Everything you ever wanted to know (and then some)
On the face of it, the 464 pages of SHADOW: The Magnificent Machines of a Man of Mystery by Pete Lyons seems daunting. It’s not. It’s fascinating.
By the time I attended an original Can-Am race, I was already awed by the initial 1970 go-kart-with-a-Chevy-engine AVS Shadow (top). It was from outer space. Tinier than anything ever conceived for sports car racing, it had 700hp to power it and air brakes to stop it. Totally nuts and it didn’t work in any way.
The first Shadow I saw in person was the Can-Am DN2 at Watkins Glen in 1973 (right). The DN2 was a 4th generation Can-Am Shadow, much closer in concept to the works McLarens and not as radical as the first 3 Shadows. It was designed for a turbocharged Chevy motor that reportedly put out 1200 horsepower in order to counter the turbo Porsches. The motor never really ran smoothly, with so much torque it spun the wheels in every gear. When it worked, which was not very often. The car was over-built for that engine, but usually ran with a normal Chevy that output 700hp. The car was too heavy and ultimately slow.
The next year they came back to the Glen with two DN4 Shadows (above, as seen at Mid-Ohio). They were svelt, light and fast. Jackie Oliver and George Follmer swept all before them. Unfortunately, the McLaren works cars and Penske Porsche 917s had already left the series leaving almost no competition. Shadow built a world-class race car, only it was one year too late.
A comprehensive look at everything Shadow
Mr. Lyons takes us through all of the Shadow Can-Am cars in the original series and the subsequent single-seater Can-Am series. Lyons breaks up the substantial car development of each model with interviews of everyone involved in the effort. The author spoke with owner Don Nichols, the designers, drivers and crew chiefs. You’ll understand the entire amazing journey of this American race team.
The Shadows were innovative cars which broke new ground in design but often didn’t work as well as the team would like. But boy were they cool! Don Nichols had a creative side and that came out in the cars. When UOP came to sponsor the team for a few years, bold new liveries made fans’ eyes pop. I was blown away when I saw the UOP transporter in 1974 (shown here at Mid-Ohio). It was huge and dramatic and there was no doubt who the sponsor was.
Later cars used colorful graphics on the black cars. The team wore coordinated team outfits that reflected their sponsor, a marketing technique that seems normal now but was highly innovative back then. Presentation was everything to Nichols for his team.
Then there were the F1 and F5000 cars
In 1973, Shadow went Formula One racing as well. The American race car was designed by Brit Tony Southgate and was innovative here as well. A scoop-shaped nose gave extra downforce while a unique aerodynamic full engine cover looked for top-end speed. The DN1 was curvy and sexy in its black paint with white UOP graphics. They were also driven driven by Jackie Oliver and American George Follmer. Follmer scored points in the very first race with a sixth at Kyalami and scored again with third in Spain.
Those were the highlights of the first season for the only American Formula One team. By 1974, they were joined by Roger Penske’s team and the team from Parnelli Jones. Shadow would win only one Grand Prix through the team’s 7 years of F1 competition, with Alan Jones driving (right). Penske also won one, but left after only 3 years. The Parnelli was raced by Mario Andretti for 3 seasons also, but won nothing.
After the original Can-Am series died, Shadow went F5000 racing here in America. The series was supposed to be an American version of F1. It was noisy and fast, and had great American and international drivers, but the series ultimately didn’t take.
Some say the Shadow teams were a glorious failure. They never achieved the loftiest of heights, but they did win the Can-Am series and races in F1 and F5000. Few other teams from any country can say that.
SHADOW: The Magnificent Machines of a Man of Mystery is a great read
Lavishly illustrated with dozens of photos and full of behind the scenes doings, it’s never, ever boring. Things you never knew begin to make perfect sense in hindsight. Don Nichols alone is worth a book on his own. Reportedly something of a spy-type, there was the air of mystery about him that is only hinted in the name of the team.
Every race the team competed in is covered, naked chassis pictures are shown and the ups and downs are reported. You’d be surprised at all the talent that was involved with the team over the years.
The book concludes with studio shots of most of the Shadows that were raced in restored form. This book is perfect reference for those building models of any of the Shadow cars.
It’s a wonderful book that will take you happily through the long winter. Beautifully printed on quality paper and bound with an appropriate black cover, it’s well worth a read.
Shadow collectibles can be found right here.
About the author:
In 1970 Pete Lyons, then a journalist reporting on North America’s famed ‘no-rules’ Can-Am series, covered Shadow’s début race. Three seasons later, now following Formula 1 worldwide, he attended Shadow’s first Grand Prix and witnessed the team’s progress through four seasons. Lyons’s continuing career has included prestigious positions with publications such as Autosport, AutoWeek, Car and Driver, Road & Track and Vintage Motorsport, and he also served as staff editor of the monthly RACECAR. Among 15 books published to date, his Can-Am (1995) was a bestseller and earned one of his two Dean Batchelor awards from the Motor Press Guild for Excellence in Journalism. Most recently, his Lotus 72 (Evro, 2019) has been very well received.
You can immerse yourself even further in the world of car crazy right here.