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To understand Gurney, one must first understand that he revs up to a higher speed than your average car crank, but conceals it. He gets up in the morning full of pressure, and he starts out most days by barreling off into the malted-milk-colored hills around Santa Ana on a scrambler motorcycle. He bounces, fast, over rocks, through canyons and up and over trees—the low, gnarled live-oak trees of the terrain. Gurney docs this until he has his psyche hammered into enough control to handle the rest of the day's routine with emotional balance and calm.
When Gurney was younger—he is 34 now—he was a hot rodder who used to boom along the subdivisions of Riverside, Calif., which helped a little in preparing him for international racing. But, like Phil Hill, Gurney's mature reputation was built on the wheels of foreign-built cars, a situation that always rankled him. There is no way, when one is driving for someone else, to make sure one is getting the best car in the garage, and Gurney has been plagued in recent races with a series of mechanical breakdowns just at the point where he was blasting everybody off the track. But in spite of this handicap Gurney has built a solid career: in 1964 he finished six of the 10 races he started (just to finish a Grand Prix race is considered praiseworthy) and won the Grand Prix of France and Mexico. Last year Gurney won second place at Watkins Glen and in Mexico and finished fourth in world points.
Now, back at Santa Ana, Gurney puts clenched fervor into building the Eagle. If he were to come into the shop without riding the motorcycle first, every mechanic and metal-bender in the place would be a nervous wreck. As it is, he sits tautly at his president's desk as though the thing were going to take off and fly to Chicago any minute. On the desk is a packet of Gelusil tablets which, when his stomach burns too badly, Gurney eats like after-dinner mints. If these fail, he prowls through the shop like a smiling cougar.
The idea for the American Eagle came as a case of spontaneous combustion in a London taxi.
"Here we were, Dan and I, riding to a restaurant for dinner," says Shelby. "We got to talking about this thing. It was in October of 1964. Right there we put All American Racers and American Eagle together."
"It clicked," says Gurney,"because so awfully much had gone before. Ever since I was a kid, ever since I started racing cars, I have been dreaming about this sort of thing. And I would say to myself, 'Man, wouldn't it be tremendous?' I mean, our car, a United States car, not anybody else's car. In those days I also told myself. 'I've got to keep my eyes and ears open so that I'll know the right moment when it comes along.' "
"And what better time?" says Shelby. "Dan here had all the contacts with talented people to make us a car—and he had all the talent of his own to drive it for us. Perfect. And I had a few ideas on how to get my hands on some money. Not a whole lot of money. Too much financing can ruin a project like this. Just enough money."
"If I would win a race over there," says Gurney, "or if I would do well in a race over there, some well-meaning Britisher would come up to me to congratulate me. He would tell me, 'I say there, you're not like an American at all. Why, you're bloody good at driving.' And it would really turn me on. Not like an American? Ye gods!
"They play our national anthem and maybe you've got a little decal of an American Hag pasted on the side of the car, and it suddenly becomes something important."
Shelby feels just as intently and a lot more profanely. "I've had 'em say the same thing to me, 'Yer almost as good as a Europeen,' like a jab in the eye with a sharp stick."