Bill Lear’s Indycar may have had its doubters, but Jackie Stewart was persuaded to take a look
Nobody could accuse Lear of aiming low. His preferred Vapordyne drivers? Parnelli Jones and Jackie Stewart. Both superstars were whisked to Stead to view the project. Both had their doubts. Both kept these private while professing open minds. Hey, you never know, this thing just might work.
“Indy was the one I really wanted to win,” says Stewart. “I had come so close in my rookie year ; and in 1968 I should have driven a Lotus 56 turbine, but my damaged wrist turned out to broken. So I’d missed two chances of winning Indy. This was unfinished business.
“I got a phone call in Switzerland. It was Bill Lear. He asked if I was interested in his project. I asked him to tell me what his project was. He was a bit like that. He was very persuasive, though, and the project was intriguing. He was a little eccentric, but his long history of innovation and achievement was hard to ignore. I have respect for innovation and see nothing wrong with having what some call the Unfair Advantage.
“Plus he had Ken Wallis on the project. Ken was a ‘Merlin the Magician’ character, but his STP Indycar was still fresh in the memory.
“They flew me out first class to Los Angeles and I was picked up at LAX and flown to the factory in a Lear Jet. There was a mock-up of the car’s cockpit there. It had a lot of instruments, and there was a lot of science to digest. But Bill was charming, full of energy and had clearly done his homework.
“Then he personally flew me back to LA in his Lear Jet. He stood it on its tail and we went up like a rocket. Then he barrel-rolled it. We whipped over. Twice. There was a can of Coke open and he never spilled a drop. He was showing off, but it was impressive.
“We kept communicating – he offered me a lot of money to do the testing and time trials – but the deadlines got delayed, and it just never happened.”