This all-American icon was fielded by Team Menard in Indycar racing during the 1980s, including a top 10 finish at the Indy 500
The Eagle is one of the most symbolic American icons, and you don’t often hear of one being sold at auction. RM Sotheby’s is selling one with Indianapolis 500 pedigree, which previously belonged to a team with a successful history in American racing.
This 1981 AAR Eagle Indianapolis is the product of Dan Gurney, one of America’s racing icons, and whose cars won the Indy 500 in 1968, ‘73 and ‘75. Sweeping rule changes in 1981 meant Gurney could not rely on evolving his existing successful designs, and a car built around an all new concept had to be built, including four-wheel independent suspension and a naturally aspirated engine, rather than a turbocharged powerplant.
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Teams faced a choice between Chevrolet or Cosworth engines, with Team Menard boss John Menard purchasing a Chevrolet V8-powered example, chassis no. 8104. The highlight of the car’s time with Menard was the 1982 Indy 500, where 1977 Formula Super-Vee champion Herm Johnson drove it to ninth place, having qualified 14th at a speed of 195.929mph to beat Indy legends Al Unser and Bobby Rahal. What made the performance all the more impressive was that Johnson had lost his father days before the race.
Prior to its run in the Indy 500, Johnson had driven it for Menard in the 1981 PPG CART Indycar World Series season, where it was immediately a top ten finisher. It finished ninth at Watkins Glen and Phoenix, and eighth on an away trip to Mexico City. The next year it did even better, finishing sixth at Atlanta, and featured a 'Rick...if you can read this, you're too close' decal, after Rick Mears had rear-ended Johnson in the pits during the '82 Indy 500.
Menard switched from its Eagle chassis to March not long after, and the team wouldn’t taste success until 1997, where it took future NASCAR star Tony Stewart to the Indy Racing League title.
In 1989, the Eagle was bought by Thomas Mittler of Indiana, who then lent it out to the Studebaker National Museum for its Studebaker Festival a year later. It took a decade before a new owner came along and took it back onto the tracks, under the name of Bob Pond Racing.
It sold at Monterey in 2014, picking up $38,500 (£30,350, €34,000), and is now going up for auction again in Arizona on January 17/18 2019. There’s no reserve, and with the increasing popularity of Indycar racing, it could well beat that price this time round.