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From the Collection of Thomas Mittler<br />The Mario Andretti and Paul Newman 1967 Can-Am Car
Following Ford’s triumphs at Le Mans with the GT40, the company tried its hand in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup, or Can-Am, the formula-libre series known for some of racing’s most powerful and technologically advanced cars. Holman Moody, the engine specialist that headed up Ford’s NASCAR efforts, was chosen to lead the project, and they looked to the GT40’s success for their build team.
Len Bailey, a member of the Ford Advanced Vehicles studio in England that had developed the GT40, was entrusted with body design, and he used Ford’s wind tunnel to aerodynamically perfect a sleek fiberglass shell with groundhugging dimensions and long overhangs. Construction of the monocoque chassis fell to Alan Mann Racing, an official Ford factory team from Great Britain that had competed everywhere from Monte Carlo to Le Mans, even fielding several Shelby cars.
At the heart of the new car was Holman Moody’s revision of an advanced 351 cid small-block V-8 supplied by Ford, which in eventual production form would come to be known as the 351 Windsor. The engine featured Tecalemit-Jackson fuel injection, while a unique inboard shock and brake arrangement – rarely seen outside of Cooper Formula 1 cars – was implemented on the suspension. Finished in Passino Purple, a color named for Ford racing director Jacque Passino and also used on Glen “Fireball” Roberts’ NASCAR stock car, the new Can-Am car was dubbed the Honker II, a reference to Holman Moody founder John Holman (who was famed for honking his horn during his early trucking days).
Campaigned during the 1967 Can-Am season, a startlingly brief six races in 11 weeks, the Honker II was piloted by the great Mario Andretti. As persistent teething problems prevented the Honker from starting or finishing well at the races it entered, Andretti ultimately moved on as driver. However, given the nature of the brief Can-Am season, little time was available between races to undertake improvements.
Though the Honker II did not fare particularly well from a competitive standpoint, it was notable for attracting the attention of big-name sponsor Paul Newman. The movie star was then in the middle of filming Winning (later released in 1969), and took up sponsorship of the Honker II, including a decal in his name that was emblazoned on the car’s nose. This arrangement marked the first meeting between Newman and Andretti, and their budding friendship and successful working relationship eventually resulted in a 1984 CART Championship title.
The two men were photographed together with the Honker at the 1967 Chevron Grand Prix at Bridgehampton, New York, and it was possibly there that Andretti notoriously groused, after another frustrating outing, that Newman should assume driving duties and put Andretti’s name on the car. In a fashion, Newman did just that when later using the Honker II as a prop car in Winning, where it was crashed during a filming sequence. Following this stunt, the groundbreaking yet underachieving Honker II was stored on Holman Moody’s shop roof for some time.
In the mid-1980s, under the leadership of Lee Holman, the son of founder John Holman, a complete restoration was undertaken by Holman Moody in concert with InMach Engineering of Barrington, Illinois. With the intention of properly re-engineering the car to prove its mettle in vintage racing, the monocoque chassis was completely refurbished, components freshened, and new drivetrain elements fitted. The original engine was replaced with a 600 hp 377 cid Ford SVO with Gurney-Weslake aluminum heads and then mated to a five-speed Hewland LG-600 transaxle.
Acquired after the restoration by collector Peter Dyson, the Honker was sold in 1994 to Mr. Mittler, who wanted to take the vintage competition mandate even further. For this task he commissioned Alec Greaves, a former McLaren Can-Am builder who ran a restoration shop in Niles, Michigan, called Surrey Motorsports (named for his hometown in England). It is estimated that Mr. Mittler spent approximately $190,000 on Mr. Greaves’ exacting work, which involved a complete dismantling and rebuild of the chassis tub for modern rigidity and symmetrical balance.
The one-year refurbishment clearly paid off, as Mr. Mittler won the Historic Can-Am Celebration Cup at the Chicago Historic Races in 1997. Mr. Mittler had additional work performed as recently as 2008, including replacing the fuel bladders, and rebuilding the engine and suspension. The car has since experienced no racing use and some tuning would likely be required to get the motor properly dialed in.
With its fascinating history and bold design, the Honker II received no lack of media attention, the subject of stories in the November 1967 issues of Car and Driver and Road & Track, the winter 1969 edition of Automobile Quarterly, and the October 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated. The first-ever Can-Am car prepared by Holman Moody, the Honker II features dynamically styled one-of-a-kind coachwork and is an interesting footnote to the careers of several of racing’s most legendary participants. The car’s rare availability affords collectors a unique opportunity to acquire a race car of no minor provenance that could either be campaigned to great enjoyment or exhibited at discerning events.