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The inside line: Can-Am Shadow DN4

Submitted by on July 16, 2012

Shadow Can Am

In the 1960s to the early ’70s, the North American Can-Am series cars were a sight (and sound) to behold. Giving off up to 1500hp, they were basically monsters.

By Andy Hallbery

Why were Can-Am cars monsters? Because there were very, very few rules and regulations, especially concerning engines. The 1974 season was effectively the last of the true Can-Am, as by then costs (and speeds) had spiralled, so for that season rules were written, and that was the beginning of the end. Over the years it had attracted cars built by McLaren, Lola, Penske, Porsche, Chaparral and drivers such as Mario Andretti, Phil Hill, Denny Hulme, Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jody Scheckter and many more ‘star names’ and champions from America and Europe.

In 1974, the championship’s swansong, Shadow’s Can-Am car was this beautiful DN4. Pete Lyons is the Can-Am authority, the former Autosport Grand Prix reporter in the early ’70s, contributor to Autoweek, RACER and among many other publications worldwide, and is now a respected author, including the award winning ‘Can-Am Cars in Detail’. Lyons talked MotorSportRetro.com through the Shadow.

“The 1974 DN4, is an excellent design by Britain’s Tony Southgate,” explains Lyons. “It was run by a thoroughly professional team under Shadow owner, America’s Don Nichols and managed by Mike Hillman, driven by two hard competitors: Brit Jackie Oliver and George Follmer – a Yank, who was 1972 Can-Am champion with Penske’s Porsche.”

The Shadow dominated that year’s otherwise sadly emasculated Can-Am series which was ended mid-season through lack of interest combined with the oil crisis after five races of the eight scheduled.

“Oliver won the first four races in a row and was declared champion, although he was always fighting a hard-charging Follmer – at least once they nearly came to blows in the pits,” Pete continues, and his passion for what was a once-great series shines through: “The car was built small and light around smaller fuel tanks – because of fuel capacity reductions introduced to handicap the turbo-Porsches; it worked, Porsche abandoned the series.” Before adding “take that you stupid rule-writers.

“The fuel allowance became 37 U.S. gallons in 1974,” he continues “down from the previously unrestricted capacities in the 60s and 70s – the 1973 Porsche could carry a dizzying 106 gallons…

“The Shadow’s Reynolds-block big Chevy engines – tuned by ex-McLaren engine builder Lee Muir – displaced 495 cubic inches and made about 735hp officially, but were thought to pump out closer to 800.

“The DN4 used some suspension parts from the contemporary Southgate-designed Formula 1 Shadow DN3. Follmer has often said this was a very good race car, nimble and responsive. Its front wheels were 13 inches diameter versus 15ins that were more common in that period, while the rears were still 15ins. It used a Hewland 4-speed transaxle, and the brakes were inboard at rear.”

What is clear talking to Pete Lyons for this story, and seeing his many books on the subject, the California-based writer and photographer has a passion for the Can-Am series that is deep in his heart.

Stop Press: Don Nichols’ Shadow number DN4-4A is coming up for Auction at the Mecum Monterey Sale

“While Shadow number DN4-4A has been in careful storage in Don Nichols’ Fort Ord, California shop for 36 years, 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!””

Images: Mecum Auctions

Very special thanks to Pete Lyons petelyons.com. And make sure you look at his books and other products at http://www.petelyons.com/page1

And never forget to follow @MotosportRetro and @Hallbean on Twitter and join in on the discussion on Facebook

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