Rally & Racing

Forgotten Legends
Dan Gurney and Eagle F1

Photo credit: AAR All American Racers, Wheelsage

There has always been an American presence in Formula 1, a presence that has become even more important today as the American Liberty Media manages the entire championship. American cars have not had too much luck, however: Lance Reventlow started in 1960 with the very beautiful, high-performance front-engine Scarab, but had the bad luck of arriving just as all the other teams were switching to rear-engine set ups. 

The kind and friendly American, Dan Gurney, was very close to the world of Formula 1 from the very beginning. Here he is in 1964 with the great Jim Clark

The greatest American presence within the world of Formula 1 was without question Dan Gurney, a famous driver, but also a passionate technician and committed promoter of American racing drivers. So much so that in 1965, together with Carroll Shelby, he founded the AAR – All American Racers. 

Dan Gurney’s American Eagle in its final version with the Weslake V12 engine, ready for the 1967 season

Gurney, who had all the presence of a Hollywood actor and the grit of a true fighter, began his career in Europe, entering through the front door as a Ferrari driver in 1959. Four races in one year, two of which put him on the podium. His journey continued at BRM, then Porsche and then Brabham, years during which he won three Grands Prix. But his goal was always to be an American driver behind the wheel of an American single-seater car. That determination transformed into the Eagle project with the support, among others, of the American tire company, Good Year. 

The beautiful and very original eagle-beaked front section underlines the name given to the single-seater

Eagle’s 1966 debut was a hindered by the lack of a competitive engine: the Eagle used a 4-cylinder Climax engine that wasn’t even close to his rivals, but the following year with the V12 Weslake, things changed and in the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix, the American driver Gurney behind the wheel of an American car, the Eagle, won. It was a peak moment for American motor racing and for Gurney too: in a few weeks, in addition to the F1 Belgian Grand Prix, he also triumphed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Ford GT40 Mark IV. 

18 June 1967. Dan Gurney took Eagle to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. This was destined to be the only victory of an American driver driving an American car in Formula

All the premises for additional growth were there, but the sponsorship market in the USA was too oriented towards national races to finance a Formula 1 team, which forced Gurney, with his budget that allowed him to complete in only 5 races, abandoned Formula 1 in 1968 to focus on Indianapolis where Eagle won on three occasions. 

The beautiful design of the symbols linked to the name of Dan Gurney: the All American Racing Team adapted for F1 with Anglo American Racers and the one used on his Eagle

To understand just how attentive this driver was to everything that could improve results, we should remember that it was Eagle who first used a small flap on the wing at Indianapolis to increase downforce, a device that became so important it was called the Gurney flap. And that wasn’t the only first. He was also the first driver to wear a full-face helmet, making the faces of the drivers disappear from European races.

After abandoning Formula 1, Eagle turned its attention to Formula Indy, winning the Indianapolis 500 three times. Here in the 1968 edition with Bobby Unser at the wheel