1972 Eagle-Offenhauser

In 1972, the new Eagle built by Dan Gurney in his All American Racing shops in Santa Ana proved to be the class of the Indianapolis 500 field by qualifying on the pole at an astounding 195 MPH, a full 18 MPH faster than the preceding year. That itself had set a record.
Philippe de Lespinay had been modestly contributing to this extraordinary car by designing and applying its new paint scheme, something he did for most subsequent works Eagle Indy cars until designing the basic scheme for the last of the breed, the Eagle-Toyota used in CART racing.
 

 

The first chassis built with its main designer, Roman Slobodynskyj at left, next to plant manager Bill Fowler in the blue sweater. The oil cooler air intake was vertical and that quickly changed to an over the cowl system. All the panels except for the nose section were made of aluminum, the handywork of Phil Remington. The car still used the 12" wide rear wheels of the 1971 car, as the new wider rear wheels had not been completed yet.

 

 

Bobby Unser and Ozzie Olson pose next to the very first 1972 Eagle completed at the works. No time to paint the wing, and the whole decor was made of cut and pasted shelf paper of various colors!

 

 

The original design for the decor of the new Eagle was quite a departure for AAR. Indeed, every works Eagle since 1966 had been painted in the deep blue color selected by Dan himself.
The evolution of the car's design forced a rethinking of the paint scheme, and it took some convincing to change the decor to a basic white with dark blue, red, orange and yellow stylized eagles on the car's upper surfaces.

Philippe decorated the first car using self-adhesive shelf paper and scissors, and both Dan and Ozzie Olson liked it, so after a few changes, the scheme was adopted and remained the basic decor of Eagle Indy cars well into the 1970s.

 

 

Bobby Unser at Phoenix with the new car. Since the Olsonite graphics were not ready, this car was completely hand painted, following the basic design. All subsequent body panels used actual paint and color masking for the eagle decor, but all lettering was accomplished with stick-on printed film. At the Phoenix 200, Bobby took no prisoners, qualified on the pole and won the race running away. The car set pole at Indy with an astounding 195 MPH speed, a full 18 MPH faster than the pole speed of the previous year. Bobby easily led the race until the distributor rotor broke, the car coasting to a halt while nearly a full lap ahead of the field.

Many years later in 1989, Dan Gurney allowed Philippe to restore two unused 1972 Eagles that remained at the All American Racers shops, to be refinished as the 1972 machines driven by Bobby Unser and Jerry Grant.
After much research and restoration work, the first car was completed in 2008 and is now in Dan Gurney's personal museum in Santa Ana.
Driven by Grant, the 1972 Eagle was the first car to circulate on a closed course at over 200 MPH, and the car used by Jerry at Ontario Motor Speedway to set this record was painted in a purple metallic color and had Olsonite sponsorship. The car had earlier in the year, been leading the 1972 Indy 500 when with 12 laps to go, it encountered a puncture in its right-side front tire.
In the ensuing rushed pit stop, the car was short-filled from the Bobby Unser fuel supply, a huge mistake that caused a penalty of the 11 laps covered after the stop  and pushed the car to a 12th place finish, a great disappointment for the AAR crew.

After years of research for the correct parts and many seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the car was eventually completed by the talented and immensely experienced John Mueller in the Entrepreneur Enterprises race shop in Fresno, California.

The "Mystery Eagle" as it was known, after its assembly in the Fresno shop. Every effort was made to ensure theat the finished car would be as close to the original car as  possible, while making the car fully operational for demonstrations,

Jerry Grant and crew after setting the first 200mph lap at Ontario Motor Speedway in October 1972. This was an extraordinary accomplishment and the result of a year of hard work on the best Indy car money could buy.

Tracing the engine numbers (crankcase and cylinder block/head assembly) from old records he saved from the bin, Philippe found that the engine in the completed car had been used at the 1972 "Milwaukee 150" race in the very car driven by Jerry Grant that day. While Bobby Unser easily won the race, a turbocharger failed on Jerry's car.
 

 

The Weisman 4-speed Indy car transmission was built by Pete Weisman in his Costa Mesa shop. Pete later built 7-speed gearboxes for the McLaren Formula One team and
  was instrumental  in developing the first semi-automatic transmission for modern racing automobiles.
The picture on the left shows one of the two Drake-Offenhauser engines at Stewart Van Dyne's shop in Huntington Beach.
  All American Racers had developed changes on the engines that were exclusive to them, such as better internal lubrication through a twin pump setup, requiring different pickup points on front of the engine. The 4-cylinder, twin-cam "dinosaur", derived from the 1912 Peugeot engine, develops up to 1100HP on 120 inches of boost from its Garrett turbocharger.
This caused a slow response time, as the driver had to wait about 3 seconds for the turbo to spool and deliver full torque after application, and wait another 3 seconds after lifting for the power delivery to stop, a very unsettling way of driving a racing car. While this was improved in various ways over time, this is what 1972 Indy car drivers had to put up with, and put up they did.
 
  The two tubs at Philippe's shop in 1989, in the process of analysis of what parts were needed to assemble the two cars. Unfortuantely, it became clear that  most of the parts obtained from AAR were in fact fitting a later 1974 Eagle model and were unusable for this project.
Much and expensive research to find the correct parts and the missing parts including the Weisman gearboxes, driveshafts, oil coolers, gauges, steering wheels, windshields plus the whole node body assembly and front wings lasted several years. After the project dragged for years from shop to shop and with lots of optimism and wishful thinking, John Mueller, who runs the Entrepreneur Enterprises Racing shop in Fresno got involved and got it done. While Stewart Van Dyne, who now owns the tooling and rights to the Drake-Offy engines, repaired and assembled the special AAR "twin-pump" engines, John transformed the huge pile of parts into two beautiful and functional racing automobiles.

The first of the two was completed and delivered to Dan Gurney at the AAR shops in 2008.

 


Left
: Philippe at the firing of the Offy engine at Stewart Van Dyne shop. The engine started instantly and ran sweetly for over one hour.  No leaks, no overheating, looks like everything is A-OK!


Right
: Dan Gurney "get the keys" to his new car. John Mueller and Stewart Van Dyne admire the product of their labors.

 

 

  

 

In June 2010, 20 years after the difficult project had begun, the second car was completed. The Indy 500 pole-winning Olsonite-Eagle driven by Bobby Unser in 1972 was also sponsored by Ozzie Olson. In this picture, its late crew chief, Wayne Leary guides the Eagle to the front row before the start of that race. Wayne was a slot car racing enthusiast and often came to witness the racing taking currently taking place at Buena Park Raceway in California, this until his last days.
Wayne died of complication from cancer in June 2010.
Below left, Philippe, helmeted with whatever was in the shop at the time, sits in the newly completed car in early 1972 for pictures after the initial testing. This took place at Ontario Motor Speedway where the car, driven by Unser, easily lapped at 191 MPH, a huge speed at the time, well above the record.
Part of the temporary paint next to one of the eagles heads had peeled off during the testing!
 

 

  Wayne Leary hard at work in the cockpit in preparation for the 1972 "Shaefer 500" at Pocono.  Resting on the front wheel is a 1/10 scale model of the new Eagle, the body produced by M.A.C. for the Associated RC1 radio controlled  miniature racing car. Philippe painted it like the full-size car for Car Model magazine.

By now, the car had shown to be the fastest in preliminary tests at the speedway. Unser will claim pole and will drive away from the field in the first part of the race, until the ignition distributor rotor will fall apart, ending what was looking to be a possible win.

Nevertheless, the car will make such an impression that orders will soon follow, with a total of 25 cars sold. Chassis 72-29 and 72-30 were built but kept as spare parts, and their tubs were used to build the two cars on this page.

 

The car was modified for 1973 with a new "flat sides" tub designed by Roman Slobodynskyj and improved aerodynamics by McDonnell-Douglas engineer Bob Liebeck. Here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, crew chief Wayne Leary is awaiting for Bobby Unser to warm up the car prior to testing. The eagle graphics were slightly modified for 1973, as a "claw" was added to the design, and lack of time prevented two more colors from being applied.  

 

      Left: One of the few surviving pieces of artwork shows the proposed 1973 car with the upgraded "flat sides" tub, a new shorter nose with triangular front arms clearance ventsand proposed better streamlining around and over the engine. This was an effort to provide cleaner airflow to the rear wing.

Right: Jerry Grant with the new car at the 1973 Indy 500.


That did not happen until the Cosworth era and 1978, as engine man John Miller was adamantly opposed to anything that would have enclosed the Offy engine and that could make it run at warmer temperatures. In 1973, McLaren already had made the move, the engine covered by a shroud that extended to the leading edge of the wing.

 

  Almost everything went right in 1974 as Bobby Unser won enough races to earn the USAC crown, but the Indy 500 still escaped the AAR machine, Bobby finishing in second place.
At the end of the year, Ozzie Olson ended his long-time sponsorship as a recession hit the United States. It was very unfortunate for him because under new sponsorship from Jorgensen Steel, it all came together in 1975 and Bobby, after a fierce battle with perennial on-track nemesis Johnny Rutherford in the works McLaren, won the race. When the rain fell after 350 miles, Bobby was ahead and declared the winner. The gold belt buckle (left) was given to the members of the winning team and was engraved  with their name.
The 1972 and 1974 Eagles were a commercial success for AAR, as besides the works cars, 3 chassis were sold in 1972, 22 more  in 1973, and another 14 in 1974, the Eagles dominating the Indy cars field.
The Eagle dominated Indy car racing for four straight years, winning the "500" in 1973 in the hands of Gordon Johncock, and in 1975 in those of Unser, finishing in second place in 1974.

 

Chassis number 29 is shown below in the process of completion at the Entrepreneur shop in Fresno in 2008.

 

 Attention to detail was impressive at AAR, as shown by the aircraft-style rubber mounting of the dashboard so as to minimize engine vibrations. The tub has been polished, so as to remove years of surface corrosion during storage. The suspension has been chrome plated for the same reason. While the original car had been entirely painted by hand, computer-cut colored adhesive film was used to simplify the process.

 

 

 

Automobile dealer and collector Kirk F. White was one of the Eagle sponsors in 1972. The graphics that were designed by Philippe in late 1971 were faithfully reproduced onto the body panels. Characteristics of the works cars were dual fuel side fillers and a Weismann 4-speed transmission rather than using the Hewland "LG" as on customer cars. This car is fitted with the American gearbox.

 

 

The level of quality of the restoration is second to none. Most parts were new-old-stock but others were reconditioned used works parts obtained from All American Racers.
As for the car delivered to AAR, this one is fully functional and can be run as vintage events. The engine has a history of its own, being the one that won the 1974 California 500 and finishing in second place at Indy that year, according to engine builder John Miller's records that were saved by Philippe.

 

   

 

 

 

The car was completed and delivered on July 1, 2010 at the RIAM (Riverside International Automobile Museum) where it will be on display.

 

  Left: The cockpit shows some
of the instrumentation that
includes a manifold pressure
gauge for the turbocharger.
Seating is very narrow and
designed for tall drivers.

Right: the side radiators were
mounted inside pods filtering
the airflow as well as providing
extra down force.

 

 

 

After arrival of the car at the Riverside International Automobile Museum, the engine was prepared for being started and run so that engine builder Stewart Van Dyne could check any issues or leaks. Below, Stewart, John Mueller and his helper Jerry Wise Jr., a talented and very enthusiastic young man as well as a sprint car racer are busy getting things organized.

The engine fired right up and everything worked as it should. After the engine had reached operating temperature, it was pickled for storage, using Marvel Mystery oil in the lines to preserve against methanol damage during storage.

 

 

 

 
   See and hear the engine being fired, CLICK HERE, then HERE!
 

 

 

 

  Above left, Ken Berg takes pictures of the completed car. At left, Drake family members (Beatrice Drake and her daughter) look at the finished product that uses an engine originally manufactured by the late Dale Drake and her late husband, John Drake. An emotional reunion.
This postcard was issued by the Olsonite Corporation in 1972 and represented the earlier design on the car's nose. The decor had to be raised because of the need for a Goodyear sponsor decal.

 

  Behind the car are the Riverside hills, and beyond the hills was the regretted and now defunct raceway. The Riverside International Automobile Museum stands to the right of this picture.

 

In 1972, this was the fastest Indy car money could buy, and the fastest racing car on the planet. In 2010, it is a tribute to Dan Gurney and the team of capable people he assembled to engineer, manufacture and win races with this terrific machine.

The 1972 car had relatively simple wing arrangement. In later years, more complex wings with dual elements and larger side plates were successfully used, bringing a new era of high down force. On this car, an original 1972 wing could not be located, so a later 1974 wing from the Bobby Unser car was used. This has a Bob Liebeck developed "banana" profile as they were called, to provide ultra-high down force at lower speeds.

 

 

   

 

  The AAR Drake-Offy engine uses a Hilborn full-time fuel injection that makes the adjusting of fuel mixture a difficult proposition. Many such engines blew up in spectacular fashion if the mixture was leaned too much in its midrange, especially when the throttle was applied after deceleration for a turn. The turbo boost is adjustable but not from the cockpit. There is no intercooler in these early turbocharged engines and driving such a car required constant concentration as there was a long lagging period between throttle application and actual torque delivery, as the turbo spooled itself every time from low to maximum RPM. The result was somewhat impressive when power reached the rear wheels.

 

 

 

  As can be seen here, those Indy cars were huge machines. The total weight is nearly 1700 lbs. While this was over 100 lbs above the minimum weight per USAC rules, the car was very strong and extremely well built by Phil Remington and his crew. Compared to the rather rough period British built McLaren or Lola Indy-car chassis, the Eagle is truly a piece of jewelry. These were such good cars that they were used quite successfully from 1972 through the early 1980s after the tubs were modified for more modern aerodynamics, first by Bill Finley, then by many other mid-field teams.
Because of these later modifications, original, unmolested chassis such as this NOS example are rather rare today, the restoration of some requiring a complete reconstruction of the center bulkhead and complete re-skinning.

 

  Jerry, Stewart and John pose for a souvenir picture while Philippe is desperately trying to reach the pedals. These cars were built for tall drivers! A special seat will have to be molded for the car's first test in March 2011 at California Speedway.

 

  This is pretty much the view of the car that most 1972 Indy car racers had of the Olsonite Eagle, that is until something went awry on the car with the rotten racing luck Dan and his team encountered that year. Nevertheless, the car made its mark by winning 3 races and setting 10 poles.

 

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