Constructed by Jerry Eisert
1970 Webster Formula 5000/Indianapolis Single Seater
* 5-liter Gurney-Weslake V-8
* American Formula A/5000 open-wheeler
* Just two owners from new
* Race prepared by J & L Fabrications
* From the Tom Armstrong Collection
Road racing was in full flower in the mid-Sixties when SCCA introduced its new single seater formulas.
Formula A was nothing less than an attempt to co-opt Grand Prix FIA Formula One cars to a North American series. Formula B and Formula C copied FIA Formula 2 and 3. None attracted much interest.
In 1966, though, SCCA created the Can-Am Cup series. It had few restrictions: two-seat (in quotes) bodywork was about the extent of the regulations. The prizes on the other hand were lavish. An FIA Formula One team could make more in a few Can-Am races than in a full season on the GP circuit.
In 1968 SCCA brought the Can-Am concept to single seaters, adding 5-liter stock block engines to the single seater regs. It opened Formula A up to the sprightly small blocks from Ford, Dodge, Plymouth and particularly Chevrolet that competed in the no holds barred Trans Am series. Relatively inexpensive, easily serviced and tuned by a generation of experienced hot rodders, Formula A soon became F5000 and spread across the globe.
But nowhere did F5000 flower with more brilliance and diversity than in the continent where it originated.
AAR Eagle, Lola, McLaren, Surtees, Shadow and Chevron built F5000 race cars. The best teams in North American racing fielded entries. The drivers were legend: Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Jim Hall, Mark Donohue, Peter Revson, Dan Gurney, Lothar Motschenbacher, Sam Posey, Jerry Titus, Chuck Parsons, Skip Scott, Ronnie Bucknum, John Surtees, .... It was a natural for Champ Car teams, too. The money was good, the competition was prime and the mid-engine evolution of Champ Cars was already well established.
The really sanitary, meticulously executed, finely calculated F5000 cars were built by Champ Car constructors like Jerry Eisert. Eisert, an independent mechanic and constructor worked with J. Frank Harrison to field Chevrolet-powered mid-engine cars in the late Sixties. A meticulous craftsman, Eisert also was an innovator. His 1965 Harrison Special not only employed a monocoque tub but also was the first car at Indy to try a wing to increase aerodynamic downforce. It was recognized that year by the experts at the Speedway with the Mechanical Achievement Award for imagination and skill in design.
It was Eisert who prepared Frank Arciero's Lotus 19 which Dan Gurney drove in the 1962 Daytona Continental, a race notable for Gurney's dominance in the little Lotus but forever remembered for his ingenuity and presence of mind. When his engine let go with 15 minutes left and holding a several lap lead over the NART Ferrari 246SP of Ricardo Rodriguez and Jim Hall's Chaparral. Gurney coasted nearly to the finish line and parked at the rail. When the 3-hour timed race ended before Rodriguez or Hall had caught up, Gurney pointed the Lotus down the tri-oval's slight banking and completed the last few feet on the starter.
While designing and building Chevrolet powered Champ cars for Harrison Eisert's drivers including Al Unser, Sr., Johnny Rutherford, Peter Revson, Greg Weld, Ronnie Duman, Jerry Grant, Gary Congdon, Billy Foster and Roger McCluskey. One of his Chevy-powered Champ cars won the 1965 Pikes Peak hillclimb with Al Unser behind the wheel. Eisert's Harrison Specials were frequently raced on USAC road courses of the period, usually with Chevrolet power but occasionally with a 255 cubic inch Ford and the Eisert/Harrison partnership continued through 1967.
SCCA Formula 5000 was then in its infancy and Eisert turned his attention to it, designing a beautiful, low, nearly wedge-shaped car that epitomized the most advanced current thinking in chassis and suspension design and aerodynamics.
One of them, the car offered here, went to Marvin Webster, a manufacturer of gearsets and related parts for the racing industry, and in 1972 Eisert prepared it for Webster to take to the Indianapolis 500 but it didn't attempt to qualify in 1972 or 1973.
Following Indianapolis it returned to its F5000 configuration and was raced sparingly. Never damaged, it was eventually retired and stored at Webster's gear company in Mill Valley, California. The current owner was eventually able to buy it from Webster in 1987. Its condition at the time was such that it needed only careful re-commissioning, a task he entrusted to J & L Fabrication and which was undertaken with special attention to retaining its originality. It still has its original race-worn original upholstery on the driver's seat.
He describes it as "two long fuel tanks hooked together with an engine and four wheels" but points out the quality of Eisert's construction and the car's originality of design and concept. The current engine is a Gurney-Weslake V-8 with four Weber carburetors and Webster's preferred eight upswept exhaust pipes, "which don't do much for performance but look and sound great." "It had slide throttle fuel injection when I bought it," he recalled, which came on so suddenly "the first time I took it to the track I had three spinouts in the same lap."
It has been sparingly vintage raced from 1988 through 2003. The owner describes it as giving "the open-wheel thrill" and driving nicely.
The quality and craftsmanship of the West Coast's builders of race cars for Indianapolis is legend, legend borne out by the meticulous attention to detail embodied in this Jerry Eisert-built Webster special Formula 5000. Eisert's experience ranged from famed hot rods like the So-Cal Coupe which Eisert owned and raced in the late 50's through the Lotus and Ferrari sports-racers of Frank Arciero to the Harrison Special Champ cars and Webster's F5000. Jerry Eisert eventually became crew chief for Dan Gurney's All American Racers USAC team.
So much history, so many famous drivers, all embodied in this Eisert Webster Special Formula 5000 race car.