Cars / History / Racing / Sweet Builds

Restoring a Rare Eagle, Part 1: Chassis Teardown

If you receive the Griot’s Garage Handbook, you might remember this recent cover car, a 1966 Gurney Eagle Mk1. The very first of Dan Gurney’s legendary race cars, chassis 101 is an important piece of American motoring history. And In My Garage is fortunate enough to be able to peek over some shoulders as the Eagle undergoes a full restoration.

First, a brief history of the car:

For the 1966 racing season, Gurney had secured sponsorship from Goodyear to field Grand Prix and Indy cars. Though the Grand Prix cars were lighter by some 50 pounds over the Indy car chassis, they were otherwise similar. Gurney had commissioned Westlake to provide a purpose built 3-liter V-12 to compete with the likes of Ferrari, Lotus, BRM, Brabham and Cooper.

As the season began, Gurney still didn’t have the access to the V-12 so the decision was made to put a Coventry-Climax 2.7 liter four cylinder engine into Chassis 101. The car had great showings, but the highly-stressed engine did let Gurney down in a few races. The first points scored came from a 5th at the French GP. 7th at the Nurburgring, 7th Spa, and 5th at Mexico.

The Eagle as she was when acquired from Donington.

As Dan Gurney graduated to the V-12 when it was finally ready, 101 was driven by Phil Hill at Monza (though he didn’t start), and Bob Bondurant in the US GP at Watkins Glen. For the last race of the season in Mexico, the V-12 was having its share of teething problems and Dan gave Chassis 102 with the V-12 to Bob Bondurant while he hopped back in the trusted 101. 5th place for chassis 101 was a fitting end to the 1966 season as the new Eagles (Chassis 103 & 104) were prepared for the 1967 season. In 1967, 101 was sold to Canadian Al Pease and then to the Donington Collection in England in 1969 where it remained until recently.

After being on display at Donington for 40 years, the car was definitely in need of some TLC. It was showing signs of aging, and not necessarily in a good way. The car was completely disassembled. The chassis number was found, stamped under the left side roll bar mount. The steering and suspension pieces were crack-checked and re-plated in a polished nickel and cadmium finish. All castings including the hub carriers were also crack-checked and a fresh chromate coating applied.

Chassis 101 stripped of all mechanicals.

Serial number "101" was found under the left roll bar mount.

The chassis of the Eagle is formed out of sheet aluminum panels that are riveted together with steel bulkheads located at strategic points. The bulkheads serve and pick up points for the suspension, engine and gearbox mounts. Removing the paint from the top of the tub revealed a chassis panel made from light weight sheet magnesium. The tub is in excellent condition and will only requiring a simple clean up and repaint.

The bare chassis tub, stripped of paint.

Chassis tub detail.

The Coventry Climax 4-cylinder engine was in reasonably good condition. We’ll have more information to share after the teardown.

Coventry Climax engine with Weber side draft carburetors.

The now-bare engine bay.

The car used a common Hewland DG300 gearbox. Fortunately new gears, bearings, and seals are readily available. As for other components, well… 40 year old brake fluid has a way of destroying rubber lines and seals, so the hydraulic brake and clutch systems have been completely rebuilt. Instruments, wiring, oil and coolant plumbing will be serviced during the restoration. Again, more on that later!

Hewland DG300 gearbox.

And one for the nerds... and exploded diagram of the Helwand box.

Chassis as-found (inset), and stripped of componentry.

See more pictures of this car as-acquired from Donington on the Griot’s Garage Flickr page. It’s a pleasure to be able to share these kinds of projects with you. We hope you’ll follow along as this restoration progresses, and be sure to keep your eye out for more great builds in the future!

9 Comments

  1. As a fan of GP racing, I dont know if there is any one car more iconic than a Gurney Eagle. I can remember playing with toys fashioned after the Eagle when I was a kid and I always seem to drift off into a trance with grand visions of what I consider the best days of GP racing. Guys like Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Dan Gurney are heroes of mine and I felt super lucky to get a chance to get a look at this car. An amazing piece of American history to say the least.

  2. Who “aquired” this car? Is it now part of Richard’s collection? I want to know who I should be jealous of! As a American race fan I too realize what an important vehicle this is. I only hope that it ends up somewhere where it can be seen by those of us that appreciate this car. The owner should get Dan to autograph it when the resto is complete.

  3. Hello Jeff,

    The owner would like to remain anonymous however we are working to get the car on display in our new facility. Dan Gurney has been providing valuable feedback on the car during the restoration. He’s excited to see it back in the USA!

  4. Great photos and article Tim. Can’t wait to see the old gal on the track again.

  5. andrew Sapiro says:

    is this the car that was displayed at Monterey as number 27 ?????

  6. Tim Willard says:

    Yes. The car ran number 27 during the 1966 race at Spa.

    • Forest Cooper says:

      Hi Tim, is chassis 104 located in a museum now? I would love to look at this car if that is possible. Thanks.
      Forest Cooper
      Rapid City, SD

  7. The screen in my blogger website is way too small. I don’t know how to make it bigger, do you guys know how to make blogger videos in your site bigger? .

  8. Richard Engstrand says:

    My name is Richard Engstrand. In 1968 i worked for Dan Gurney at Rye and Ashford England. My first job was repairing an oil leak on this very 2.7 liter Climax FPF engine. I spent most of my time with AAR working on the 3 liter V-12 in engine build and development. We worked very hard and did the very best we could considering the (many) problems and time constraints we were faced with. I very much enjoyed reading about the Eagle restoration- parts 1 and 2. Please contact me if i can be of any help in any future story regarding Anglo American Racers richardengstrand@gmail.com. I was 24 then – now 73 !

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