Gary Knutson and Jerry Mallett with their Lotus 11 Climax at the ‘Garden of The Gods’, Colorado Springs, Colorado circa 1959…

Knutson went on to become one of the ’main men’ during the McLaren ‘Papaya Period’ after doing stints with Traco and Chaparral, but here he is posing with his later business partner and their new car just acquired from Jim Hall.

Its amazing how you find stuff such as this wonderful photograph. I was trying to find the correct spelling of Gary’s surname which I always get wrong- off to Google. Click away. Bingo! The trouble is the photo is on ‘The Nostalgia Forum’, the most content rich motorsport website on the planet. I can never deal with a new thread on TNF in less than an hour.

Tyler Alexander and Gary Knutson tend to their charge in the Bridghampton paddock, 1968. Bruce waits patiently. Both M8A’s had engine dramas this race- Bruce ran a bearing and Denny’s chucked a rod. Mark Donohue won in Roger Penske’s M6B Chev (P Lyons)

Contributions to this thread of TNF include bits by Wally Willmott, Howden Ganley, Jerry Entin and others. Here are some snippets, its not a comprehensive article about Knutson but a pot-pourri of bits and bobs plus a link to a fantastic, detailed article in Hot Rod magazine on development of the Big Block Chev ZL1 V8- Knutson was up to his armpits in that project of course.

The connection to Jim Hall was via Jims brother Chuck who was going to the University of Colorado, at Boulder, as was Knutson. Gary prepared Chuck’s Corvette with which he was third in class at Pikes Peak in 1958.

Knutson and Mallett shortly thereafter saw a sportscar race in Phoenix and were hooked- they then approached Jim via Chuck to buy the 1.5 litre Coventry Climax powered Lotus 11 Le Mans Series 2.

Bruce McLaren and Robin Herd’s superb, simple monocoque M6A Chev- the ’67 Can Am Champ. ’67 engines developed on Al Bartz’ dyno in Van Nuys, Cal by Knutson as McLaren then did not have a dyno- look closely on the rocker cover and you can see the Bartz tag in addition to the McLaren Flower Power one! Cast iron Chev 350, four-bolt main bearing caps, 2.02 /1.60 inch intake/exhaust valves with 4 Weber 48IDA carbs 525 bhp @ 7600 rpm. An additional 25 bhp was gained with the adoption of Lucas fuel injection- Knutson used Traco throttle bodies on a Mickey Thomson cross-ram intake manifold intended for Webers. Also used was a Corvette Rochester fuel injection distributor to drive the metering unit and a Vertex magneto instead of a distributor. McLaren was reported disappointed with the power gain but the improved throttle response and driveability was significant with the M6A’s winning 5 of the 6 rounds and Bruce the championship from Denny (unattributed)

Knutson, born in 1937 lived in Colorado Springs where his mother was a teacher and father a photographer. His mechanical interest started with Soapbox Derby devices, a Maytag washing machine motor powered trike and Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engines, then ‘Whizzer’ ‘bike engines and soon an Ardun flat-head Ford V8 engine which went into a 1932 ‘5 window’ Ford which was ‘dragged’ and hill-climbed. Gary won a dirt hillclimb event in the car aged 16 at Georgetown.

Mallett recalls ‘When we ran the Lotus 11, both of us worked two jobs each to pay for the thing, but we would roll out of Colorado Springs on Friday night at about 7 pm and drive all night to Salt Lake City, Utah, New Mexico or Texas. The first race was in Dallas, Texas and after the all night drive, a shower and a cup of coffee, we really thought we were in the big leagues. Around 8 am a trailer showed up with four Ferraris. It was a long day’.

1967 Chev 350 McLaren engine detail at Road America. Note the Traco throttle bodies and Mickey Thomson magnesium manifold referred to above. Below is the Vertex maggy and roller-rocker valve gear- by whom I wonder? (D Friedman)

Knutson worked for Chaparral in the early days when the Chap 2 was first built and the team comprised Jim Hall and Hap Sharp, chief mechanic Franz Weis, ace fabricator Troy Rogers, with Gary as the engine man. At Traco Engineering before commencing McLaren’s in-house Chevy engine program, he worked on a ‘Who’s Who of all branches of motor racing engines doing 14 hour days with Wally Willmott, with Gary having oversight of the Ford Quad Cam Indy to McLaren F1 engine project.

The in-house CanAm project started with the ’67 McLaren Chev 350 cid engines which produced about 525 bhp @ 7600 rpm on Webers, before Knutson adapted Lucas fuel injection…

At this point, click on this link to a wonderful article in ‘Hot Rod’ magazine about the development of the McLaren Chev aluminium, big block ‘Rat Motors’ in which Knutson was the major player, it’s a beauty;

1968 7 litre Chev ally LT1 ‘Rat Motor’. Development work initially done with cast iron block and the new L88 ally heads till the blocks became available. 4.25 inch standard bore and 3.76 inch stroke with Moldex steel crank, Cloyes roller timing chains, cam by Vince Piggins group at Chev R&D. Production solid lifters, Forgedtrue pistons and Carillo rods. Dry sump pumps by Weaver and magnesium dry sump pans by Chev R&D. The L88 heads had 2.19/1.84 inch intake/exhaust valves with the ports enlarged and re-shaped. Crane aluminium roller-rockers. Magnesium intake manifolds had a 2.9 inch bore for each cylinder with a fuel injector into each of the curved and tuned length steel velocity stacks. Intakes were modified Crower with MacKay making the intakes, Lucas metering unit, Vetex magneto and tach drives from magnesium. That lot generated  a real 650 bhp @ 7600 rpm with McLaren quoting 620 in-period . In ’68 the M8A won 4 of the 6 rounds and Denny the title. McLarens won every round of the series (HotRod)


The Nostalgia Forum,

Photo Credits…

Gary Knutson Collection, Pete Lyons, Dave Friedman Archive,

Tailpiece: Moss, Hulme and Knutson astride another McLaren mechanic, McLaren M6A Chev, Road America 1967…

Stirling Moss is interviewing the winner Denny Hulme whilst Knutson looks pleased that his engine has won first time out. Road Am the first ’67 Can Am round on 3 September. Donohue and Surtees were 2nd/3rd in Lola T70 Mk3B’s with Bruce #4 below out with an oil leak on lap 6 (D Friedman)



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