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Friday favourite: The Can-Am beast that put F1 cars in its shadow

With a handful of noteworthy Formula 1 cars to pick from, it is perhaps a surprise that Jackie Oliver has gone for a Can-Am charger that was cut down in its prime. But the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours winner details why the Shadow DN4 couldn’t be eclipsed

Jackie Oliver (UOP Shadow DN4A-Chevrolet), 1st position

There were times during the 1960s and 1970s when Formula 1 cars weren’t always the fastest cars in the world around a road course. Big-banger sportscars sometimes grabbed that accolade and few provided bigger bangs than the machines of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup.

Can-Am’s no-holds-barred heyday ran from 1966 to 1974, and Jackie Oliver was the era’s final champion. Driving the Tony Southgate-designed Shadow-Chevrolet DN4, the Briton won four of the five rounds, leading team-mate George Follmer to a 1-2 in the standings.

Despite starting 48 world championship F1 grands prix for Lotus, BRM, McLaren and Shadow, it’s two sportscars that come to mind when the 81-year-old is asked to pick a favourite.

“It has to be the Shadow or the Porsche 917,” says Oliver, who won the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours with Jacky Ickx in a JW Automotive Ford GT40. “The DN4 is the most successful car of my career. I preferred those cars to the F1 cars.

“The early Can-Am Shadows were a bit difficult to drive, but when Tony designed the car it had more downforce and was light, so it was nice. The only opposition was from my team-mate.”

The Southgate-designed Shadow DN4 allowed Oliver to storm to four wins out of five rounds in the 1974 Can-Am season

The Southgate-designed Shadow DN4 allowed Oliver to storm to four wins out of five rounds in the 1974 Can-Am season

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Following the 1973 domination by Mark Donohue’s turbocharged Penske-run Porsche 917/30, fuel restrictions were put in place for 1974, but Oliver concedes the cars were becoming too fast and expensive and that “the regs were no longer fit for purpose”. Can-Am had a two-year hiatus in 1975-76 and when it returned it was in a different form, with cars based on F5000 machinery.

That meant the DN4’s career was curtailed though, bizarrely, Oliver did drive one to victory in the Mosport round of the 1976 world sportscar championship, the non-scoring 800bhp Shadow and ex-Can-Am McLaren M20 of Follmer limiting the newer Porsche 936 of Ickx to third.

"The early Can-Am Shadows were a bit difficult to drive, but when Tony designed the car it had more downforce and was light"
Jackie Oliver

Oliver nevertheless remains a fan and was key in getting a collection of Shadows together for this year’s Goodwood Members’ Meeting, where he as reunited with his DN4, and Festival of Speed, including the cars owned by James Bartel.

“The cars are unique,” adds Oliver. “To be able to see them, hear them, and drive them at my age on a circuit I know – it’s fantastic to be able to do it.”

Read Also:
Its life was short-lived as a front line competition car, but the DN4 still stands out in Oliver's memory

Its life was short-lived as a front line competition car, but the DN4 still stands out in Oliver's memory

Photo by: David Phipps

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