Let joy be unrestrained, you image-conscious Americans. Let there be drinks all around and freestyle dancing in the streets. On one stunning afternoon this week the leanest, handsomest, least-ugly American of them all climbed into the car he calls the American Eagle and wrapped a famous European auto race in red, white and blue. As the Belgian Grand Prix growled to a finish in the slanting sunset over Spa, the only thing Dan Gurney had not done recently in Europe was leap tall buildings with a single bound.
Altogether it had been a remarkable three weeks in auto racing for America, Gurney and A. J. Foyt. First Foyt won the Indianapolis 500 (for big 4.2-liter single-seaters and visiting turbines) to reverse the trend to foreign champions. Then Foyt and Gurney seized the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a huge seven-liter Mark IV Ford, a so-called sports car prototype with fenders, lights, windshield wipers and all that.
But for the tall, blond Californian, last Sunday was the best of all. It was in a three-liter single-seater of his own creation that Gurney won in Belgium—at a record-breaking average speed of 145.988—and it was the first time in 46 years that an American car and driver had taken a Formula I race of such importance. No longer must Americans mumble, "Jimmy Murphy, French Grand Prix, Duesenberg, 1921," as an example of U.S. Grand Prix genius.
In the Belgian Grand Prix the object is to drive an 8.76-mile network of tree-lined country roads as fast as you dare for 245 miles, through 170-mph curves and along 200-mph straightaways; all this in fragile little racers that look as if they will never make it. Winning gets a man nine points toward the world driving championship and a whole lot older all at once.
This was the fastest Grand Prix anywhere, ever, in history. At the finish behind Gurney came Scotland's Jackie Stewart in a BRM. He had driven his last 10 laps with a balky gearbox, steering at top speed with one hand and holding the car in gear with the other. Behind him ran New Zealander Chris Amon in a Ferrari that, in spite of everything he could do, could not live up to its brilliant red paint job.
Only seven other cars finished, while eight more were broken and out of it and Ferrari Driver Mike Parkes lay in a nearby hospital with a broken leg.
The drivers obviously meant business right from the start of practice. The former world champion, Jimmy Clark, rifled around at 151.572 mph in a snarling new Lotus to win the pole, breaking John Surtees' old qualifying record of 144.68—and giving himself a scare. On the back straightaway, winging uphill at a clocked 193 mph, he had hit a low-flying bird so hard that it dented his rear-vision mirror "about this far from my face." Then Gurney did 149.347 mph, and Hill 148.154 in a sister car to Clark's, and thus the American Eagle started the race sandwiched between a pair of Lotuses.
Both Lotuses were mean-looking, half-chassis affairs with new Ford of England V-8 engines. Designer-Builder Colin Chapman had produced a mini-monocoque chassis that ended behind the driver's seat. Engines and rear suspension setups were bolted aft. In action the cars flashed past in green and yellow streaks, undulating like surfboards. This novel design had bounced Clark to victory a fortnight earlier in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.
Then there was Jack Brabham's new car, lighter and sleeker than anything around, glittering with chrome fittings and deep green paint and now boasting a new Repco V-8 from Australia, no hint remaining of last year's Oldsmobile engine block. There were BRMs, Ferraris and Cooper-Maseratis, too, but it was the dark blue Eagle that caught the fancy of the Ardennes. Gurney's car was a 1,020-pound GP version of his Indy Eagles, considerably lightened for tricky road work. The new Gurney-Weslake V-12 engine—so new, in fact, that there are only five in various stages of readiness—cranks out something over 400 hp, all of it ringing through titanium tail pipes that clink like fine champagne glasses when struck. Crankcase and cylinder heads are aluminum, many of the innards are magnesium and the ribs and suspension parts are titanium. "This space-age metal actually shortens the life of a car," Gurney said, "but nobody wants a car to live forever. What we want it to do is win races."
The three Ferrari entries sounded shrill and deadly, as Ferraris always do, but Franco Lini, who manages the Ferrari works team—perhaps because his middle name is Enzo—stood by the track and expressed a certain lack of confidence.