40 years ago when the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) decided to abandon their fledgling Formula 5000 series and resurrect the Can Am, most everyone was caught off guard. The decision was made in November of 1976 with a start date seven months later. The predominant chassis in F5000 was Lola and the manufacturer agreed to produce a fendered conversion kit that could easily retrofit the existing cars for the new series. Racer Doug Schulz had a different idea…and he knew precisely who could bring his concept to fruition.
Enter Bob McKee of Palantine, Illinois. McKee had been building quality competitive race cars since 1962 but in small numbers. He had constructed cars for the original Can Am series and is credited with fielding the first successful turbo charged sports racer. He also wasn’t afraid to think outside the box; consider his McKee Mark 14 which featured a twin turbo charged Oldsmobile engine, Ferguson four wheel drive and a pop-up air brake!
Schulz and McKee blended their ideas to create the “Schkee DB-1”, a swoopy semi-closed cockpit sports car built on the Lola platform. To some the car resembled the Batmobile; all agreed that its profile was striking. Thanks to McKee’s vast experience, the Schkee’s shape worked aerodynamically even without wind tunnel testing. Meanwhile Lola factory’s body kit was made available (imagine a blanket draped over the open wheeler from end to end) but unfortunately there was little time for fine tuning. When the season opened June 12th at St. Jovite (Canada) veteran driver Brian Redman promptly flipped his car over backward! Sadly this wasn’t an isolated occurrence as club racer Elliot Forbes-Robinson also accomplished a 360 degree blow over in his Lola conversion. Miraculously “EFR” emerged unscathed and actually had his car repaired in time to race on Sunday. Redman’s injuries kept him sidelined the entire season.
While the rest of the Lola contingent scrambled for more downforce, the Schkee in the capable hands of Tom Klauser qualified on pole. In the race itself, Klauser was off like a shot, building up an insurmountable lead. He spun off course at one point and pit to change rubber. Due to complications removing the tire skirts, the swap took a full four minutes and he STILL won the event by a large margin. Little did anyone know that St. Jovite would be the Schkee’s only moment of glory.
Stop number two on the tour was Laguna Seca where Klauser again set fast time then barfed the engine in warm ups. Unfortunately the Schkee was forced to scratch from Sunday’s race as no spare was available. Round three Watkins Glen and with a fresh power plant, Klauser qualified second. In the race he was scored a dismal fifteenth. A second Schkee was completed for Schulz to pilot in the fourth and fifth rounds. His results were less impressive. The fact was, their cars handled beautifully but their engines had no reliability. And without significant sponsorship, an engine program was out of the question.
Klauser’s only other finish of note was at the season finale at Riverside. In his final appearance in the Schkee he qualified thirteenth and finished ninth. Broke and without prospects for the future, Schulz sold the team at season’s end to Tom Spaulding.
Spaulding appeared to do better in the sponsorship department and campaigned the car through much of the 1978 season with Vetter Motorcycle Fairings (now defunct) and Sony Electronics logos. He managed four top ten finishes but never within the top five. The quality and quantity of the competition was improving and Spaulding was at best, a solid mid-pack runner.
The last appearance of the Schkee in Can Am competition was the ’79 Laguna Seca race. In a one off deal with Spaulding, French Formula One ace Patrick Gaillard qualified the car thirteenth and brought it home a respectable eleventh. In its final race the Schkee was utilized as a camera car and this Can Am video can be viewed on the internet.
By the following year Lola had introduced an all new T530 and the conversions were relegated to the back of the grid. A Schkee “DB-3” was entered in the first few Can Ams of 1980 with Klauser listed as the driver but apparently this effort never materialized.
At least one of the Schkees exists to this day. The unique one race wonder was offered for sale in “as raced” condition for a paltry $189,500.