Can-Am The Speed Odyssey covers one of my favourite periods in racing, the original Can-Am series, from the 1967 to 1973, as well as a couple of years previous to the formation of the Can Am.
First, I need to say up front, from a technical stand point, this isn't a very good video. It looks as if there was very little effort to clean up the video when the original film was transferred, and the choice of narrator, Sam Posey, is not the best. The video looks “old” and Posey seems to be quite detached from the job at hand.
Admittedly, I am not now and never have been, a fan of Sam Posey, so maybe that colour's some of my view, but despite the fact that he raced these cars and is a long time broadcaster, the narration is definitely not a strong point of this video. Jim Hall's insight's are interesting, but he's clearly more at home behind a steering wheel than a microphone, but his work is still a leg up on Posey's.
Posey's narration, despite his experience, is wooden and choppy through out the video. His “Oliver. Gets. Airborne.” description of Jackie Oliver's complete flip at Mr Tremblant in 1970 sounds as if the words were edited out of three different sentences and added together in post production, and rather poorly at that. For somebody who raced in the era, his personal insights are almost completely lacking, and, despite my dislike of him, would have been likely have been worth hearing.
There is no flow to the video either. It jumps quite abruptly from day to day, race to race, and season to season, with the 1969 season, a complete sweep for the McLaren's and Bruce McLaren's final season before losing his life in a testing accident in early 1970, almost completely skipped over. There is virtually no racing highlights, only really only a passing mention made of the season.
I understand that they probably had a limited amount of footage to work with, and maybe even less budget, but the video really seems to be haphazardly thrown together with a minimal amount of effort.
All that being said, as someone who grew up in the 70's for whom these cars and drivers are legends, the video ultimately works, and it has a massive amount of Canadian content. Watching massive grids (30+ cars most of the time) of the unlimited Can-Am cars at speed is fantastic, hearing from the drivers, seeing some of the great tracks we lost long ago all make this DVD work for fans of the era.
Some of the great Canadian highlights we get to see in the video include;
The first ever Can-Am race being held in Mt Tremblant in 1966.
John Canon, father of Indy Car engineer extraordinaire Mike Canon, putting the “Can” in Can-Am by scoring the first win for a Canadian driver in the rain at Laguna Seca, decisively passing both the McLaren's driven by Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren himself.
George Eaton (of department store fame) leading his first Can-Am race in the Castrol BRM on the same day Peter Revson led his first Can-Am race.
Bruce McLaren, on a couple of occasions, giving us “tours” of Mosport. “I'm Bruce McLaren, and this is Mosport...”
In an interesting observation, the video notes that the 1967 McLaren was designed by Robin Herd. Herd was a former designer of the Concorde, a plane many still think of as an advanced, sophisticated airliner, and still the only passenger plane able to fly supersonic, while the race cars of that time look very dated in comparison.
Also in 1967 both Can Am and Formula One cars raced on the same track for the first time when Formula 1 made it's Canadian debut at Mosport, followed by the Can Am race a few weeks later. Pole position in the F1 race went to Jim Clark at 1:22 while the fastest lap of the Can Am was 1:20, making the Can Am cars significantly faster. Nowadays, an entry level Formula Ford on street tires will turn 1:28, while the next step up the ladder, Formula Mazda, will comfortably do 1:17's all day long. Quite a leap in technology from the days of the Concorde.
One of the great aspects of historical racing documentaries such as this, or books like The Cruel Sport which we will review in the near future, is how we get a look at the way the sport has changed over the years, often so gradually that some observations are only able to be made by jumping back several decades in time. Looking back at the original Can-Am series we note:
Even in 1972 Penske drivers were calling him “Captain”
There was a time when cars actually broke down, engines blew and gearboxes failed. Today mechanical failures are so rare we often go entire races without a single one.
Jim Hall was not only a brilliant engineer, but was also a damn good race car driver.
The word “safety” in the 1960's and the 2010's are not even remotely the same.
For the last decade or so, we've been saturated with all the Tilke-designed cookie cutters we see most modern racing on, we should lament the loss of some of the great old tracks we see in the video such as Bridgehampton and Riverside. Sometimes we don't realize how lucky we are here in Southern Ontario to still have Mosport, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and that we have individuals like Ron Fellows and Carlo Fidani and companies like Canadian Tire that will continue to update and modernize the track and facility while leaving the essence of the track alone and not allowing the site to be turned into a subdivision.
While technically not a great production, if you grew up with these cars and drivers, or if you have an appreciation for the era, then this really is a must have DVD. If you're not a road racing fan or are neither-here-nor-there on the cars of this era, then you might want to pass on this. Me? I'll put it on a continuous loop and watch it all day long.