Fast company: Can Am Racers at the 2017 Concours d’Elegance of America

Think Concours events are all prewar buggies and old dudes in hats? Think again. The Can-Am special class at the 2017 Concours d’Elegance of America, held at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan, is a perfect example of how the modern car show appeals to almost every facet of automotive eye candy. With 12 historic racecars on display, this grouping perfectly encapsulates the anything-goes esthetic of the most powerful road racing series ever.

The Canandian-American Challenge Cup thrived for nine years beginning in 1966 and was a proving ground for active aerodynamics, ground effects, turbocharging, unusual transmissions, and other advanced technologies. The series is best known for Jim Hall’s winged Chaparrels and the early dominance of McLaren, while Penske Racing helped end the first Can-Am era with the Porsche 917’s overwhelming horsepower. Can-Am cars competed on 14 U.S. and Canadian circuits with the day’s most accomplished drivers fighting for the checkers.

The most succinct way to describe cars that race in the FIA’s Group 7 is a loose translation of the French Formula Libre descriptor, “Run what you brung.” As long as the cockpit accommodates the driver and a passenger, and the wheels are covered with fenders, anything goes here. Blessed with no engine displacement limit or minimum weight, Can Am cars were quicker and faster than Formula One racers of the day.

1971 McLaren M8E
1971 McLaren M8E owned by Tom Malloy, Villa Park, California.

Until he was sidelined by a heart condition, owner Tom Molloy drove this McLaren frequently and quickly in vintage events. Chuck Parsons and Vic Elford piloted similar McLarens during the original competition era, the latter earning a third-place finish in 1971.

1974 Shadow DN4-1A owned by Jim Bartel, Commerce Township, Michigan
1974 Shadow DN4-1A owned by Jim Bartel, Commerce Township, Michigan.

After the all-conquering Porsche 917 was withdrawn by the factory at the end of the 1973 season, the only remaining professional team—Don Nichol’s UOP Shadow effort—had its way with the series. Jackie Oliver won four races in a row and George Follmer finished second in three of Can-Am racing’s final five events. This example, originally piloted by Oliver, took a Class runner-up honor at St. John’s.

1974 Shadow DN4-P
1974 Shadow DN4-P owned by Jim Bartel, Commerce Township, Michigan.

This development prototype was tested by Jackie Oliver before George Follmer crashed the car heavily at Mosport, resulting in its retirement from further competition. Since restoration, it has earned two national vintage racing championships.

1966 Lola T-70 Mk II owned by Denis Bigioni of Pickering, Ontario, Canada
1966 Lola T-70 Mk II owned by Denis Bigioni of Pickering, Ontario, Canada.

Lola manufactured 32 T-70 racers for the first year of Can Am competition including this car, which was the seventh built at Eric Broadley’s British factory. Although Norman Smith crashed it twice during the season, it managed to earn a 14th-place finish at Riverside.

1981 Lola T70 ‘continuation’ coupe
1981 Lola T70 ‘continuation’ coupe owned by Tom Molloy, Villa Park, California.

This car was born ages after the original Can Am series ceased to exist, but it has enjoyed a lively career with many victories in the hands of owner Tom Molloy, who says, “I’ve kicked a lot of ass in this car!”

1971 Lola T222
1971 Lola T222 owned by Claude Malette of Timmius, Ontario, Canada.

Lola built a half dozen T222 chassis for 1971 Can Am customers. One finished 10th overall that year with Hiroshi Kazato scoring points in five of the year’s 10 race events. Charlie Kemp followed up in ’72 with a strong second-overall finish at Mid-Ohio and a third at Brainerd in ’73.

1967 Chinook Mk5 (Josh Scott)
1967 Chinook Mk5 owned by Raymond Boissoneau of Bedford, New Hampshire.

This Canadian-built car was constructed by Rudy and George Fejer to compete at St. Jovite, the first event of the 1967 season. It was reconstructed by the Autotune race shop in England a decade or so ago and ran successfully at the Goodwood Revival.

1969 Lola T163 owned by Michael Moss of Ottsville, Pennsylvania
1969 Lola T163 owned by Michael Moss of Ottsville, Pennsylvania.

Lola built approximately 25 T163 cars for the 1969 season, with Chuck Parsons finishing third overall in the series championship. Dave Causey finished fourth overall in a similar car the following year. This car, kept by Lola boss Eric Broadley, was purchased by Michael Moss in 2015.

1969 Lola T70
1969 Lola T70 owned by Michael Moss of Ottsville, Pennsylvania.

John Surtees won three of six races and captured the overall championship in Can Am’s inaugural 1966 season, as Lolas fell behind more creative constructors. Surtees was third in ’67 and George Follmer was seventh in 1968. Chuck Parsons raced to third overall in ’69, followed by Dave Causey’s fourth overall in 1970, and Jackie Stewart’s third overall in ’71. Other Lola drivers continued to compete in ’72 through the final 1974 events. While all of the cars mentioned above were open cars, the Lola factory built more than 100 coupes for competition in various race series.

1968 McLaren M8A owned by Lance Butler of Chicago (Josh Scott)
1968 McLaren M8A owned by a Chicago collector.

Dennis Hulme won half of 1968’s six races, as well as the series championship, in this McLaren M8A. Following a heavy crash in the hands of Lothar Motschenbacher in 1970, the M8A was rebuilt as a show car and bestowed upon Hulme for display in his New Zealand homeland. The McLaren earned a red runner-up ribbon at St. John’s.

1967 Shelby American King Cobra
1967 Shelby American King Cobra owned by Greg Mitchell of Coos Bay, Oregon.

Busy with other Ford racing programs, the legendary Carroll Shelby wasn’t able to give his King Cobra Can-Am car the attention it needed to succeed. While three tubs were manufactured in England, the one fully completed car scored no points during its short career. The King Cobra is powered by an aluminum-block Ford 351-cubic-inch V-8.

1973 Porsche 917/30 owned by Rob Kaufman of Charlotte, North Carolina
1973 Porsche 917/30 owned by Rob Kaufman of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Wealthy racer and entrepreneur Rob Kaufman owns the premier Can Am racer, the factory Porsche 917/30 driven by Mark Donohue to six straight wins and the 1973 series championship. With some 1500 horsepower on tap for qualifying, it is the most potent sports car ever to roam Earth. Donohue also established a 221.2-mph closed-course record in this car, driving at Talladega. The factory built one car for testing and three additional 917/30s for competition in ’73 and ’74. This Can Am racer scored two ribbons at St. John’s—a blue for best in class and a special gold recognition award.