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Bob Ottum
April 11, 1966
Angered by taunts over America's lack of a Grand Prix car, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby are building star-spangled racers to compete in the coming world championship classics
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April 11, 1966

World Challenge From An Eagle's Nest

Angered by taunts over America's lack of a Grand Prix car, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby are building star-spangled racers to compete in the coming world championship classics

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Look up, America! A proud moment in history is taking shape. This one will be a gripper, and it smacks of so much apple pie and Andy Hardy that a lot of people are going to choke up when it comes. Consider this: even Hollywood, that traditional trampler of all pure emotions, is filming not one but two expensive movies that will circle all around this subject without looking directly at it. Both movies will be about auto racing, which ought to explain their caution. Movies about auto racing are known to be surefire, cinch box-office bombs.

In one of these new films you can expect to see panoramic close-ups of America's heartthrob, Steve McQueen, in taped goggles and with makeup-department oil smeared artistically across his bent nose, and there will be a lot of what is known in the trade as vroom, vroom, vroom. Lord knows what dramatic wonders the other film will unfold, but it won't show the real thing, either.

The real thing, filmed or not, will come in May at Monaco. The setting will be perfect—there on the Riviera with that lumpy old Casino in the background, where the Grand Prix racecourse runs along the harbor front and up the hill past the Hotel de Paris. The air will be heavy with the rich smell of high-test perfumes, and Princess Grace will be looking on from a velvet-draped dais.

On this stage will be three principal actors. One of them is England's Colin Chapman, who builds rear-engine racing cars and wears a rear-engine haircut. Chapman paints his Lotus cars green, and Jimmy Clark wins world championships and Indianapolis 500s in them. Chapman has become so famous that people who used to say he looked like David Niven are now saying David Niven looks like him.

Another principal is Carroll Shelby (SI, May 17, 1965), the crusty Texas-American whose Cobra last year won one of the world championships for Grand Touring cars. He will be standing on the quay (it is perfectly safe to predict) in a battered black hat that sits on his head like a Stetson vulture. And between Chapman and Shelby, so low that it comes only to their knees, will be a murderous-looking car.

Not just a car. This is the car—13 feet long, a gleaming blue torpedo suspended between four thick wheels. Behind the cockpit, just back of the roll bar, is a V-12 engine nobody has ever seen before because there has never been another quite like it. It has dual overhead cams, 48 valves and 12 polished aluminum funnels along the top of the engine gulping in air to feed it. The exhausts, coiled like a pile of snakes, angle sharply out the back. They are painted red with gold flecks; the effect is to make them look too hot to touch, a reminder to the mechanics to keep their hands away. The tapered sharklike nose ends in an air scoop big enough to gobble up large dogs and small children.

In the assembling thunder of cars warming up for the Monaco Grand Prix, Chapman looks slowly and carefully at the new car. He is about as casual as a stretched rubber band.

"What do you call this thing?"' he asks.

When the black-hatted man answers, his voice comes out just right. It always does. You could light a match on it.

"This," Shelby rasps, "is the by-God American Eagle!" That's it, patriots. Up music! This is the moment a growing number of Americans have been waiting for.

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