Saga of Audacity: Eagle F1

Hide Text

A saga of audacity: The AAR Eagle Formula 1 Story, by Dan Gurney

By 1967 I had already been racing in Europe for 7 years. Traditionally, the most ideal situation for a racing driver in international motorsports comes when he can drive a car which represents his own country, at least this was the sentiment at the time. It went out of fashion in the last two decades, but is now making a big comeback prompted by the engine manufacturers. I grew up reading about the silver cars from Germany, the red cars from Italy, the green cars from England and the white and blue cars from the United States.

This was the era where drivers like Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren and John Surtees were building their own racing cars (like race driver Enzo Ferrari had done decades earlier). The opportunity to start this effort mostly came through Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company who asked Carroll Shelby and me to build Indianapolis cars in their effort to compete against the then dominating Firestone tire in the Indy 500. As part of the bargain, they gave us the go ahead to build an F1 car to represent the U.S.A. in the international motor racing theater. Mobil and Castrol helped to fund us, as did numerous individual Americans who sent one, two, five and ten dollar checks to support this U.S. effort.

Their enthusiasm was a constant source of inspiration for all of us involved during the difficult years ahead. With the benefit of hindsight and 33 years of experience, it seems even more of a monumental task now than it seemed to be then. By 1967, no American driver/car combination had won a Grand Prix since 1921 and no American driver had ever done it with his own construction.


It was a moment in time, where a dedicated group of people and I thought we could undertake such a task and succeed. The difference between dreamer and genius, between lunatic and visionary is often very thin, and with our limited budget and our unlimited passion we constantly walked a tightrope.

When the first car appeared in Zandvoort at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1967, it received a lot of admiring stares from the public and the experts and was showered with publicity. It was, and remains, an aesthetically beautiful racing machine. The nose shape, which is probably the single most identifying aspect of the car, was something that my dad worked out with Len Terry, our chief designer. Of course it says ‘Eagle’; it is the vestigial beak of an Eagle. This was something that caught the fancy of the motorsports designers and the public. The car was both light and strong, the magnesium chassis with its titanium exhaust system was as light as any 12-cylinder car. It incorporated the lineage of an Indy car, had a good fuel capacity, a very good aerodynamic shape and was trouble free. "The best racing car" according to Colin Chapman "would fall apart in the last lap as it crossed the finish line". Well, Colin Chapman lived to regret that statement because a good racing car has to withstand all the rigors of the season, (not all of which can be predicted) and this car did that while still right on the weight limit. It also had a high top speed for a limited amount of horsepower and was, in fact, on the cutting edge of the existing technology of the day.

The car was designed, constructed and assembled in Santa Ana, California by my company, All American Racers, which I had founded in 1965 with Carroll Shelby as my partner. (I subsequently bought Shelby out and have been sole owner of AAR for more than 30 years). Sometimes I read that the car was built in England by AAR's European subsidiary Anglo American Racers. This is not true. Anglo American Racers represented the racing team traveling with the car to the circuits and maintaining and preparing the car at our shop in Rye, Kent. We had no manufacturing facilities over there and never intended to build the car anywhere else but at home in Santa Ana, California. In addition to our chief designer Len Terry, Pete Wilkins, an exceptionally talented craftsman built the exhaust system which ranks on a par with the best systems I have ever seen. It worked flawlessly every time we ran. It was made of titanium and in terms of its artistic beauty had no equal. It was done by pounding dry sand into the straight tubing, then applying heat and bending it with the sand inside in order to retain the round shape (a dying art in fabrication).

The idea for our V-12 engine was created at a time when the 2-valve per cylinder era of G.P. racing was coming to an end and the 4-valve per cylinder era was beginning. Ours was a 4-valve per cylinder double overhead cam 12-cylinder 3-liter engine built by the Weslake Company in the ancient pirate town of Rye in Southern England. Most of the pencil drawings were done by Aubrey Wood who was a friend of mine, I had known him from my career at BRM. Aubrey was a disciple of Peter Berthin and Raymond Mays who were the originators of the BRM racing team, in fact he had done a lot of the drawings of the successful 1.5 liter V-8 BRM racing engine. Harry Weslake was the head of the Weslake Company together with his stepson, Michael Daniels who did the day-to-day running of the company. They both had experience with a Shell Research Project which delved into high-speed combustion. They had a 375cc twin Shell research engine 4-valves per cylinder, which made excellent power, and this project gave us the courage to go ahead and make a 12-cylinder 3.0 liter engine 250cc per cylinder which was the same size as a 500cc twin Shell research engine.

I got Aubrey involved with the Weslakes and he designed a 12-cylinder engine, which was excellent. Like all such things, it was not perfect but structurally very sound. It did not have mechanical failures; most of our engine related difficulties were caused by little things like fuel pumps, drive belts or other relatively inexpensive parts. The engine was basically very strong, yet small and light and quite powerful. If anything, the least favorite aspect of the engine was the oil scavenging system which meant that it was less efficient than it should have been and therefore at the beginning of a race it would have really good power for one to three laps then would lose a portion as the engine sort of 'drowned' in its own oil. It did not stop the engine, but often took the edge off it. Considering that much was built on surplus Royal Navy World War I machinery that did not even have veneer adjustments for the cutting tools but had to be adjusted with the tap of a hammer, they were big, solid, rugged machines. The V-12 did remarkably well, especially against the new Cosworth engine which also appeared in that year.