Posts Tagged ‘1967 Can Am Championship’

(B D’Olivo)

Jim Hall and his Chaparral 2G Chev look surreal juxtaposed against the Mojave Desert, Stardust GP, Las Vegas in November 1967…

Other worldly really, which of course they were. Like so many of us outside North America i missed the Can Am but have always been fascinated by it. One of THE great racing categories ever with some marvellous circuits, Bridghampton for me the most photogenic and Las Vegas the least. But not this monochrome, sundown shot by Bob D’Olivo which has a magic, eerie, feel to it. Hall failed to finish the race won by John Surtees’ Lola T70 Mk3B Chev.

Wings were well and truly a Chaparral paradigm by then, it wasn’t until 1968 they appeared in Grand Prix racing.


Chap 2G Chev, Road America pitlane September 1967. Jim Hall, Q7 and 4th in the race won by Denny Hulme’s McLaren M6A Chev. First race of the ’67 Can Am. The Papaya McLaren era is underway (D Friedman)

I wonder if the demonstrable pace of the winged 2F’s throughout Europe in 1967, campaigning in the World Manufacturers Championship effectively forced other designers to look at an area of aerodynamics they didn’t understand? That is, they could be ignored in the US as some sort of big car Can Am aberration, but the monthly sight of the things on ‘your own doorstep’ performing so well, if somewhat unreliably, forced a closer look. Check out my 2F article;

And so it was that wings flourished unfettered in F1 during 1968. And were then reigned back in after CSI dictates over the 1969 Monaco GP weekend in response to some appalling engineering, make that under-engineering of said wing support structures.


Series of body and aero shots of the Chap 2G at Road America (D Friedman)

Innovation is such an interesting thing. I mean that literally. Stuff being different to an existing paradigm makes it interesting because of its difference. Same, same, is boring doncha reckon?

We don’t get a lot of innovation in most of our motor racing classes these days, be it single-seaters, sportscars, or ‘taxis’. The rules either mitigate against it or mandate conformity of approach. Not least in F1. Often such rule changes or evolution has occurred to ‘contain costs’ and ‘ensure the drivers can compete on equal terms’. Who says that the latter is a good idea other than in the most junior of formulae where history tells us that uniformity of core package has worked well.


Jim Hall, Road America, September ’67 (D Friedman)

The funny thing about Jim Hall, Chaparral and innovation is that the powers that be were happy to allow their creativity to run free whilst the cars weren’t race winners. But when they were, or appeared to be, with the 1970 2J ‘Sucker’ it was legislated out of existence. So, in that sense we can be thankful that Jim, Hap, and Phil didn’t win more races or perhaps these wonderful cars may have been restricted by the intervention of vested interests of the paradigm much earlier!

God bless the innovators though, we need some. Now. And rules that allow differences of approach. Times are more complex than the sixties though. My polemic on F1 a while back supported innovation amongst other changes but how can it be afforded?


Chap 2G looks as modern as tomorrow- as a reference point one needs to look at its sportscar and single-seater peers. Road Am ’67. Aluminium monocoque 2C based chassis. Engine aluminium 427 cid Chev 90 degree, pushrod OHV injected V8, circa 525 bhp @ 6000 rpm. Chaparral/GM 3 speed ‘automatic’ transaxle, circa 780 kg (D Friedman)

Jim’s wings, automatic gearboxes and fibreglass monocoques were relatively simple (but very clever) whereas innovation now, will probably involve ‘power units’ of massive complexity and cost akin to the current ones used in the highly restricted and complex F1. Which means major manufacture involvement and resultant ‘winners and losers’, ‘haves and have nots’ in terms of the approaches which are successful and those which are dogs. Teams ability to afford such equipment is an issue with potential impacts on grid size.

But that’s probably a good thing, smaller more interesting grids of different looking and sounding cars has to be preferable to the highly contrived, boring sameness we see now?

Anyway, here is to innovators, god bless em…


Exquisite detail wherever you look, 2G cockpit, Road Am ’67 (D Friedman)

Photo Credits…

Bob D’Olivo, Dave Friedman

Tailpiece: Truly wild in profile, Chaparral 2G Chev, Road America, 3 September 1967…


(D Friedman)


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)