Posts Tagged ‘Lotus 29 Ford’

Gurney in Lotus 29-R1 Ford at Indy in March 1963. Here with symmetrical suspension, raced with offset

A bit like Chris Amon, there is no such thing as too much Dan Gurney.

I’ve been researching an article on Lotus’ 1963 Indy campaign and have discovered a few Dan shots too good to waste.

Gurney’s mind was blown, just like everybody elses, when the Lotus 25 Climax was rolled out of the Team Lotus transporter at Zandvoort in 1962. That monocoque design was an Indy winner; as a Californian he was keen to drink the Indy Winners Milk.

He said as much to Colin Chapman and flicked the Lotus supremo a free air ticket to watch him contest the ’62 event in a Mickey Thompson Spl; John Crosthwaite’s mid-engined, spaceframe powered by a Buick stock-block V8. Dan ran in the top ten until the transaxle was hors ‘d combat. Importantly ole-chunky was on the hook.

I promise your slice of the pie will be no less than that Daniel! Colin Chapman and Dan Gurney at Indy in 1963
Lotus 29 Ford’s first test at Indy in March 1963. Gurney aboard chassis R1, which is fitted with symmetrical suspension, wobbly-web wheels rather than the Dunlops it raced with and stack-exhausts rather than the megaphones which followed (unattributed)

Gurney was a Ford man, his teenage hot-rod exploits were all Flattie-Ford powered. He raced a Holman Moody Ford Fairlane NASCAR at Riverside in early ’62 and used a couple of Ford heavies he met that weekend to set up a meeting between he, Chapman and the-right Ford execs at Dearborn in July.

By March 1963 the Lotus 29 – call it a fat-25 – powered by a 350-375bhp, 255cid all aluminium pushrod variant of the 260 Windsor Falcon/Fairlane V8 was being tested for the first time by Jim Clark at Snetterton.

At Indy Clark ran second to Parnelli Jones’ Watson Offy Roadster for the last 20 or 30 laps. Jones was dropping oil, but was not black-flagged as other cars dropping lubricant throughout the race had been.

The Indy Establishment, led by Chief Steward Harlan Fengler – who had the black flag power – shafted Lotus, Ford, Chapman, Clark and Gurney. Revenge was sweet in 1965 when Lotus Fords occupied the front row driven by Gurney, Clark and AJ Foyt – and Clark won.

Gurney was seventh in 1963, his engine wore a cam-lobe, so he wasn’t able to press hard in the same manner as Clark. Check out my Auto Action feature on the 1963 race here; Auto Action #1823 by Auto Action – Buy through Issuu

Clark and Gurney, in his Yamaha sponsored 29, Indy 1963 (unattributed)
Gurney during the Milwaukee 200 in 1963 (unattributed)

Keen to reinforce the point about their speed, Clark and Gurney raced in the Milwaukee 200 three weeks after Indy, Clark won with Gurney third.

In 1964 the same duo raced the evolved Lotus 34, the most critical mechanical change of which was use of Ford’s Quad Cam Indy V8; this fuel injected, four-cam, two valve V8 produced circa 400bhp.

AJ Foyt’s Watson Offy won the race – the last by a front-engined car- which is primarily remembered for the horrific seven car, lap two accident and conflagration which cost the lives of Dave MacDonald (Thompson Ford and Eddie Sachs (Halibrand Ford). Coincidently, Sach’s Watson was the last casualty of ‘Fengler’s oil slick’ the year before, when he boofed the fence on lap 181, and then copped a punch-in-the-nose the following day when he fronted Jones about his win.

Gurney’s Lotus 34 quad-cam in 1964, Chapman alongside (D Friedman)

Lotus were contracted to Dunlop in F1. Chapman used hard Firestones in ’63 and sought the performance , and no doubt, commercial advantage of softer Dunlops in ’64. One of Clark’s (from pole) tyres failed after 47 laps taking out the left-rear corner of the car. Gurney retired after 110 laps with excessive wear…FoMoCo were not amused as Clark’s failure happened on the entry to the main-straightaway (front straight) providing an exciting – and oh so public – epic-fail in front of 150,000 or so spectators.

Needless to say, Ford took control of tyre choice in 1965, an all-Ford year.

Indy front row 1965; Gurney, left and Clark in Lotus 38s and AJ Foyt on pole, Lotus 34 Ford (AAR archive)
Gurney, Lotus 38 Ford, Indy 1965 (unattributed)

AJ Foyt’s Lotus 34 Ford took pole while Clark’s Lotus 38 won, having led 189 of the 200 laps, from Jones Lotus 34 Ford, a young Mario Andretti’s (Brabham based) Hawk Ford and All Miller’s Lotus 29 Ford. Poor old Dan started from the outside of the front row but was a DNF after 38 laps with timing-gear failure in his Lotus 38.

While his Eagles won plenty of Indy 500s, Dan never did take one as a driver, a great shame!



The business end of Gurney’s Lotus 29-R2 in 1963.

Gurney and Chapman pitched a 4.2-litre pushrod engine to Ford. They figured, based on Dan’s 1962 experience, that a 350 pound, 350bhp petrol fuelled Ford V8 would do the trick. As it did…

Clark’s Lotus 34 Ford in 1964.

Lotus 29 and 34 were bathtub-monocoques, the 38 was a full-monocoque. Note the offset suspension to the right, and Ford quad-cam 4.2-litre V8.


Getty Images, David Friedman, AAR Archive


(AAR archive)

The boys fire up Dan’s Ford V8 in 1967. His beautiful, dual purpose F1/Indycar design, in Indy spec designated Eagle 67 Ford was designed by Len Terry, the same bloke who drew Chapman’s epochal Lotus 25 F1 car and 29/34/38 Indycars.

He started from Q2, led 2 of the 200 laps but was out after 160 laps with piston failure. Better would come, Bobby Unser won in an Eagle 68 Offy in 1968, and Dan was second in an Eagle 68 Gurney-Weslake-Ford.



Al Unser blasts out of the pits during his victorious 1970 Indy 500 win in his Lola/Colt ‘Johnny Lightning Special’…

Opportunistic American mechanics, drivers and team owners were slow to recognise a good thing.

Jack Brabham’s first appearance at the Brickyard in 1961 with his little 2.7-litre Cooper T54 Coventry Climax FPF saw him qualify 13th, finish 9th and take home a big payday by the GP standards of the day.

indy jack

With John Cooper and Jack having made clear the advantages of mid-engined cars on their patch American team-owners and mechanics followed the path started by Cooper in the early 1950’s, their first GP win, in Argentina 1958, when Moss won in a 2 litre Cooper T43.

The first in the US to recognise the mid-engined trend was Mickey Thompson, he teamed with Dan Gurney with a proprietary chassis and aluminum Buick V8 power to qualify 8th in 1962, he was classified 20th with 92 laps.

dan in mt spl

Dan Gurney in Mickey Thompson’s Buick stock block V8 powered ‘Harvey Aluminium Special’, Thompson in the dark shirt at right, Indy 1962. This engine, famously the brother of the F85 Olds, the block of which formed the basis of the Repco Brabham ‘RB620’ 1966 World F1 Championship winning 3 litre V8. Chassis designed by Brit John Crosthwaite, 3 cars built for the ’62 race (unattributed)

1963 made it clear the Indy roadster’s days were numbered when Jim Clark and Gurney brought Colin Chapman’s lightweight Ford pushrod V8 powered Lotus 29 to The Brickyard. In that first year Clark was barely beaten by Parnelli Jones in a Watson Offy roadster. Some say given the oil the Watson was dropping that only the Indy ‘establishment’ prevented a victory that was rightfully Clark/Chapman’s. Jones took the lesson to heart.

jim and dan

Jim and Dan (right), Lotus 29 Ford, Indy, morning practice 18 May 1963, note offset suspension. Superb bits of kit (Bob Jennings)

In 1964, 12 of the 33 of the grid were mid-engined cars. Their builders are a directory of Gasoline Alley; Watson, Epperly, Huffaker, Vollstedt, Thompson and Halibrand, only two constructors were ‘furrin, Lotus and Brabham.

In 1965 only a single roadster, Gordon Johncock’s Watson Offy, finished in the top ten. There were only 6 front-engined roadsters in the 33 car field, Clark finally won in his Lotus 38 Ford. By 1966 there was only one roadster left. The transition was complete, in five years the Indy field and the shape of American champcar racing had been transformed.

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Lotus 38 Ford erotica Indy 1965, the year of Jim Clark’s win in one of these cars, Bobby Johns drove the other factory car. Essential elements the aluminium monocoque chassis, DOHC Ford ‘Indy’ V8, mid-engined layout of course and superb Lotus attention to detail (Bob D’Olivo)

The period of innovation continued throughout the ’60’s…

Andy Granatelli’s STP Corporation raced a four wheel drive Pratt and Whitney turbine engined car driven by Parnelli Jones at Indy in ’67. After leading nearly every lap of the rain interrupted race a 25 cent part in the gearbox failed, bringing the ‘whooshmobile’ to a halt giving the win to A.J. Foyt’s now conventional Coyote-Ford V8. Jones was classified 6th.

What made this period a golden one apart from the innovation of cars like Parnelli’s Granatelli turbine were a confluence of events which included Ford’s global drive to dominate all forms of racing; Grands Prix, Le Mans, drag strips, NASCAR and USAC. Firestone and Goodyear also battled each other like the heavyweight champs they were, in the process creating tyres of great grip as the understanding of polymer chemistry developed exponentially.

indy parnelli

The advantages of 4WD were shown by Jones in 1967. George Bignotti sought to exploit it by combining 4WD grip with the dominant Ford V8 in 1968 with a 4WD Lola T150 for Al Retzloff , founder of a Houston based chemical company, to be driven by Al Unser. And so the basis of the later ‘Johnny Lightning Special’ was born.

I wrote an article about the equally iconic ‘American Red Ball Spl’ Lola T90 Ford, which provides some context in terms of Lola’s early Indycars and which took Graham Hill to his 1966 Indy win, click here to read it;

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Al Indy ’68, Lola T150 Ford (unattributed)

In the 500 Unser qualified the new 4WD Lola outside the second row in 6th but crashed on lap 40 when a spindle broke, brother Bobby won in an Eagle Offy.

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Lola T150 Ford at Indy ’68, note the vestigial ‘wing’, their is no such thing as an ugly Lola, bias duly acknowledged! (unattributed)

After repair back at Lola’s Bromley works in England the T150 returned in time for the USAC road course race at Indy Raceway Park. Unser proved his versatility on road circuits, winning both heats. His victory came a week after taking his first USAC Championship victory on the dirt at Nazareth. He followed up both wins with another victory later in the season at Langhorne.

indy lola upright

Al in the T150 on 21 July 1968, he won at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Indiana. Aluminium monocoque tub, upper and lower wishbone and coil spring damper unit front suspension all clear. Look carefully and you can see the front driveshaft behind the steering arm (Alvis Upitis)

al and jo

Unser’s Lola T150 Ford chasing Jo Leonard’s Lotus 56 Pratt & Whitney turbine 4WD, Clermont, Indiana, 1968 . The photo says everything that was good about Indy in the ’60’s, innovation! For a while anyway, inevitably political pressure was applied to maintain orthodoxy and contain ‘runaway costs’ (Alvis Upitis)

A major development in 1969 US racing was the foundation of the ‘Vel’s Parnelli Jones’ Ford team which would go all the way to F1 with Mario Andretti in 1975.

Supported by Ford and Firestone, Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones set up their own team, buying out Al Retzloff, acquiring his Lola Fords and the services of legendary chief mechanic George Bignotti, his co-chief Jim Dilamarter and Al Unser. Their objective was to dominate USAC racing and also to race competitively in F1, taking the Firestone banner into Goodyear dominated territory.

USAC reacted predictably to the advantages of 4WD by restricting them to just 10-inch tyre widths, effectively robbing the promising but expensive technology of its advantage and protecting the status quo of USAC car owners.

Bignotti and Dilamarter converted the T150, carrying USAC #3 signifying Al Unser’s 1968 driving championship standing, to rear wheel drive with side-mounted fuel cells and the distinctive ‘coal chute’ rear decks feeding air to rear-mounted oil coolers. The Lola was renamed the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Special.

In its first race at Phoenix, Al put the VPJ Spl on pole but the Ford V8 dropped a valve on lap 14 whilst in the lead. After Hanford on April 13 the show headed for Indianapolis for the long month of May.

It rained continuously throughout the first week of qualifying. Unser was fast, but broke his leg in a motorcycle accident whilst waiting for the weather to clear! This car was given to veteran Bud Tingelstad who qualified 18th and was classified 15th when a Ford valve again broke on lap 155.


Bud Tingelstad in the VPJ Lola T150 Ford, at Indy in 1969 (unattributed)

Jim Malloy qualified and finished 2nd in the T150 in the ‘Rex Mays Classic’ at the Milwaukee Mile, then 7th at Langhorne. Unser crashed in practice for the 151 mile road course race at Continental Divide on July 6, taking over Malloy’s car for the feature but dropped out with broken suspension.

Al capped the car’s season with a win from pole at Phoenix on November 15, finishing 2nd in the 1969 driver’s championship to Mario Andretti, amazing given that after his motorcycle accident at Indy he had only 19 starts to Andretti’s 24.

Unser spoke to Gordon Kirby about 1969; ‘If I hadn’t broke my leg in 1969 the car was totally capable of winning the 500 in ’69,’ he said. ‘It was already there and 1970 showed it. Look at the races I won through the last half of ‘69 and in ‘70 I just dominated everything. The Indycar and the dirt car (King Ford) were both fantastic cars to drive’.











For 1970 the Lola-based Vel’s Parnelli Jones Special was again modified with aerodynamic improvements and changed its identity yet again to ‘Lola-Colt’… Bignotti and Dilamarter built two more cars using this proven and highly developed car as the pattern. They were known as ‘P.J. Colts’. In 1970 Unser used two cars; the 1968 continuously modified Lola T150 Ford as his short paved oval/road course car and one of the new Colts as his long circuit car including Indy.

Miletich and Jones signed Topper Toys as the team’s sponsor, its ‘Johnny Lightning’ blue livery with bold yellow lightning bolts outlined in red became one of racing’s most recognized, brilliant and striking liveries.

Unser had an amazing 1970 in which he won 10 of 18 starts including the Indy 500, had a record 15 top-5 finishes and 8 poles. It was close to total domination and set Al Unser on the way to his 4 Indy 500 wins.


Unser in the winning PJ Colt Ford ‘Johnny Lightning Spl’ during the 1970 ‘500 (unattributed)

With the Lola T150 he won at Phoenix in the season opener, at Indianapolis Raceway Park in July, the Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee in August and the Trenton 300 in October. He was two laps in the lead in the California 500 at Ontario in September when the transmission broke with just 14 laps to go.

Other placings included 3rd at Sears Point, Trenton and in the Rex Mays 150 at Milwaukee, 2nd at Langhorne, 5th on the road course at Continental Divide and 2nd at the season-ending race at Phoenix.


The 54th Indy 500 was held on Saturday, May 30, 1970, Unser dominated the race, winning  pole position and leading 190 laps en route to victory in the PJ Colt Ford. He joined his brother Bobby as the first duo of brothers to win at Indy. It was the first of 4 wins there for Al.

Joint car owner Parnelli Jones, race winner in 1963, became the second person (after Pete DePaolo) to win separately as both a driver and team owner. Unser carted $271,697 back to New Mexico of a record $1,000,002 purse, the first time an Indy prize fund topped $1 million.

Rain on race morning delayed the start by about thirty minutes. On the pace lap, Jim Malloy smacked the outside wall in turn 4, which delayed the start further. All 33 cars in the field were turbocharged for the first time.

al victory lane


In his MotorSport interview with Kirby Unser gives full credit to George Bignotti. ‘Once George understood you he was absolutely a terrific mechanic. He could figure things out. George also always hired the right people. He put a team together and made it work. George had a knack for that. He was good at performing and making sure the car finished the races. As long as I didn’t crash, i finished the races. George Bignotti made my career. Without George I would’ve never been able to handle it.’

king ford

Another ‘Johnny Lightning Spl’ 1970 win for Al on the way to his USAC crown, this time in the King Ford during the ‘Golden State 100’ at California State Fairgrounds, Sacramento on 4 October 1970. Al led 99 of 100 laps of 1 mile after Mario Andretti crashed his King Ford on lap 69

Big Al has fond memories of a great era in American racing and is disgusted with modern Indycar racing and the arrival of the spec car age. ‘People were always trying new things and looking for new ways of doing things. Today there isn’t any of that. It just tears me up. There’s nothing but a spec car to buy and you’re told what to do with it. You not allowed to do anything. It’s unbelievable!’

al clermont

Unser in the ‘Retzloff Racing’, see the badge on the cars nose, at Clermont, Indiana in 1968 (Alvis Upitis)

Lola T150 Specifications 1970…

Aluminium monocoque chassis, Ford DOHC 4 valve turbo-charged 159cid V8 giving circa 900bhp@ 8500rpm, 4 speed Hewland LG500 gearbox.

Suspension; Front upper and lower wishbones with coil spring/damper units. Rear single top link, inverted lower wishbone, coil spring/damper units and single radius rod. Adjustable roll bars front and rear. Disc brakes and rack and pinion steering.

Originally delivered as a 4wd car for 1968, the car was converted to normal rear wheel drive as per the text in 1969. The T150 still exists, beautifully restored as does the PJ Colt ’70 Indy winner.


Unser’s Lola T150 Ford beside Ronnie Bucknum’s winning Eagle Offy prior to the Michigan International Speedway race at Brooklyn, Michif gan on 13 October 1968 (Alvis Upitis)



al and mario

Al Unser’s Lola T150 Ford leads Mario Andretti’s Hawk Ford at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Indiana on 21 July 1968, Al took the win (Alvis Upitis)

al and jlspl

Unser and the stunning ‘Johnny Lightning Spl’ graphics. Lola/PJ Colt Ford, Indy 1970 (Bettman)

Credits…, Alvis Upitis, The Enthusiast Network, Bob D’Olivo, Bob Jennings


MotorSport magazine interview by Gordon Kirby of Al Unser, Sotheby’s

Tailpiece: Al Unser in the Indy Museum with the 1911 winning Marmon Wasp and tyres indicative of progress…