Getting Personal With Dan Gurney’s Eagle-Weslake Mk1 At Goodwood
Photography by Will Broadhead
The Goodwood Revival is one of the most incredible collections of classic motorcars, motorcycles, and assorted paraphernalia on the planet. This much is a fact, and each year the staggering number of machines leaves one almost overwhelmed, punch drunk if you like, and somewhat blind to everything that you are seeing. In some cases, you cannot see the forest for the trees, but look hard enough and among the already extremely special racing cars, there are always a few gems buried.
As usual, there was just such a machine that stood out for me this year. Nestled in between the sports cars and thoroughbred Grand Prix machines was, at a cursory glance, a fairly bland-looking blue single-seater. Hold the stare though and it was clear that there was more to this old tube than first meets the eye. There was something about its stance that separated it from the other machines of its era, it seemed more aggressive, sat squarely on four large Goodyears.
The sharp, beaked air intake, reminiscent of a Ferrari 156, draws the eye in immediately. In fact, the entire car was beautiful, the kind of mechanical splendor that causes you to fall in love instantly and pore over every line and curve, drinking in each detail. The car? Dan Gurney’s Eagle-Weslake-powered Mk1, possibly the prettiest Grand Prix machine of all time.
The Mk1, often referred to as the T1G, was born out of a desire of the All-American Racers (then Anglo American Racers) constructor, founded by Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby, to compete in the Grand Prix championship, whilst a sister car using the same chassis would compete around the ovals of the Indy Car championship. Ex-Lotus designer Len Terry was hired to pen the car that would eventually be based around an aluminum monocoque and an unstressed engine mounted directly behind the driver.
At the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix, the Eagle lined up on the grid to make its debut, powered by a 2.7L inline-four Coventry Climax engine and was vastly underpowered and overweight compared to the competition. It failed to finish that first outing, but by the time the circus had reached Monza later in the season, the power plant had been swapped for a 3.0L V12 from Weslake, which produced 350bhp straight out of the box. The design for the engine had come from an earlier twin-cylinder 500cc motor that had produced encouraging results when tested, and Gurney had taken the design for this motor and extrapolated it to the V12 format that would eventually appear in his Grand Prix car, built by the British engineering firm Weslake.
Whilst the car’s debut was not memorable for results, it had created a stir with its looks, and staring at the machine here at Goodwood, I can see why. Every inch of it is stunning, and while some racing cars of this period can look a little too handmade, the Eagle screams precision. Ironic then, that the V12 that powered it was often the source of its unreliability, as being made with old tooling meant the tolerances within the engine were much wider than desirable, a fact that would eventually see Gurney cut ties with Weslake in 1968.
This past weekend the car was sadly not racing, with no suitable class to compete in, but it was being demoed at the very capable hands of Sir Jackie Stewart. Sir Jackie cuts a slightly odd figure within the car, as it was designed for the much taller Gurney, and having never driven the Eagle before, he can perhaps be forgiven for stalling it when pulling away from the pits for the first time! Second time’s the charm though, and with much more liberal use of the throttle the beautiful blue machine accelerates out onto the track.
It looks nothing short of proud as it prowls around the circuit, V12 drone barracking off of every surface and sounding every inch a race winner. Of course, the truth for the car in period was slightly different, and out of the 26 world championship races that it entered, the car finished only 6 of them. The one caveat to this sad fact, though, is that the car triumphed at the 1967 Belgium Grand Prix with Gurney at the wheel. No small achievement, considering it stands today as the only instance in which an American-built car won a Grand Prix—the fact that it was driven by its constructor makes the late Dan Gurney one of only three to have ever achieved such distinction.
Gurney himself cites Spa in those days as being the “Grand-daddy of high-speed tracks,” with cars averaging 148mph despite the agonizingly slow La Source hairpin before the plunge towards Eau Rouge. For the car and the engine to withstand the stress of eight-mile lap after eight-mile lap shows just what might have been if consistent reliability could have been found for the rest of the season.
These days we are able to look at and admire the Eagle for what it was, a stupendously beautiful racing car, built and raced by one of the best to ever do it. While Dan Gurney’s machine could never transform its raw speed into a string of strong finishes, it still remains a remarkable car and a symbol of a time when Formula 1 was a more accessible and unpredictable sport.