Episode 13 of Formula 1 Constructors in History from A to Z reports on the short-lived but impactful Eagle cars, brought to Formula 1 by American racer Dan Gurney and his All-American Racers team in 1964.
Forming AAR in collaboration with Carroll Shelby and with backing from tyre company Goodyear, they set to overturning the IndyCar dominance of Firestone before Gurney brought the legacy of the company to Formula 1.
Two years after the beginning of their joint project, Shelby moved on to pastures new, leaving Gurney to return to Formula 1 where he had been racing for Brabham. Adjusting the AAR name to create Anglo-American Racers, they produced Formula 1 cars under the Eagle name.
In 1966, the Len Terry-designed Eagle T1G was one of the best chassis of its time, but unfortunately all his hard work was undone by the overweight and underpowered Coventry-Climax four-cylinder engine used by the team. It was no match for the Repco V8 engined Brabham cars, and two 5th place finishes in France and Mexico respectively was the best Gurney could manage. Four points left Eagle 7th in the Constructors’ Championship.
Weslake V12 engines had materialised halfway through 1966 but to little effect, however 1967 saw improvement. Gurney won at the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch before beating Jackie Stewart’s BRM at the Belgian Grand Prix. Gurney had matched Jack Brabham’s feat by winning a race in a car he had built himself. A further 3rd place in the US Grand Prix meant Eagle finished the season on 13 points and again in 7th place.
In 1968, Gurney only competed in 5 of the 12 races for Eagle, retiring in all but one of them and finishing in 9th place in the German Grand Prix. The T1G was again powered by a Weslake V12 engine which seemed to be going nowhere particularly fast. Gurney packed the team up before the season was out and moved on to McLaren for the final 3 races of the season, driving the M7A-Ford V8.
Gurney was on a mission to prove that, at Eagle, it was the car and not the driver to blame. Already a credible driver with myriad achievements to his name, he did so by qualifying 4th in Canada. Sadly, a radiator issue ended his race early. He finished 4th in the US Grand Prix, with the points going to McLaren-Ford, before ending the season on another retirement in Mexico.
Gurney’s sudden pulling out of Eagle from Formula 1 meant that Tony Southgate’s second-generation Eagle chassis was never produced.
Although that was it for Eagle’s Formula 1 endeavours and the name never returned to the sport, they continued in IndyCar to some success, so Gurney returned to America and concentrated on the series. He started well, finishing 2nd in the 1968 Indy 500 – beaten only by Bobby Unser also in an Eagle. Gurney took his Eagle to two other IndyCar wins that year.
In 1969, Gurney finished 2nd in the Indy 500 again before finishing 3rd the following year. Eagles won the Indy 500 in 1973 and 1975 in the hands of Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser respectively. Unser won the IndyCar Championship for Eagle in 1968 and again in 1974.
Gurney also entered Eagles in the North American Formula 5000 Championship and other sports car racing series. With backing from Toyota, Gurney built an Eagle which won the 1990 American IMSA series with Juan Manuel Fangio II driving – nephew of the five-time Formula 1 champion. He won the series again for Eagle in 1992 and 1993.
Next week, the series returns to Great Britain and we creep forward into the 1970s as we explore the story of ‘Mo’… stay tuned!