The series, better known as the “Can-Am”, only lasted 9 seasons (1966-1974), but while they raced it was the pinnacle of motorsport technology. The following articles originally appeared in 1996 on the rec.auto.sport.misc internet news group and then the IPMS-Houston and Racezine websites in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup auto racing series. In them, we’ll take a look at the Can-Am and its cars on a make-by-make basis. Photographs of many of these cars appear in the “Vintage Racing” and “Watkins Glen” sections of this website.
Sportscar racing became very popular in the US after WWII. So popular, that in 1966 the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) along with the Canadian Automobile Sports Club (CASC), founded the Can-Am series for Group 7 type sports racers. Because of sponsorship from Johnson Wax, the Can-Am was the best paying racing series in the world. This meant that the cream of international auto racing were very interested in the Can-Am. Past and future F1 World Champions John Surtees, Jody Scheckter, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Phil Hill, Denny Hulme, Jackie Stewart, and Mario Andretti all participated in the Can-Am at one time or another. Indy 500 winners A.J. Foyt, Mark Donohue, and Parnelli Jones (along with Andretti) also did.
The Can-Am pushed the limits of engineering. Advances were made in aerodynamics, turbocharging, and the use of materials such as fiberglass, aluminum, and titanium. That is until a gas crisis, rules makers, and the increasing cost of new technology ended it.
As high profile as the drivers were, it was almost always the cars that were the stars. Lola, McLaren, Shadow, Chaparral, Ferrari, Porsche, BRM, March, Ford, and Chevy all built chassis and/or engines for the series.
Can-Am cars were classified as Group 7 racers by the International Motorsport Federation (FIA). Group 7 racers had very few restrictions placed on them. (Restrictions were added over the years, but it was pretty much an “open” formula.) No maximum engine size or turbocharger boost limits. No minimum weight. No tire limitations. No structure or material limitations. (Both monocoque and tube frame chassis were used.) The cars did have to be open-cockpit, closed-bodied cars with two seats and two doors.
Racing technology changed dramatically over the course of the Can-Am. Engines grew to over 9-liters (550 cubic inches) and some were even turbocharged. To put all this horsepower on the track (and keep the cars there) wings and suction devices were used. A Can-Am car was one wild ride.