In 1964, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company went to the Indianapolis 500 on race day and discovered that none of the race teams were using Goodyear tires—Firestone was dominant. So, the tire manufacturer approached Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby and provided support for their new racing company based in Santa Ana, California. The two legends, who already had a racing relationship with each other, even incorporated Gurney’s small shop in nearby Costa Mesa into it.
While Gurney and Shelby needed a name for the startup, Victor Holt, then president of Goodyear, suggested one, and in 1965, All American Racers was born. AAR began building cars for both its team and customers. (AAR’s European subsidiary, Anglo American Racers, was the racing team that traveled with the cars to tracks and maintained them at its shop in Rye, England. All American Racers built all of the race cars that competed in Europe in the United States.)
The first Eagle race car debuted at the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps with a 2.7-liter Coventry Climax four-cylinder engine. Though competitive, it was underpowered. While AAR’s new 12-cylinder Gurney-Weslake motor appeared at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, some issues needed attention, and AAR ended up finishing the season with the Coventry Climax engine instead.
The next year, Gurney got the pole position and won at Brands Hatch with the 12-cylinder engine. Later at the Dutch Grand Prix, the car gained the attention of everyone at the track. The “eagle beak” front end was perhaps the most defining feature of the beautiful car, and its light weight was the result of a magnesium chassis and a titanium exhaust. The 12-cylinder 3-liter engine came out of the Weslake Company shop in Rye and had four valves per cylinder and double overhead cams. AAR’s total budget for four of these engines, including the prototype, was approximately $600,000.
Later that year, Gurney won the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix after starting second. Gurney’s Eagle race car hit 196 mph on the back straight, and he averaged 143 mph throughout the race. The event was the first and only time an American driver won an F1 grand prix in a vehicle they built. But the number 36 car’s last event was the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1968. Afterward, AAR’s shop in England closed its doors as the budget didn’t allow them to continue competing in F1. The team returned to the United States to concentrate on an IndyCar program. In 1968, Bobby Unser won the Indianapolis 500 and the USAC National Championship in a customer Eagle. In 1970, Gurney bought out Shelby after he retired from racing and became AAR’s chairman, CEO, and sole owner.
AAR’s Eagle race cars became popular both in the States and in Europe, with drivers such as James Hunt, Denny Hulme, Swede Savage, and Al Unser sporting them on the track. Aside from the F1 and IndyCar series, AAR also fielded cars in numerous other series, including Formula A, Formula 5000, Atlantic Series, U.S. Sports Car, and IMSA. They built two Plymouth Barracudas for the 1970 Trans-Am series season and a Ford-powered Lola T70 for Can-Am.
The company also started a relationship with Toyota in 1983, when the automaker began participating in larger racing series. They built Toyota Celicas for IMSA’s GTU class, winning 10 races by 1985. Later, All American Racers built the GTP Toyota Eagle for the IMSA Sports Car Championship, which won 17 consecutive times between 1992 and 1993. Its turbocharged 2.1-liter inline-four put out 750 horsepower in 1992 and used the team’s first carbon fiber monocoque. The carbon fiber pieces were vacuum sealed and cured in an oven powered by little torpedo heaters since AAR did not yet have an autoclave.
In 1996, AAR rejoined the CART Series and later built Eagles for ChampCar. But hardship hit when the Toyota engines suffered in reliability and performance, and Toyota ended its 17-year relationship with AAR in 1999. The same year, Goodyear’s support didn’t work out, and the tire manufacturer withdrew from open wheel racing when it couldn’t keep up with Firestone’s development. AAR soon closed its doors on ChampCar due to a lack of funding. The company later fielded a single Atlantic Series car with Alex Gurney behind the wheel, but that effort ended after one season.
More recently, AAR built the DeltaWing race car at its California shop. The AAR team and designer Ben Bowlby constructed the race car in a purpose-built engineering office and had to complete the car in 30 days. When the team shipped the car to Highcroft Racing in primer black (it was later painted red after being sent to Atlanta for a press event), Gurney said, “It evokes the image of Kelly Johnson’s Lockheed SR-71 spy plane with wheels.”
The DeltaWing, which was originally designed as a successor to the then-outdated IndyCar, competed in the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans for “Garage 56,” a space reserved for experimental vehicles. An LMP1 Toyota forced the DeltaWing off the track in the Porsche Curves six hours and 15 minutes into the event, and after attempting to repair the damage for 90 minutes, the team retired from the race.
For the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s first successful return to Earth in 2015, All American Racers manufactured the carbon fiber landing legs. The company also patented a moment canceling four-stroke engine, which had the crankshafts rotating in opposite directions to eliminate the unwanted rotating force that happens under cornering. It allowed for low vibration, low stress, trouble-free reliability and endurance, fuel efficiency, and good power delivery. The 1800-cc vertical-twin engine was scheduled to start up for the first time in late 2017.