Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Can Am 50th Anniversary book review (one word, awesome)

The Can Am was a racing series for 9 years, and they did a fantastic damn job of writing one chapter for each year.

There are so many cool things I learned, I can't even figure out where to start... check the video (notice that WING? Biggest wing ever used)

and the smallest car, which should be compared to a go cart that did 200 mph... it had 10 inch wheels - well, it was supposed to, but Firestone ran into problems and didn't get them made in time. Regardless, the point was to make the smallest race car, for less aerodynamic drag, but... they forgot that the brakes would also be tiny, and that does NOT work well for racing.

When they did get the tires, they were really wide, and you know that tires if over inflated or spun really fast, are going to get stretch in the center... but if they aren't designed well, and aren't inflated enough, they only touch the ground above the outside edges of the rims.... that is a big problem too. So, basically they didn't think this through very well.

Some cars were thought out very well, so much that they were quickly outlawed.... in a race that had been set up as "without rules" because ironically, the race series hadn't been thought out very well. That is what makes this book invaluable to car guys that love the prime history of 60s racing... it is analytical about what made the race cars better, how they evolved (in cases like the Chaparral) and what was so overlooked, but obvious in hindsight, that was missed when they came up with the notion of unlimited racing.

One word: money. You can't have unlimited racing, as only the unlimited funding from the largest corporations can compete, and whoever spends the most, wins. It's not racing if it's won by just spending the most money.

That is what nails this book for me, as the only book I'll need to read on the subject of Can Am... it's so damn thorough! Who won, why, how, and what caused failure. Both in the cars, and the race series itself. Brilliant writing direction that the author took, it's on point for the reader that likes to learn, and for many people, we learned more about Trans Am racing, F1, Gran Prix, Rally, drag racing, or Nascar... and Can Am was something heard about, but not studied or learned very thoroughly. Then, the comparison of a lap time from one team to another, or year to the next, to show that this or that was advanced significantly, or not at all... that sort of analysis is great stuff to me.... to learn that the best driver that there ever was had a time, but the mediocre car was letting him down, or that the next years advances in engines or tires put him some seconds faster when little else changed. Terrific info.

for example

Vic Elford remembers: “My first impression was, I don’t really see it as very quick, because it just sort of goes around corners. But then of course, when it got down to analyzing it, we found it was going around corners about 12 or 15 percent quicker than anything else would.”

I sure as hell never learned about Can Am til now, but hell, I'd glimpsed so much about it from looking at the drivers, team owners, and hearing about the tracks that I wasn't coming at this book without some knowledge of those aspects of it, and that is pretty damn cool. It's a lot harder to enjoy a book where you have to learn about EVERYTHING, like the characters, locations, or whatever.

When it's just another aspect of the history of so much you've heard of already, well... its a damn pleasure to get more info on all of the stuff involved. Tire technology, engine advancement with turbos and injection, wings and aero, and what part the famous racers played in the various teams in Can Am... as I never learned before about the teams, the drivers that were hired like movie stars to play a role, and just as quickly released for other racing venues (F1 for example) or the business aspect of running a teams in multiple race series (F1, Trans Am, Nascar for example) and the effect that had on owners or drivers.

There were only a couple minor things that bugged me, and that's down to editting... for example, the info and photos about a car should be on the same pages, right? When the "sucker" car is discussed for 4 or 5 pages, but the photos are all 6 or 7 pages further down, for no reason I can see... that bugs me (pages 140-147) and pages 127 -134 are about the death of Bruce McLaren, but the photos are all about the "Shadow" which gets discussed after the photos were all used in the previous 7 pages. But that was the only quibble I had.

You're going to see the striking excellence of three teams and it's amazing, the Penske, the McLaren, and the Hall teams. That such a fantastic group of race car engineers and innovators all were vying for the incredible championship win money, it's competition level was just absurdly high, and then you also had the drivers that were among the best in the world, Gurney, Hulme, Donohue, McLaren, Parnelli, Phil Hill, George Follmer, Peter Revson, Andretti, and Pedro Rodriguez to name a few.

You can see some of the book at

you can buy it for about 35 dollars at

several days ago I just belted out a fast post about this book and I tell you that it lived up to the promise.

It took about 10 hours to read, and I found dozens of things to post about that I won't include in the review. No time, and really, this is a long post already. It would triple if I added all the cool thing in this post that I'm going to do in separate ones later. 


  1. The 1967 Ferrari 330 P4 Chassis #0858 was originally built to race at Le Mans. Defeated by A.J Foyt and Dan Gurney, chassis #0858 had its top cut off and converted to a 350 Can Am car and raced at Laguna Seca, Las vegas and Riverside with Chris Amon. It should appear somewhere in this book.

    Australian David McKay asked the Ferrari Factory Manager about its fate after its time in the U.S. Soon after it arrived all rebuilt in Sydney in December 1967. A whole heap of factory spares including engine, trans,axle and wheels arrived with it. He paid US$30,000 for the car and got all the spares free. Apparently Ferrari was happy to see it all go 'as far away as possible'.

    In 1968 McKay and Amon campaigned the car in Sports Car class, one that had some dicky rule at the time, that they had to carry a spare wheel for some reason, so they bolted one on the back. A car the factory went to great lengths to lighten enough to eliminate tail lights, now carried a spare tyre.

    It ran at Surfers Paradise, Warwick Farm, Sandown Park, Longford and Bathurst. Again, the Ferrari had limited success due to a local Frank Matich in an Australian built Repco that had competed in the U.S Can Am series earlier.

    Here is a YouTube of the Warwick Farm race in '68 with the Repco and the Ferrari on the front line..

    Another Aussie Paul Hawkins bought it in 1968 and took it to South Africa and had success there until his death in a Lola with a chev in late '69.

    Purchased again from the Hawkins estate by another party, still with its original spares inventory. "enough to build a second car minus the chassis" was the claim. And true enough another P4 chassis was built in Modena, and numbered by Ferrari as #0900.
    The original car, chassis #0858 was considered worn out. So it was sold to Walter Medlin in '71.
    The same man who owned the barn in your earlier post about Ferrari's hidden from the IRS. Chassis #0858 was hidden in that barn.

    He was hiding them from the IRS and simply 'Forgot' they were there. But after being exposed by the hurricane, the authorities managed to get their hands on Chassis #0858 first and were to auction it through RM to recoup unpaid tax.
    At the very last minuite Walter had a rush of blood and remembered enough to hand over a couple of million to get it back.

    1. Damn, that is incredible! Thanks for the story! It's in the 1967 chapter of the book, it was a 4 liter, and racing was so hot that the pit crews dumped buckets of water on their drivers as they raced by. Page 76, it was number 23

  2. Thanks for the review. It sounds like a great read! I've always been impressed by what I've read about Jim Hall and all of the innovation he brought to Can-Am. It would have been great to be around during that time.