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F1 History 9

Dan Gurney with Porsche

It happened 51 years ago in the summer of 1962.

Porsche had raced a couple of F2-based four-cylinder cars for Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier in the ’61 World Championship. In fact, Gurney finished third in the championship that year, tied on points with Stirling Moss behind fellow American Phil Hill and his deceased Ferrari team-mate Wolfgang von Trips.

history  Dan Gurney with Porsche
Gurney took pole, fastest lap and second place at the non-championship Syracuse Grand Prix in 1961

Porsche was thus inspired to design and build an all-new car for 1962, the type 804, powered by a flat-8 engine. But when the tube-frame car made its debut at the ’62 Dutch GP it was already outdated by Colin Chapman’s equally new monocoque Lotus 25. Nor did Porsche’s flat-8 produce the power or torque to match the new V8s from Coventry-Climax and BRM.

A tall man, Gurney didn’t fit the new Porsche very well either. The seating position was uncomfortably upright and Dan was up in the airstream with a good portion of his upper torso sticking out of the cockpit. It was a sharp contrast to the very different look of the Lotus 25 with Jim Clark reclining low in the car well out of the airstream.

Dan Gurney’s F1 victories
1962 French GP (Porsche)
1962 Solitude GP (Porsche)
1964 French GP (Brabham)
1964 Mexican GP (Brabham)
1967 Race of Champions (Eagle)
1967 Belgian GP (Eagle)

Despite these shortcomings, Gurney was able to qualify the largely untested 804 eighth on the grid and made a few positions in the race until a variety of problems contributed to his retirement.

Turning the tide

The Dutch GP was an embarrassment for Porsche and Ferry Porsche declared the car would not race again until it had completed a full Grand Prix distance without any trouble. Over the next few weeks Gurney put in lap after lap at the Nürburgring and finally ran 200 uninterrupted miles without failure. The entire team retired to a local bar and restaurant to celebrate.

“Once they got a little wine into them, the mechanics started singing,” Gurney recalls. “It was very nice, a very special evening.”

history  Dan Gurney with Porsche
Zandvoort, 1962

After missing the Belgian GP the team returned to action at the French GP, run that year at the challenging Rouen road circuit. The revised 804 was much more competitive although it was still short of breath compared to the new cars from Lotus, BRM and Lola. Gurney qualified sixth at Rouen and again moved up in the race but this time there were no problems like there had been in the car’s debut at Zandvoort.

As the 804 hummed along flawlessly Dan found himself moving up the leader board as each of Graham Hill’s BRM, Clark’s Lotus and John Surtees’ Lola hit trouble and dropped out. With 13 laps to go Gurney emerged in the lead and went on to win by a lap from Tony Maggs’s Cooper. It was Porsche’s first World Championship F1 win and would turn out to be the last.

“I loved Rouen because it had everything,” Gurney says. “One of my favourite photographs is Juan Fangio in a Maserati 250F at Rouen giving the boys a demonstration in how to go through a corner in the downhill section after the pits. You could really separate the men from the boys there. It was a pleasure to win on the same track where Fangio and a lot of other great drivers had run.”

Gurney wins again

The non-championship Solitude GP took place the following weekend. Solitude was a seven-mile circuit using public roads and was located just outside Stuttgart where Porsche was headquartered. A 500cc Grand Prix world championship motorcycle race was also on the weekend’s schedule and a huge crowd of more than 300,000 people turned out. Gurney loved the track and the atmosphere.

history  Dan Gurney with Porsche
Rouen, 1962

“That was another very subtle, very difficult place to get going on,” he comments. “It had a bunch of downhill swerves through the forest for a couple of miles. It was fast and you had to be in exactly the right position because if you got out of phase it really slowed you down.”

After a fierce battle Dan and team-mate Bonnier finished one-two in their pair of 804s, beating Trevor Taylor’s works Lotus. Needless to say, the highly partisan crowd went wild with joy.

Americans in F1
Lunch with Mario Andretti
Phil Hill on Ferrari

How good was Peter Revson?

“When we won with a German car they put us on the back of an open convertible to do a lap and wave to the crowd,” Gurney relates. “It was a long lap and as we drove along it was like ‘The Wave’. The German fans were throwing their hats in the air and there was a constant stream of 20 or 25 hats in the air. It just kept going like a wave as we toured the track. That was a very memorable day.”

Gurney finished third in the German GP at the Nürburgring the following month and was fifth in World Championship points behind Graham Hill, Clark, Bruce McLaren and Surtees. In the Constructors’ Championship Porsche came home fifth, tied with Ferrari, but at the end of the year it pulled out of F1, never to return with a car or factory team.

history  Dan Gurney with Porsche

Gurney joined Jack Brabham’s team for 1963 and drove for him for three years. During his time with Brabham he won two more Grand Prix races and demonstrated his chops as a rare rival to Jim Clark. Dan moved on to race his own AAR Eagles in 1966, ’67 and ’68 before Goodyear pulled the plug, ending his European adventures.

Dan ran a few F1 and Can-Am races for McLaren in 1970 following Bruce’s death but retired at the end of the year to concentrate on running All American Racers and building and racing a long series of successful Eagle Indycars. One of America’s greatest drivers and team owners, who achieved success in a wide variety of cars, including Can-Am, long-distance sports cars, Indycars and NASCAR stock cars, Gurney has also gone down in history as the only man to win a Grand Prix for Porsche.

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history  Dan Gurney with Porsche

Add your comments

9 comments on Dan Gurney with Porsche

  1. Michael Kavanagh, 25 November 2013 10:23

    Gordon Kirby – and in this instance Dan Gurney too – is what makes Monday mornings bearable.

  2. John, 25 November 2013 11:13

    I saw the Porsche F1 car in the ProtoTyp museum in Hamburg recently, it looked so small, more kids go-kart than an F1 car. They also had an interesting and very large display on the life and death of von Trips, that era seems so alien to the ultra safety conscious times we live in.

  3. Mario Carneiro Neto, 25 November 2013 12:25

    Every time Gordon writes a story about Dan Gurney I show up to say the same 2 things:

    1) Great story, as usual! Dan is a legend and we’re lucky he’s still around and still has the love for motor sport.

    2) When is his autobiography coming out so we can all read about his exploits as told by the man himself?? I feel like it has been promised to us forever!

    That’s about it.

    Fascinating read.

  4. Ian Taylor, 25 November 2013 13:01

    I have never met anyone in the past 50 years that had a bad word to say about my US Hero Daniel Sexton Gurney.
    Also there was never a bad word about my Scottish Hero. Jim Clark.
    We have been very lucky to have enjoyed these great
    racers in our lifetime.
    It is still a joy to be in his company once a year at the RRDA Dinner

  5. chrisb, 26 November 2013 20:33

    adulation has been well-earned by this incredible human being, should he have been president? my motor racing legend will always be Jimmy, but gosh Dan runs him close, please Gordon, ‘encourage’ the autobiography please

    the Porsche looked quite interesting as a car and i did wonder why they didn’t pursue the F1 dream a bit more, was this engine the basis of their future?

  6. Rich Ambroson, 27 November 2013 22:32

    For sure, I hope to read a Dan Gurney autobiography sometime relatively soon. Tony Brooks finally got his down (and I’m enjoying reading it at the moment!), it would be great if Dan Gurney shared some of his experiences with us in the form of an autobiography.

    Yes, he’d have made a great president, no question.

    As a fan favorite, he’s earned that by being an exemplary human being. He ALWAYS made/makes time for the fans at racing events. When I had the good fortune to chat with him on Friday practices at IMSA and CART events, as well a couple of Monterey Historics, he spent a good deal of time with myself and other fans, and made us all feel like longtime friends. His racing record needs no further elaboration for those reading this site.

    Great man.

  7. Terry Jacob, 28 November 2013 11:11

    Those ‘ Dan Gurney for President ‘ bumper stickers were right – this is a man of enduring charm . He was a pretty capable racer in the day as well , the equal of acknowledged masters in several specialist fields , F1 , sports cars , Indy , NASCAR .

  8. Sandeep Banerjee, 28 November 2013 22:17

    Dan is one of the most iconic racers in history, no doubt. He possessed as much talent as any world champion there ever was. Black Jack himself said were his Brabham cars more reliable, Dan would have probably won the championship in them.

    But Dan is cooler, in all of our eyes, for having driven for Porsche and scored the iconic marque’s sole win, for having driven his own and possibly the most beautiful F1 car ever to victory at a daunting circuit like Spa and for all the other masterclass performances he put in a variety of disciplines and then to further enrichen his contribution to motor racing as a team owner.

    Cannot wait for his official autobiography, especially if you should happen to write it, Gordon.

  9. Dick Richards, 29 November 2013 16:27

    Gurney could have won a couple of World Champion titles had he stayed with Brabham, rather than setting up his own AAR.
    His team was spread a bit thin trying to run cars for USAC and F1, still he did have the satisfaction of the Spa win with his Eagle. Too bad the F1 part had to be wrapped up, the American part of AAR was quite successful.
    He has the distinction of winning the debut WC F1 race for three different makes, Porsche, Brabham and Eagle. All told a very classy guy.

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