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Its predecessor was more successful –
seven race victories plays six – but the
Lotus 79 dominated races in a way the
78 rarely did, and Mario Andretti and
Ronnie Peterson delivered a 1-2 in the
1978 World Championship.
To this day, Mario curses the fact that
operational errors and “development”
DFVs – 10 more horsepower...and about
40 percent more unreliability – killed off
his chances of winning the title in ’ 77. But
Andretti learned well, and rigidly stuck to
a rev-limit in the Lotus 79. The reason he
was able to do that, yet still able to pull
away from the opposition along with his
wing man, Ronnie, was that this car
addressed the other fundamental
weakness of the 78 – straightline drag.
Appearances were not deceptive. For
its time, the engine cover was extremely
low, the sidepods wouldn’t have looked
out of place as intakes on a jet fighter, and
the ground effect venturis underneath
had been extended all the way back to
Success has to be seen in context. The
Eagle Gurney-Weslake Mk1 may have
only scored one win in the Formula 1
World Championship, but that triumph in
the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix means this
gorgeous car – in many people’s eyes, the
most beautiful open-wheel racecar of all
time – has meaning that far exceeds a
cold statistic in a history book.
For one thing, there’s Dan Gurney’s
entrepreneurial skill. A brilliant driver,
famously the only one feared by the great
EAGLE GURNEY-WESLAKE MK1
Jimmy Clark, Gurney had wider ambitions
than merely being a plug-in-and-go racer.
He wanted to go racing his way, and so he
commissioned Len Terry (who’d recently
finished the Lotus 38) to design him a car
to compete in both F1 and Indy car racing.
He also commissioned British firm
Weslake Engineering to build him a V12
3-liter engine to F1’s new regulations
(hence the temporary Anglo American
Racers nomenclature). For its first four
races in ’ 66, the aluminum-monocoque
Eagle, built in Gurney’s All American
Racers shop in Santa Ana, Calif., ran a
Coventry Climax 2.7-liter four-cylinder
unit, but it was with the usually unreliable
Weslake that Gurney became only the
second driver to win in a car of his own
company’s construction (the late Jack
Brabham was the first).
That Belgian victory remains the only
time a U.S.-built F1 car has won a World
Championship GP (it also won the Race of
Champions that same year). But that
triumph against the odds just adds layers
of patriotic fervor to the feelings we all
have for a sexy car, driven by a good and
great man, one who did things the more
ambitious – but harder – way.
Pick your top five cars from racing history, we asked
RACER.com readers, and this is how the votes added up.
between the rear wheels. That helped
keep the 79 far more balanced than its
predecessor, which allowed the rear
wing to be reduced; again, less drag.
As well as still being fully deserving
of its nickname “Black Beauty,” the 79’s
coolness-by-association with American
racing’s finest human import and export
undoubtedly swayed your decisions,
too. Frankly, we couldn’t agree more.
Poignant pic: this is
Monza, and Ronnie
Peterson would have
to switch to the old
78 for the race after
crashing this car in
it was to be Ronnie’s
final grand prix.
As well as being
looking cars. Of
the 403 racecars
10 of them came
chaps at Lotus.
Gurney and Bruce McLaren – two of only
three drivers to win F1 grands prix in
cars of their own construction. DSG also
subbed for Bruce after he was killed.