July 14, 2024


Automotive to Us

A Rare (And Unusual) 1961 Dolphin America Sports Racer

A Rare (And Unusual) 1961 Dolphin America Sports Racer

This is the somewhat unusual-looking Dolphin America Sports Racer, it’s an American-built car that was developed by a team including future Shelby driver Ken Miles and British chassis designer John Crosthwaite who had worked for Lotus, BRM, Mickey Thompson, and Cooper.

Despite the small size of the firm, Dolphin Engineering Company had a significant impact on the Californian racing scene in the early 1960s. The company was turning out cars that were more than a match for their European competition, often beating them on track.

Fast Facts – The Dolphin America Sports Racer

  • The Dolphin Engineering Company was founded in San Diego, California in 1958 by Budd Hull and specialist British chassis designer John Crosthwaite who had formerly worked for Lotus, BRM, Mickey Thompson, and Cooper.
  • Sports racing cars from Europe, particularly Britain, Germany, and Italy, were a dominant force on American race tracks at this time and Dolphin was one of the companies to successfully challenge and beat them.
  • Hull and Crosthwaite hired talented driver and engineer Ken Miles to drive for them, he rewarded them with a slew of wins and plenty of engineering feedback on the cars which helped further develop them.
  • The 1961 Dolphin America Sports Racer you see here competed in races in California from the 1960s to the 1980s and it’s now being offered for sale out of Emeryville, California.

The Dolphin Engineering Company

The Dolphin Engineering Company was founded in 1958 by American Budd Hull and Brit John Crosthwaite who brought a wealth of cutting-edge chassis design with him from some of the most successful racing car manufacturers of the era, including the aforementioned British marques Lotus, BRM, and Cooper.

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Image DescriptionThis Dolphin is powered by a 1,588cc Lotus twin-cam inline-four cylinder engine with twin Weber 45 DCOE carburetors mated to a Hewland Mk 6 5-speed transaxle.

In the 1950s many of the world’s most successful sports cars, both in terms of sales figures and race wins, came from Britain, Germany, and Italy.

The Americans had many notable successes of course, and the cars built by the international team at Dolphin regularly trounced their challengers from across the Atlantic.

The first car built by Dolphin was the front-engined Mk 1 Junior, it was powered by a Fiat engine and gearbox, and it proved immediately competitive. It was around this time that mid-engined race cars were becoming dominant on race tracks and Dolphin wasted no time in developing their own mid-engined sports racing cars.

In 1961 the company unveiled the Dolphin International, a more sophisticated design with a lightweight tubular steel spaceframe chassis and a body designed by Dick Troutman.

Power was provided by a Ford Anglia 105E engine, a simple 997cc inline-four with overhead valves that was proving successful in the under 1.0 liter class – with significant tuning for additional power of course.

After Crosthwaite left the company to pursue other opportunities in the early 1960s, Dolphin hired Don Maslin to replace him.

Designing The Dolphin America

Maslin would design the new Dolphin America by taking the tubular steel chassis of a Formula Junior car and increasing the width slightly from 47 to 51 inches to better suit sports car dimensions.

The reasoning was that if the chassis had been successful in the world of Formula Junior racing it should also be successful in sports car racing.

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Image DescriptionThe car has seating for one as you would expect, with a harness, roll bar, and fire suppression system for safety.

With the chassis design complete attention turned to the body. In order to accelerate the design process a fiberglass mould was taken from the rear end of Maslin’s Lotus Eleven and the front was styled in a way somewhat similar to the earlier Ferrari Testa Rossa.

Though many have pointed out the dolphin-like look of the front of the car it’s never been established if this was deliberate or a happy accident.

The 12 mid-engined Dolphin America Sports Racers that were built were powered by an array of different engines in various displacements, from the 750cc Coventry Climax engine on the lower end up to a 1,700cc RS61 Porsche-powered car on the higher end.

This Porsche-powered car was lighter than the car that the engine was sourced from, the Porsche RS Spyder, by approximately 160 lbs. It had been commissioned by Otto Zipper and driven by Ken Miles to a number of class wins.

British immigrant to the USA Ken Miles would go on to become one of the most important sports racing car drivers of his era, playing a major role in all of the successes that were enjoyed by Shelby American later in the 1960s.

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Image DescriptionThe unusual Testa Rossa-like styling of the front end has led many to wonder if the car was deliberately exaggerated to resemble a dolphin or if it was merely a coincidence.

The film about this time called Ford v Ferrari has Christian Bale playing the part of Ken Miles, a role for which he received nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a male actor in a leading role.

The Dolphin Engineering Company would close up shop after just five years, they had built an estimated 50 cars in that time and somewhat remarkably these cars are still highly-competitive in vintage motorsport competition.

The 1961 Dolphin America Sports Racer Shown Here

The car you see here is a Dolphin America Sports Racer from 1961 and it’s powered by a 1,588cc Lotus twin-cam inline-four cylinder engine with twin Weber 45 DCOE carburetors mated to a Hewland Mk 6 5-speed transaxle.

It has four wheel independent suspension, four wheel disc brakes, lightweight fiberglass bodywork, and a tubular steel space frame chassis. It’s currently fitted with adjustable coilovers that allow fine tuning of handling, and it has bottom-hinged doors, a perimeter plexiglass windscreen, a roll bar, and a fire-suppression system.

This Dolphin is said to have competed in races in California from the 1960s to the 1980s, and in more recent years it has raced in HMSA and VARA events. It’s currently for sale out of Emeryville, California on Bring A Trailer.

If you’d like to read more about this unusual vintage racer or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

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Images courtesy of Bring A Trailer

Dolphin America Sports Racer