In 1961, Dan Gurney thought he could beat a grid full of Jaguar Mk2 sedans to win the British Saloon Car Championship. His weapon of choice? A Chevrolet Impala. And for most of one glorious race at Silverstone, it looked like it the plan might actually work.
Update: This story, originally published 09/06/18, has been updated with a new video from Goodwood on the restoration of Gurney's Impala.
According to , who now owns the car, Gurney ordered this Impala with police-car suspension and brake upgrades and a 409-cubic-inch V8. He added cooling ducts for the front brakes and a rear sway bar from a Corvette, and had some mechanic friends go through the engine, but that was it. Otherwise, the car was stock—Gurney didn't even bother to remove the radio.
We think of a car like a '61 Impala as a big American boat, designed for Eisenhower's Interstates, not twisty British racetracks. After all, the Chevy was never officially sold in the United Kingdom.
And yet, the big boat and the tall, handsome Californian ran away from the pack. At Silverstone, its debut race, Gurney put the Impala on pole, lapping the famous circuit 1.2 seconds quicker than Graham Hill in a 3.8-liter Jag. Gurney led most of the race from pole, setting a saloon-car lap record in the process. But two laps from the finish, disaster struck. Gurney's right rear wheel came off, forcing his retirement and handing victory to Hill.
For the next race, again at Silverstone, Gurney installed NASCAR wheels and tires on the Impala, hoping for better luck, but race organizers banned him from competing. , Gurney blamed Jaguar's racing manager, Lofty England.
"Yeah, it was Lofty England. I don't blame him, it's a part of racing," he said. "I'd given the Jags a big fright at the International Trophy meeting, and he was protecting his patch. They never explained the discrepancies that prevented me from using the Chevy again, but I never really looked into it. Why fight City Hall?"
Afterwards, Gurney sold the Impala to a friend who shipped it to Australia. It stayed there until 2017, it was sent to America to be sold. Foster tracked it down, buying it just weeks before Gurney's passing in January of 2018.
Foster had the car sent to England and had it restored, and it was featured at this year's Goodwood Revival.
The most amazing thing about this story is how neatly it sums up Gurney's early racing career. Like the Impala, Gurney was the big American interloper in the European motor racing scene, demanding respect. And while the Impala never managed to defeat Europe's best, the Big Eagle did.