“What is art if not a concentrated and impassioned effort to make something with the little we have, the little we see?”
~Andre Dubus – Meditations from a Movable Chair~
Dan Gurney once said, “The difference between dreamer and genius, between lunatic and visionary is very thin and with our limited budget and our unlimited passion we constantly walked a tightrope.” There are very few teams with unlimited funds with which to use to compete in Formula One, but some are more limited than others.
Dan Gurney dreamed of constructing and racing an American built Formula One racing car. Gurney’s first Formula One drive had been for Ferrari in 1959. He then signed with Porsche where he got them their one and only Formula One victory as a constructor with his maiden win at the 1962 French Grand Prix. In 1963 he drove for Brabham and achieved their first win at the 1964 French Grand Prix.
The 1960’s saw the peak of driver-operated teams and Gurney was inspired by Brabham, McLaren and Surtees to start his own American based racing team. Len Terry was their chief designer, and their car with its magnesium chassis and titanium exhaust system was both light and robust. Their V12 engine was built by Harry Weslake, but this wouldn’t be ready until the second race of the 1967 season. This was Weslake’s first complete car engine, having focused on bike engines previously.
The stunning midnight-blue “Eagle” with its white racing strip running down the centre and its eagle-like front nose was first seen at the 1966 Belgium Grand Prix. It was only 12 months later when they triumphed at the 1967 Belgium Grand Prix, the first time an American had ever won a Formula One Grand Prix driving a car of their own construction.
Gurney stated afterwards, “In Spa, everything finally came together. I qualified second again next to Jimmy Clark and won the race ahead of Jackie Stewart with a new race record and a new lap record, putting this Grand Prix into the history books as the fastest ‘grande epreuve’ ever run on a road course.”
One week before his win at Spa, Gurney had also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving a 7 litre Ford GT40 with co-driver A J Foyt, winning by four laps over the rest of the field. It was after this race that Gurney started spontaneously spraying the champagne from the podium to celebrate his unexpected victory. It was at the 1968 German Grand Prix that Gurney was also the first Formula One driver to wear a full face helmet. He is also one of only three drivers with wins in Formula One, Nascar (1963) and Indycar (1967).
The Eagle remained competitive throughout the 1967 season, usually managing to qualify on the first or second row of the grid, though engine reliability continued to be a problem. During the 1968 season, the money was running out, and Anglo American Racer’s last race would be at the 1968 Italian Grand Prix. Gurney said, “After that, the budget did not allow us to continue our Formula One effort anymore. I took the Eagle out of circulation and closed down our facility in England with a heavy heart, but with the knowledge that we had put the Europeans on notice and that we had put an American Grand Prix victory in the history books for all time.”