We crunch the numbers of the series during its first-generation prime
writer Peter Higham
So to summarise… the first and original Canadian-American Challenge was a noisy, well-funded series for Group 7 sports-racing cars that briefly rivalled Formula 1 for stars and spectacle. It began in September 1966 and was run jointly by the Sports Car Club of America and Canadian Automobile Sport Club. With unrestricted engine capacity and rules that allowed technical freedom, the series was awash with innovation.
John Surtees’ Lola T70-Chevrolet won the first race and inaugural title, but McLaren soon dominated with Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and then Peter Revson winning the next five titles. Penske Racing and Porsche brought that run to an end in 1972 and 1973, with George Follmer and Mark Donohue.
Healthy title sponsorship from Johnson’s Wax helped attract GP drivers such as Jackie Stewart, Jo Siffert, Chris Amon, François Cevert and Dan Gurney to mix it with North America’s finest. They raced on iconic circuits from Laguna Seca and Riverside in California to Bridgehampton on the eastern Seaboard.
Jackie Oliver won the 1974 title for Don Nichols’ recently established Shadow marque, but Can-Am was now in terminal decline. A recent oil crisis, spiralling costs and the withdrawal of title sponsors and leading teams all contributed to the series being suspended after 1974. The Can-Am title was revived three years later for converted Formula 5000 cars. It had its place in the North American motor racing spectrum for a time, but was a shadow of its predecessor.