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.
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 But when the tube-frame car made its debut at the ’62 Dutch GP it was already outdated by Colin Chapman’s equally new monocoque Lotus 25.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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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.