2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup – better known as Can-Am. Half a century after its creation, the series remains one of the most fondly remembered and celebrated championships in the history of motor racing – and was the subject of a fantastic tribute by Motor Sport Magazine at the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show 2016.
Can-Am was created to cater for the growing breed of powerful Group 7 sports racing cars during the 1960s. In that first season during 1966, John Surtees charged to the inaugural title driving a Lola T70 Spyder. A host of fellow Grand Prix stars would join him in the series, which pitted the cream of European road racers against their American counterparts.
The open technical regulations encouraged free-thinking innovation, Texan Jim Hall most notably breaking new ground in aerodynamics with his stunning series of plain white Chaparrals. But it was Bruce McLaren and his tangerine McLarens that really thrived on North America’s twisting road race circuits, which included Mosport, Bridgehampton, Road America, Laguna Seca and more. McLaren and his fellow Kiwi team-mate Denny Hulme dominated Can-Am, the pair becoming known as the ‘Bruce and Denny Show’ as they stormed to four consecutive titles between 1967-70. American Peter Revson, heir to the Revlon cosmetics empire, added another title for McLaren in ’71.
Porsche succeeded the British-based team as the dominant force in Can-Am, once its fabulous 917 was outlawed by a rule change in the World Sportscar Championship. Roger Penske-run open-cockpit versions – first the 917/10 and then the monstrous 917/30 – set new benchmarks and records, thanks to their flat-12 engines pumping out 1000bhp and then some during an era characterised by wondrous brute force.
By 1974, a combination of economic recession, the worldwide oil crisis and spiraling costs were beginning to bite. Can-Am was cancelled. A relaunched series using sports racer-bodied Formula 5000 single-seaters revived Can-Am later in the 1970s, but it’s the first era of 1966-74 that is remembered as the series' apogee. Motor Sport marked the 50th anniversary with a special edition celebrating those days in it’s September issue, and did so again at the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show 2016.