This post comes to you just in time for the greatest spectacle in racing, the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The latest installment, of what I’m calling Hoon’s Day Out, is by far my favorite and one I’ve been looking forward to sharing for some time. Being a big racing fan, I spent a long time just staring and pointing at the cars you’re about to see, probably annoying my friends in the process.
I had seen many of these cars before online or in print, but never had the good fortune to stand next to them. They were on loan to the LeMay Museum from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation and I was like a kid in a candy store.
Come take a look!
The first car you’re looking at is a biggie: the 1968 Lotus Turbine “Wedge” 70. With a Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engine and Ferguson four-wheel drive, this car, driven by Graham Hill, started 2nd and was running 4th when the suspension gave out. It was capable of 170+ MPH.
The second car is a 1925 Miller Junior 8 Special. First of all, I love the names given to these cars; it really speaks to the purpose-built, prototype nature of early Indy car racing. This is the first front-wheel drive ever entered in the 500, which finished 2nd in the closest finish to date, 44 seconds.
Next, we have a 1930 Miller Hi Speed Special, and you can clearly see the evolution of the Indy car – a little lower, a little wider, a little faster. This particular car finished 2nd in 1930 and 1932, and was raced in 12(!) 500’s from 1930 to 1947. It runs on a 4-cylinder, 183-cubic inch engine, good for 180hp.
I forgot to take down information for this car, so I don’t know much about it, except that continues with the 2-seat configuration, has some fairly beefy tires, and what looks to be a pretty large gas tank. For an Indy car, it’s pretty tall and slab sided. If any of you know more about this car, feel free to weigh in.
This is a 1940 Sampson Special, and again, you can see that Indy cars are evolving into the classic Indy roadster shape – long, low, with a teardrop back end. This car made four starts in the 500, running on a 12-year old V16 made from two supercharged 91.5-cubic inch straight-8 Miller engines! In 1946, it qualified 3rd, using that same now 18-year old engine.
This is a 1938 Gulf-Miller, and straight away you can see some major differences in previous Indy cars. This car took inspiration from the Auto Union grand prix cars that were making waves in Europe at the time, as you can see by the big supercharged slant-six out back, and the driver (and stubby nose) in the front. It, too, was 4-wheel drive, and apparently ran on pump gas. It wasn’t a successful venture at first, although it qualified 3rd in 1939, but retired after just 47 laps.
Here we have a 1948 Kurtis Agajanian, and you can see that classis roadster shape that became so popular through the 1950’s. This car didn’t see success until 1950, when it took pole position at 134.343 MPH (a new . . . track . . . record!). This car has a 270-cubic inch Offenhauser engine, making around 300hp, and a 2-speed transmission.
This is a 1959 Watson Indy Roadster, the same car that won the 1959 race. It also has an Offy engine, good for 400hp. Unlike the other cars, this one is fuel injected, and also had on-board air jacks. In many ways, this car pointed to the future.
We end this tour of the Indy car exhibit with one of the wildest, craziest, and coolest cars ever to turn a lap at Indy. They call it “Smokey’s Sidecar”. Just look at this machine! It’s a 1964 Hurst Floor Shift Special, powered by a 4-cylinder, 255-cubic inch Offy. Sadly, this car never raced at Indy, but it did make several practice laps over 150mph. Bobby Johns tried to qualify, but wrecked it coming to the green flag. The team couldn’t repair it in time to make another run, and the sidecar special never came back. It’s a real shame, as the innovation that went into this car is truly impressive.
I truly hope you enjoyed this look at some of the great Indy cars through history. While we know exactly what kind of car is going to win the 500 this Sunday, I expect it will be a thrilling race anyway. Let us know what you think of these history-making machines.
[Photos Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Marcal Eilenstein]