The Unfair Advantage

Zero Special. Roger Penske, Brands Hatch

Here is Roger Penske with John Mecom’s Zerex Special on his way to winning the Guards International Trophy race at Brands Hatch on August 6, 1963. Behind Penske came Roy Salvadori and Tim Mayer, both in Cooper-Monacos which were just not quite as quick as the Zerex.

The Zerex Special had begun life as a Cooper T53 Formula 1 car which ran in the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1961, entered by Briggs Cunningham’s team and driven by Walt Hansgen. After that race where the Cooper crashed and was a dnf, Roger Penske acquired the car and, by careful reading of the SCCA rule book, transformed it into a sports-racing car by fitting a sports car body which included a tiny passenger seat but retaining its central seat driving position. Penske also acquired one of the rare and more powerful Indianapolis 2.7 liter Climax four cylinder motors. In essence he now had a modern F1 car which he could run against normal sports-racing cars. Ultimately, the original chassis had to be modified to be more compliant with changes in the rules, including a more “real” second seat and an offset driving position. The Zerex was then sold on to John Mecom, but with Penske still the driver. It remained a very competitive car for a full two years.

In late 1963, the Zerex Special was acquired by Bruce McLaren and fitted with a modified alloy Oldsmobile V8 which gave greater power than the Climax with almost no increase in weight. To take the torque of the V8, McLaren modified the chassis again to make it stiffer. In this guise it had another successful season in 1964 and became the progenitor of a long and successful line of McLaren sports-racing cars.

Photo by Colin Waldeck ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

To see more photos from our archive go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx

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3 comments

  1. Ah, the Penske Cheater Car. I remember too well the backlash following their
    victories in 1962 at both Riverside and Laguna Seca.
    My good friend Jim Crow ran headline in the next issue of
    COMPETITION PRESS stating
    “About this Penske Car.!”
    Jim then went on to take each item in the rule book
    that was either violated or questionable.

    Crow was an honest, fair reporter and was one man
    band at the paper which was then published by
    Road & Track at their Newport Beach office,

    Jim Sitz

    Like

  2. Michael Ling · · Reply

    Penske’s Zerex Special is one of those stories I will never get tire of reading about. The car deserves a dedicated book so titled, encompassing all hands who touched upon its entirety, from it’s day of arriving at Cunningham’s till its current Venezuelan residency. Even its ‘Olds’ engine is a story unto itself. The car certainly legitimized the hybridization of Brtish chassis and American muscles, to its ultimate fruition:Can-Am series. Above all, the car was Roger’s declaration to the racing world, “Read the rule book and ignore its spirit’., a winning formula then, and remains true today.

    Like

    1. Well said! It really was an important step.

      Like

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