Last revised: 26-1-2009

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Car of the Month - May 2006

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Dolphin-Porsche America - roadster body - manufactured in 1963

The way we feel and think about sportscars is still based on a defining period during the 1950s and 1960s. The classic sportscar shape, epitomizing excitement and appeal, was formed in that era and continues to be a standard to which we compare modern sportscars. Fundamental reasons for that are the integration of classic craftsmanship and creativity with the rapid development of new technologies which lead to new pleasing shapes and constructions which were also efficient, and the heroism of old style racing. The thrill of danger, the lack of barriers, the visibility of the drivers and the variety of manufacturers and cars in sportscar racing during the 1950s and 1960s made a lasting impact which endures to this day.
This was not only the case in Europe but also in the US. The racing scene in the US lacked local sportscar manufacturers in the 1950s and so much of the sportscar racing was done in a variety of imported cars, ranging from traditional British cars like MGs and Triumphs, through German Porsches up to Italian exotics from Ferrari and Maserati. It was a lively scene with specific rules and regulations and an other style of racing than was customary in Europe. So it didn't take long before teams and drivers started to modify their imported cars, adapting them to local circumstances and demands, and soon after even completely unique cars were assembled and constructed using the parts at hand: the so-called specials.
From these practices emerged a small number of local constructors which designed and built sportscars for the local racing scene. Names like Kurtis, Cunningham, Scarab and Chapparal are probably most familiar, but there were others as well. An interesting example of those was the Dolphin Engineering Company from San Diego. This constructor started out in 1958 manufacturing Formula Junior monopostos. These light cars were usually fitted with small engines and other mechanical components of Italian origin and were moderately successful. In 1961 driver Ken Miles entered races with such a Dolphin International. Miles had already made quite a name for himself racing MGs and other small capacity sportscars with great success. During the early 1960s Miles virtually dominated small capacity sportscar racing driving Porsche Spyders. After the 1961 season Miles and Dolphin parted and Miles concentrated on his efforts with the Porsche Spyder.
For the 1962 season Dolphin presented a new racing car: the Dolphin America. This was a small 2-seater sportscar based on the Dolphin International; it was more or less a widened version of the single seater chassis fitted with the rear end bodywork of a Lotus 11 and fenders over the front wheels. The cigar-like nose of the International was retained, giving the car an unique appearance. The America was fitted with 750 cc or 1100 cc engines by manufacturers like Climax or Abarth, very lightweight and quite competitive.
The paths of Ken Miles and Dolphin crossed again for the 1963 season. Miles and his team felt that the Porsche Spyder became less competitive and were looking for an alternative. Given his experience with the Dolphin International and the Porsche RS engine he and his team decided to combine the two in the Dolphin America sportscar. The potent 1700 cc Porsche engine in the very light but rigid Dolphin chassis fitted with competent suspension proved to be remarkably successful. Miles took the Dolphin-Porsche to a number of victories in 1963, which apparently made the Porsche factory quite unhappy. As a result the car wasn't entered in races anymore after 1963.

1964 also proved to be the end of the Dolphin Engineering Company, having met with lack of financial success. Only about 12 America sportscars were made, making them extremely rare. Ken Miles hooked up with Carroll Shelby and played a key part in developing and racing the Shelby Cobra, the Ford GT40 and also the Sunbeam Tiger: cars that have influenced the way we think about sportscars today.
The Dolphin-Porsche America may be a strange looking obscurity but it played a small but integral part in US sportscar history; a step on the way that lead to the "golden era" of sportscar racing in the US. Check out "The History of Dolphin Racing Cars" of F. Sheff if you want to now more about this constructor.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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