Thursday, June 28, 2012

1974 Shadow DN4

The first Canadian-American Racing Challenge Cup series ended almost forty years ago, but the lucky souls who witnessed that spectacle still recall the bellowing, no-limits machines brandished by Lola, Chaparral, McLaren, Porsche and Don Nichols’ Advanced Vehicle Systems. If that last entity sounds unfamiliar, perhaps another name will jog your memory: Shadow.

The first Shadow Mk. I racers appeared in 1970, conceived by team owner Nichols and designed by Trevor Harris. Driven by George Follmer and Vic Elford, the so-called “Tiny Tire” Shadows surprised the Can-Am field with a small silhouette made possible by 13-inch diameter front wheels and extremely low-profile tires. The Shadow Mk 1 was quick and an instant hit with the fans, but it proved unreliable.

Subsequent designs by Ti22 'titanium car' designer Peter Bryant were more competitive, but it was the Tony Southgate-penned DN4 of 1974 that finally paid off in a Can-Am championship for Nichols and company. Driven once again by Follmer and his British teammate (and prime antagonist) Jackie Oliver, the so-called Black Elephants were famous for their squinty-eyed UOP livery, booming big block Chevrolet engines and monstrous top speeds that carried Oliver and Follmer to finish 1-2 respectively in that final season of the “real” Can-Am.

After the complicated and unpredictable early Shadows the DN4 was a revelation to its drivers. George Follmer, who returned to the fold on the promise of a more competitive machine, recalled the DN4 in Pete Lyons’ CAN-AM PHOTO HISTORY as “an awful good car. Docile. Quick. It cornered well, and it was slippery, clean, fast. We had good power - we didn’t have near what the Porsche had, but it was normally aspirated, so you could get it on real quick…at that point I think the Shadow was a better car than the Porsche.”

Follmer’s assertion was not just hyperbole. At 1,670 lbs the aluminum-monocoque DN4 was a comparative lightweight, and a very small and slippery one at that, with an overall length of just 100 inches. All those factors maximized the potential of the DN4’s all-aluminum 494 CI Chevrolet engine, whose 800-plus horsepower was matched by a virtually flat torque curve that launched the car with unrelenting fury all the way toward 220 mph.

Five Shadow DN4 racers were built for 1974, only 2 of which competed that year: DN4-1 by Oliver, DN4-3 by Follmer. Only one other made an appearance in competition, and that was two years after the Can-Am’s demise. Since its completion serial number DN4-4A had been kept at Don Nichols’ California shop until his phone rang one day in the summer of 1976. At the other end of the line was Harvey Hudes, owner of Canada’s famed Mosport Park racing circuit. Hudes was beating the bushes to fill out a lightly-attended World Sports Car Championship grid suffering from the woes of the energy crunch, and he hoped the Shadow and other ex-Can-Am racers would oblige. Nichols took up the challenge, bringing DN4-4 and driver Jackie Oliver across the border to help out his old friend. It was the only appearance by the car in competition and, after taking the pole, setting a new lap record and leading the entire race, it won going away from the second place McLaren M20 driven by Oliver’s ex-teammate George Follmer.

“The car acquitted itself very well that day,” recalls Nichols, “running against the Porsche and Renault factory race teams and drivers like Jackie Ickx.” After that, it disappeared until just recently, when Don Nichols announced it would be crossing the block at Mecum Auction’s Monterey Daytime Auction on August 18, 2012.

Shadow number DN4-4 has been in careful storage in Don Nichols’ Fort Ord, California shop for 36 years, and it literally looks as if it was just completed. Says Nichols, “The car as it stands now, I swear it doesn’t have 300 miles on it, and it looks it. You take the coachwork off the monocoque and there are no work scratches on it, just bare polished aluminum. It looks like it was made last week.”

In fact, Shadow DN4-4 may be one of the most original and perfectly preserved cars built for the legendary Can-Am series. The original engine remains with the car, rebuilt by no less a talent and authority than Bob Slade of Slade Engines in Salinas, California. The car is not only complete and ready to perform its magic in vintage racing, it is immaculate.

And best of all, it’s a Shadow.

No comments:

Post a Comment