not running right. He would go with what he had, and that meant starting the race with an engine that was basically running on seven cylinders

"I started the race with one weak cylinder, and it was interesting," Gurney says. "I think Jimmy had decided that since he hadn’t done any racing at Indy, he oughta tuck in behind me and see how things were gonna’ pan out. I kept waving him by, and he kept hanging behind me."

"Down the straight, I’m sure he had to back off, because I was essentially running on seven cylinders. I waved him on by, but he hung on for another lap. Then he took off.’’

Gurney followed, but his car could not deliver the same speed Clark’s car produced. Clark, in his first Indianapolis race, caught up with the charging Parnelli Jones, and was challenging him for the lead when the Jones car sprung the oil leak that made his win one of the most controversial race wins in history.

Lap after lap, the Jones car spread oil in its wake, causing two spins, and stunning the racing world with the refusal of the Indy 500 stewards to black flag Jones. Clark had to pull well back, to stay clear of the oil, and Jones won.

The Lotus-Ford effort was not helped by the pit work – the crew was not up to the demands of Indy pit stops. That would change the following year, when Ford brought the legendary Woods Brothers of NASCAR to Indianapolis for the Lotus-Ford team. The Woods brothers sliced ten seconds off a pit stop.

"We all felt as though we were making history at the time," Gurney says of the ’63 race. "It was a thrilling situation, really."

He says he knew some of the Indy-car crowd considered him a turncoat for bringing the Brits to Indianapolis. "Some of the old establishment people felt that I was kind of a traitor. But there was no doubt in my mind that it was gonna’ happen whether they liked it or not."

"If it hadn’t been me," Gurney said, "it would have been somebody else." Gurney says most of the people at the race enjoyed the show put on by the Lotus team, though, some of his competitors would have liked to lynch him.

In 1964, the Lotus-Ford team was back, with Clark and Gurney in cars so much faster than the old guard Offys that they might have been in two different races. But Clark’s car broke and Foyt won.

Jim Clark’s 1965 Indy 500 victory in a Lotus/Ford ended the era of the front-engined Offy that had dominated Indy since the 1930s. After 1965, no front-engined car would ever win, or even come close at Indy again. The age of the Offy roadster was over. And it had been ushered off-stage in a drama conceived and directed by Dan Gurney.