I can’t believe it. Alexander Rossi in Wilsonville. I am there. The doors are to open at 6:00. I was there at 5:30. I expected a mass of people, after all, it is Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi! There was only one other person there. At 6:00, the doors opened and by then, there were a lot more people. I bought my ticket and entered paradise. The marque display was Porsche 911 cars.
The Porsche 911 is a beautiful car. In race form, with wide wheels and tires, with it’s aerodynamic body work and flared fenders and wings it’s gorgeous. The 57 racer that was driven by Portland’s, Monte Shelton was there.
I met Ron Huehli, the curator of the museum. In 2017, Ron drove the number 26, a 1966 Lola at the vintage race at the speedway. The Lola was originally raced by Roger Ward, who came in 18th in the 500, in 1966. Mr. Huegli was kind enough to show me around the facilities. We went through the area designated for restoration, the shop area where auto repair classes are held and storage for cars not on display. In that area was stored Rolla Vollstedt’s first Indy car he built. The Offy powered car rain in the 1965 Indy 500. It was driven by a northwest driver, Billy Foster of Canada.
Enter Alexander Rossi. He said that he was glad to be there. He would be starting in 32nd positions in this years 500, not 3rd like last year. Would be challenge. He seemed positive that he could work his way up through the field.
Now question and answer time:
What is the difference between Formula 1 and Indy cars?
“Formula 1 is more robotic. As a driver you have to optimize the package that you have. Where you have no adjustments to the car. In Indy cars, you can adjust spring rate, roll center and dampeners, all within the rules The Indy cars are more of a driver’s car and how much the driver wants to win.”
Do you prefer to hand out with Formula 1 drivers or Indy car drivers?
“Indy car drivers. Indy car drivers are real people.”
Have you seen the PIR track yet?
“No, not yet.” “We are concentrating on the 500.” We are excited to come back to Portland.”
What is the difference your own car and an Indy car?
“My Honda Pilot goes from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds.” “It’s a different environment. In the Indy car, you are in the zone, concentrating.” In the Pilot, it’s about comfort.”
Any speeding tickets?
What’s a normal day?
“Wake up. Go work out. Go to the Honda Development Center. Work on the racing simulator and practice on the different tracks. Or, go do whatever my manager has arranged for me, like a cooking show, in my own kitchen.”
What other forms of motorsports would you like to drive?
“I am very fortunate to be able to drive Indy cars, here I’ll stay.”
Having raced Formula 1, today, would you rather race at the Grand Prix of Monaco or the Indy 500?
“I would, 100 percent be at the Indianapolis 500. There is nothing better than the Indy 500.”
What was the first car you drove when you got your driver’s license?
“I might get in trouble for answering that but, it was a Chevy Silverado. The team I drive for, Andretti Motorsports, that car is powered by Honda. Some competitors have cars powered by Chevrolet. Now, we are a Honda Family.”
After winning the 2016 500, coasting across the start-finish line, coming to a stop, you sat in the car for a long time?
“I got to hear the crowd as I coasted around turn 4. Getting a chance to listen to the crowd cheering was very very special.”
There were other questions but, I thought these were an example of some of the good questions. Now, off to the “meet and greet.” There are over 200 people there. Among them was Tony Wilson, Founder of Wilson’s NAPA, with about 20 stores throughout the Wilsonville Valley and the Columbia Gorge. Also, my former boss for 18 years. After I got Alexander’s autograph, I asked him a question about what happened on the second qualifying attempt?
“I had a low line and it took all I could do to keep the car on the track.”
On Sunday I watched the greatest spectacle in racing, watching Alexander move up through the field. Driving smoothly, he was passing cars on the outside, dodging wrecks, and working his way into the top 10. At one time he was leading the race, then he finished in fourth. Great job of driving especially since he started 32nd.
I’m looking forward to watching him race at Portland International Raceway in the September Grand Prix of Portland.
World of Speed celebrates the Porsche 911’s 55th birthday
A successful exhibition should be thought provoking. The curator aspires to stir your emotions and hopefully connect with the viewer. In my case, World of Speed’s new tribute to Porsche’s iconic little rocket ship was a resounding success. It had me asking myself when I first became aware of the marque… without much difficulty, I had it.
We were young! The 911 model was only three years old but already a popular race car. I distinctly remember watching a regional event won by a yellow sports racer (likely a Lotus 23). A white and a brown 911 ran second and third respectively, within a car length of each other the entire distance. I drew a picture of the race from memory in my school binder the following Monday. My Porsches looked more like Volkswagen Bugs but trust me, I knew the difference.
911’s were featured at every road race I attended at Laguna Seca and Sears Point from the mid-sixties on. I was fortunate to get to watch Peter Gregg compete in the under two liter class in the early Trans-Am series. His white #59 was always competitive and typically finished amongst the Mustangs and Camaros.
When I was in middle school, my father’s accountant was a man named Russell Shattuck. Shattuck had two sons — one my age (Jim) and an older one (Steven) whom I barely knew. I didn’t know Steve but he knew me well enough to know I was a race nut. One night he arrived at my parent’s house with a 911 he had “borrowed” from a neighbor. In short order we headed toward the nearest freeway where Steve wound the Porsche up to 120 mph before diving down an off-ramp! I was returned home slightly giddy and sweaty but smiling. (If my parents only knew!)
The International Race of Champions (IROC) conceived in 1973 was a neat deal. The idea was to put the best drivers in world in identical 911 Carreras and let them go at it on select road courses and ovals. The cars featured air-dams, wide fender flares and whale tails. Each was painted a different color so it was easy to follow your favorite. I remember watching them on television…I think it was Riverside. The procession looked like a string of Easter eggs.
I think some of those Porsches ended up in the Camel GT because in the following years there was a glut of brightly painted Carreras running in that series. Lemon yellow, apple green, magenta, they were so cool! And the competition: Corvettes, BMW’s, (remember the Chevy Monza?). All competitors dolled up with aero kits- What a great series that was.
As the years went on, the body kits became more extreme and the cars looked less and less like the stock models they were based on. Most marques adapted turbo chargers. The Porsches would whistle down the straightaways and belch fire when the driver backed off. Spectacular!
My buddies and I were avid slot car racers at the time. Since you couldn’t buy a miniature Porsche that looked like an IROC Carrera, I decided to build my own. Lindberg models made a plastic 911 that was the correct scale (a Targa to be specific). I attached cardboard fender flares, an air-dam and whale tail and painted the whole package a lethal gloss black. It had the right look but the first time I flew off course so did one of my flares! The next time we visited Laguna Seca there was a black 911 competing in the under two liter class with a homemade aero kit. Unpainted tin air-dam and makeshift fender flares. “Look! It’s Veltman’s slot car!” my buddies shouted.
All good memories conjured up by a little Porsche 911 exhibit. Thanks for the memories World of Speed.
Building an old car or should I say resurrecting an old car, whether you restore it, resto-mod it or whatever, is both rewarding and frustrating both at the same time. You’ll always need parts and parts are often hard to find, or even not available at all. This has been the case for as long as people have been “restoring” anything that’s been out of production for many years.
The scenario has actually spawned an entire industry, reproduction parts, after-market parts, performance parts etc. not to mention the many shops that specialize in repairing/rebuilding old things for you.
Being a self-proclaimed “Car Guy” for as long as I can remember, I have been fixing/restoring these old cars for a long time. When I first jumped into a restoration with both feet (in 1973) the car I was restoring was just 13 years old. At that time older Corvettes were just that… old. Nobody restored them then really. The good news was a lot of parts were still available right from the dealer, but not everything. Specialty wrecking yards had come into being and because Corvettes were popular you could find most of what you needed either new or good used. Reproduction parts didn’t really exist then, except for reproduction body parts.
As good used parts began to disappear and GM discontinued production on the older stuff “repops” of the many hard to find parts became available. Some of the first reproduction parts were just ok at best but as time passed better quality repro parts were produced, thankfully.
For many metal cars when new OE parts weren’t available you had to search high and low for good used ones and when those became scarce another aspect of the after-market/reproduction parts industry was born even to include entire bodies being stamped and or new parts/cars made of fiberglass.
Unfortunately, some of the repro parts looked good but didn’t fit or weren’t made quite right, poor bends, wrong size, thinner metal. As time passed improvements have been made but I personally have recently experienced extreme frustration with the quality, fit and finish of after market parts for my 55 Chevy Sedan. I bought repro-doors. They look amazing! They aren’t cheap to buy or ship, and they don’t fit… period. I’ve expressed my disappointment to some of the “pros” I know and asked if they had experienced the same thing. The answer was uniformly a resounding “YES.” I couldn’t believe it! These parts are expensive! They cost a ton and to have them not fit really makes me mad.
I know that the fit and finish of a 55 Chevy from new wasn’t as precise as modern cars are today, so I have to say I expected a little bit of fitment issues but… when you look close the style lines aren’t straight, the bends aren’t crisp, the mating surfaces are way off plumb, the upper front corners where they meet the cowl and the fender are at least ¼ of an inch too high and not shaped correctly to match up with the cowl and fender. They aren’t even close! And to repair them would take a master metal man, not a novice like me.
I have six old OE doors but they too need repair (a qualified metal man) and would likely cost a lot of money to repair them but having to spend a lot of money on repairing brand new doors that you just spent a lot of money to buy is really disappointing. Don’t’ get me wrong reproduction parts have improved dramatically but these doors are a long way from being a bolt on and go, part.
I hope this poor quality fit and finish gets fixed soon and it has improved some but there is a long way to go before I’ll be happy. Buyer Beware.
Greetings GearHeads. As I write this at press deadline, it is springtime. But as you read this, it should be some kind of summertime. And us GearHeads know what that means, it’s cruising time. In fact you might very well be hanging at the first Beaches Cruise In of the summer out at Portland International Raceway. These cruises will run every Wednesday night all summer long. If you’re out there, you might find me wandering around. In fact, I might hit you up for a match race as the drag strip next door could use a little more business.
OK, speaking of business let’s get down to it. Oh by the way, if you should happen to stumble across any VW aficionados at the cruise in, be sure to express your condolences for their CEO. The feds have charged him with conspiracy and more and he is expected to join several of his cohorts in their hotel with the iron bars. The feds are after several other of his high-level execs but it seems that they are all hiding out in Germany. The feds are eager for a little face time with them. Then it will be Guten Abend to them.
Now, shall we talk about Tesla? Might as well as they always seem to make the news. So did you hear about the latest crash with a Tesla S full of teenagers? First let me share a little backstory. The Tesla Motor Car Company has received plenty of accolades. In fact, back in 2013 they received the highest safety rating of all time from NHTSA.
We have been led to understand that their batteries have been designed to burn slowly. This would allow the chance for occupants to exit the vehicle safely in the advent of an accident. Didn’t work out so well for the two teenagers that burned up in this last accident. We don’t know all the details yet but we will see.
Now let’s talk about hyper automation. This is something the Tesla motor car company has been lauded for. Some refer to it as their overly automated production process. It has something to do with machines that try to build machines that serve humans. It seems they have been having some issues with the troubleshooting capabilities of their robots.
This piqued our curiosity so we consulted with the experts over at #GearHeadsWorld to see if they might enlighten us on some of this. They informed us that it was really quite simple. It was essentially all about Righty Tighty and Lefty Loosey. And we asked well, who is that?
Anywho, once we got that all straightened out, we got down to the nuts and bolts of it. It seems that the GearHead robots do not have quite the same light touch that the GearHead humans have when it comes to threading the bolts. It goes something like they can’t always feel a bolt into the threads. And once they start to cross threading it you can’t just holler at them — back off Jack. Because they just keep power screwing it in.
Anyway, most of us know that the MuskFather has been having a lot of fitment issues with his new Tesla S. So folks are beginning to learn why parts are squeaking around and falling off. All in due time… we guess.
Okay now let’s finish off this silly chat session with something more GearHeadesqe, like we like to do. Let’s talk about the title of this here article. Yes we are talking about the new 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. Yes the one that anybody who is everybody is talking about.
In a world where one car factory tries to outdo the other car factory by building their car faster than the others, a kind of world most of us thought was long gone back during the second Arab embargo around 1979… or whenever that was, we might see something like this. Wait what? Where was I? Oh yes, we are living in the world of Horsepower Wars and they are real!
Yes there is this new Corvette out there, the 2019 ZR1. Some are saying that it will be comparable to the fastest supercars and hypercars on Earth. And that is saying something. And let me tell you Gomer, there are one hell of a lot of human hands involved in the building of this Beast. We are talking about a 16-valve, 6.2 L, Supercharged V8 that lays down 755 horsepower. Top speed is 208 mph. So git yerself some ‘o that GearHeads! That is if you can break your piggy bank and something well north of $100K comes out.
Chuck Fasst. GearHeadsWorld.blogspot.com
September 24, 1964.
Summer’s burn was starting to wane as the early days of Autumn begin to embrace the city.
On this Sunday, in the early hours of dawn, a job was going down. A large sum of laundered money was in the trunk of a car and waiting at Union Station. The only clue that Cardone had was it was in a sedan.
Sundays at a train station are interesting. Sparse. In the underworld, this is a safe way to make transactions. Cardone walked into the station and took note of those around him. A hobo asleep in the corner. The ticket taker sat reading the Sunday Times. A soldier with a letter in his hands. He looked anxious. Cardone’s guess was the kid was headed off to basics, then off to whatever killing field we send our youth off to now days.
Not a security guard or person who would raise his shackles and call the deal off. He reached into his lapel and withdrew his cigarette case. Pulled a Lucky from inside and lit up with his Zippo. He inhaled and walked toward the parking lot.
It was 7:30. The good people of the city were attending their church of choice or just waking. He descended the concrete stairs and walked with a purpose his Oxford wingtips crunched and scuffed across the baked asphalt.
He paused. Sedan.
The cop that they had put the screws to had been informed that if he did not comply, that, well, his story would be spilled and besides losing his job, his life was on the line.
His name was Eugene Falks. He was a tall and lanky man. Just looking at him one could see that he was raised by an oppressive mother who pressured this poor guy to fear everything. Even his own shadow. Easy target. It started casual. Falks was such an easy target.
No friends. Living in his Mother’s house. Virgin.
In this age of whatever the world is becoming.
Regardless, it took a matter of weeks for them to wrangle him for 500k. Right from the metro’s own account. Cold hard cash too.
So here he was in the midst of the parking lot and saw it. White on white. A fresh ’64 Plymouth Belvedere sedan. Keys in the ignition. But Cardone paused. It seemed to easy. He reached in and snagged the keys from the ignition. Stood upright and took in the surroundings.
No wind. Not a sound.
The murmur of traffic building as the sun ascended the skies on this crisp Sunday morning. He took the final drag off of his cigarette and walked to the back of the Belvedere.
He inserted the key and with a twist of the wrist it popped crisply.
BwaaaHOOooooo—! The Locomotive was all fired up and let go another announcement of its departure-
Cardone glanced up and saw the huge locomotive leaving the station.
Phwuh — Phwuh, Phuw, Phuwh, phuhphwuhphwuhphwuh……
8 A.M. Time is close.
Soon the beat cops would be looking for things that, well, they have no business looking for. Carbone lifts the trunk and looks down and in the back-ground he hears an engine fire.
Two large Samsonite suitcases are there. He clenches his fists and his knuckles crack in order. All apart of his routine. A grin cracks his face and he reaches downward and to his left an Edsel eases out from a parking space.
The massive locomotive is gaining speed as is the Edsel.
He hits the latch release on the Samsonite and it splits open.
Carbone raises his gaze from the trunk of the Plymouth. The Edsel is gaining ground and the sun rises as the city is now awake. Over the railway crossing Eugene dashes. The Dawn Express lets go with another shout and then separates Carbone from the access road.
And it hits. A stolen car filled with sawdust.
His hands start to shake. It all seemed so easy.
“Andwearestartingoffattenthousandtenthousand… tenthousanddollARS. Eleven? Eleventhousandelevendthousandd… Twelve! Twelvethousanddollars. Who else? Do I hear thirteen?Thirteenthousand?Thirteenthousand? Once. Twice… One more time… SOLD!”
This constant rhythm of words is pumped through the loudspeakers for hours on end, the cadence of money exchanging hands. This was the sound that I heard going through the tunnel entering the Indiana State Fairgrounds arena. Usually home to the Indianapolis semi-pro hockey team, the building was turned into a auction stage for the week.
The largest touring auction series in the United States, the Mecum show has been coming to Indianapolis for 31 years. They have a total of 14 stops on their tour and touch all corners of the US of A. Every Mecum event is televised live on NBC Sports and it is easy to see the entertainment value.
Mecum proudly states that they have the most stops on their tour; the most collector cars offered at auction, the most cars sold at auction and the most dollar volume of sales.
The Indianapolis stop alone is a six-day extravaganza. They feature 300 cars a day minimum for sale in order to show all 2,000+ lots that have been consigned.
“There are no restrictions,” said a seller named Michael in a vaguely east- coast- style accent. “I make my living selling cars at these things — primarily Volkswagens. That’s my little Bug right there!” Nestled between an impossibly tall 2000s Ford F150 and a brutish 1960s Ford Mustang was his little cherry-red Bug.
“This is my 21st car this weekend for sale. I have sold 13 of da ones I brought. Whatever I don’t sell, we ship home. You see — mine have a reserve.” He leans over and points to a yellow sticker centered at the top of the windshield. “That there means that I, as the teller won’t take home any less than THAT amount. When one of my cars is up for sale, I can stand up there with the auctioneer. If no one is biddin’ at my asking price here, I can give him the nod. That tells him that I’ll take anything for it- just to not have to pack it up and take it home. He tells the crowd that the reserve is off- and the biddin’ really starts.”
Unlike Barrett- Jackson auctions, Mecum does not have any parameters of what types of cars people can put up for sale. No restriction of year, make, model, rarity, or current condition makes for a cornucopia of options. Buyers can be anywhere from the Average Joe who pick up a car for fun, to serious collectors looking for diamonds. Sit in the auction arena for 20 minutes and you will see a varied array of items come up for bid and hundreds of thousands of dollars- if not millions- change hands.
Part of the excitement comes from the randomness of what is put up for sale. “Sellers pick which stop they want to sell at based on the market of that city,” explained one of the traveling Mecum security staff. “Trucks you want to sell at the Kansas City or the Houston stops. Exotics go better in LA or Kissimmee (FL).”
Sellers can put one lot up for sale or many. The collection that captured my attention was the Jim Street Estate.
James Skonzakes, better known by the moniker Jim Street, bankrolled the legendary car customizer George Barris to make a dream car in the early 1950s. The ultimate result was the Golden Sahara II. After the second round of modifications, Street invested over $75,000 (equivalent to $675,000+ today) in this technological masterpiece. Street used it as a marketing tool and lent the Golden Sahara II to motor events and dealerships to show off the car’s new- age voice control system, remotes that could drive the car and even the self- driving feature. This must have melted the minds of onlookers back in the mid 50’s. Unexpectedly pulled from the show circuit and stashed in a garage for decades, the Golden Sahara II fell into a state of disrepair.
If that piece of rolling art was not enough to capture the imagination, the other lot in the Jim Street Estate collection was “Kookie’s Kar.” Hailed as the “catalyst that started the T-Bucket Craze” this car is the definition of a classic hot rod. You might have heard of it from the TV show “77 Sunset Strip” though it has undergone an extensive re-customization since then. Also stashed from public eyes for decades, both lots were put up for bid with no reserve to begin with- it would be completely at the digression to the pool of buyers what they wanted to pay for it. Estimates were between $100,000 – $1.2 million each. It all depends on who has the money and how bad they want to take either car home.
Though the lineup of cars is seemingly random, it is clear that Saturday’s lots are the top shelf items. A collection of Ford GTs, a group of cars being sold by baseball icon Reggie Jackson and others will join the Golden Sahara II and Kookie’s Kar.
Cars are displayed in groups organized by which day they will be put up for sale. In the morning they are rolled to a big screening / staging area where buyers and people representing buyers give the cars one last look over.
“I call them Flashlight Commandos” laughs Michael, “likely is that if their boss wants my car, they will have picked it out in the catalog already and they are making sure that it doesn’t leak or nothin’.”
Once past staging, the car is driven up to the queue and given a last wipe down. The handlers cut the engine and manually push it on stage. All the while, an auctioneer is hammering words a mile a minute until it is time.
“Okayfolks. ABeetle. ABeetle. LotW201.” The auctioneer lists the car’s stats, make, model, and asking price then recites the bill of sale in one breath. The bidding starts. Teams of Mecum employees are dispersed throughout the crowd of bidders. Referred to as Ringmen, they are in charge of relaying if someone in their section wants to place a bid. To alert the auctioneer when they have an interested buyer, the Ringmen holds up fingers to represent how many thousand dollars and gives a short yell. Every time a desirable car is on the auction block, these Ringmen sound like a chorus of squawking birds until the price is driven up to draw out the top buyer.
“Once. Twice. SOLD!” The auctioneer hammers down their gavel and the Ringmen let out another shout to celebrate the fact that they just sold another car. If a lot is not desirable, the seller can give notice to take off the reserve price then the crowd practically falls over themselves to get the car at the lowest price possible. This happens for hours on end without let up. The energy level is incredible, and it is hard to understand without being there in person. Auctioneers are the ringmasters but the Ringmen run the show.
As I exit through the tunnel on my way out, the auctioneer is still drumming up the crowd. “What is that?” he yells, “THE RESERVE IS OFF!” I close the door behind me just as I hear a loud cheer from the crowd.
It’s always exciting when spring arrives. Better weather is coming and with it, car shows, cruise-ins, swap meets and other fun car related events begin to happen everywhere. Of course, there are big car shows in January, February, March, and April through-out the Northwest. In fact, there are so many that this lowly reporter just can’t get to all of them. Luckily, (and thankfully) I have several dedicated volunteers who can cover some of them and that lets us be able to bring you stories about them.
One I’ve been covering for a number of years now, is the Medford Rod & Custom Show. Promoter, Rich Wilson, always does a great job of getting new and different entrants to bring their cars for all of us to enjoy. It would be pretty boring to see the same cars, trucks, and motorcycles every year. At this show you don’t have to worry, there’s something different every year.
Many of you reading this may recall the marque Kaiser and/or Frazier. Some of you, probably have never heard of them. Fewer still, of you have ever actually seen either of them in person. There was a Frazier on display at the Medford Rod and Custom Show. It wasn’t a hot rod or a custom, but a restored and well preserved old car that took me down memory lane.
I’ve mention before that Rich does something that I’ve only seen at his show. Any of you that have shown your cars in a show like this can confirm that it is a lot of work. Cleaning, polishing, setting up your display and then maintaining it throughout the show can be a challenge and with your car on display you’re kind of stuck. You can’t really go home, you may not live locally, you can’t go back to your hotel, you have to keep your display looking clean and fresh. Rich creates a small “Participants Lounge” area at the show, where you can go to get a snack, a soda or just relax when all that dusting becomes too tedious. I’ve only ever seen this terrific idea at the Medford Rod & Custom Show. Other show promoters take note!
This year the weather co-operated and stayed clear and sunny for the most part. The better weather resulted in a very busy Hot Rod parking area just outside the several display buildings. Many who came to see the show drove their own old car/hot rod etc. which created an outdoor cruise atmosphere and additional car display for everyone to enjoy.
If you’ve never participated in or gone to this great show as a spectator, put it on your “to do list” for 2019. It’s worth it!
The 54th Annual Portland Swap Meet has come and gone again for another year. The weather even co-operated mostly this year. That doesn’t mean the wind didn’t blow and that it didn’t rain… No, it means the weather has been worse during other years. It rained some and the wind blew some, but the swap meet was as successful as ever.
One of my friends has accused me of having rust in my veins… I don’t! Well at least I don’t think I do, but I am getting old. However, back to the PSM. It’s been around a long time. It’s changed some, grown, it’s shrunk, it’s been rained on etc. and yet it continues to be a one of the best swap meets on the west coast.
The organization that puts it on has gotten it down to a science at this point. There are large parking areas conveniently near by where one can catch any number of shuttle buses that will take you to and from quickly and easily. This swap meet is well attended and the attention to traffic flow and transportation is much appreciated and well-orchestrated by the organizer.
I always find most if not all of what I’m needing for my projects. I’m looking forward to the next Portland Swap Meet, which by the way, is scheduled for April 5-6 & 7 2019. Put the date on your calendar and plan to attend.
By the early sixties, the Formula One teams of Grand Prix racing had evolved from a front engined configuration, to a rear. Though the rear engined lay out had been experimented with over the years at Indianapolis, the concept had yet to be successful. A state of the art Indy Car in 1960 was a ponderous 1,700lb sled propelled by a ground pounding Offenhauser engine. There were various chassis manufacturers but basically they were all alike. Thirty three of them took the green flag at the 500 that year, but their reign was about to be challenged.
Father and son, Charles and John Cooper of England along with their driver Aussie Jack Brabham, had led the rear engine revolution in Formula One. They captured the World Championship in 1959 and were in the United States pursuing a second title in the fall of 1960. Indy winner Roger Ward encouraged them to bring their Grand Prix car to the Speedway for testing and the team agreed. Riding on their standard road racing rubber with their tiny Coventry-Climax engine, Brabham attacked the two and a half mile oval with unexpected gusto. No one on hand had ever seen a car carry more speed through the corners. Their lap times would have easily qualified them for The 500 and an ecstatic Ward begged them to return in May. The team professed not to have the funds to pursue such an endeavor. That was when fellow road racer (and heir to the tissue fortune) Jim Kimberly stepped forward to offer sponsorship.
The team clinched the 1960 Formula One crown and arrived in Indianapolis the following spring to little fanfare. Their car had a slightly larger engine than the Grand Prix version but was still significantly smaller than the Offenhausers. Plus the Cooper itself was dwarfed by the roadsters; it was dubbed “a funny car” and not considered a threat by anyone. In addition to all else, it was painted green which was considered “bad luck” at the Speedway.
Brabham and his team were unfazed by the naysayers and went about their race prep. They knew they didn’t have the fastest car- You didn’t need to have the fastest car to win a 500 mile contest. They knew their engine was reliable and would go the distance. They also knew that like all of their competitors, they would have to make pit stops along the way. The Cooper weighed about 700 pounds less than the average roadster so it would be easier on tires. The Coventry-Climax engine also got better mileage (twelve mpg compared to two or three) so fewer stops were anticipated.
Brabham did a respectable job in qualifying (starting thirteenth) and drove a conservative race. In retrospect too conservative, the driver admitting later that he could have pushed harder. They still needed three pit stops, probably because their Dunlop tires didn’t hold up as well as the tried and true Firestones everyone else was using. The roadsters blew by the Cooper all afternoon but Brabham held his own through the turns. When A. J. Foyt took the checkered flag at 200 laps, Brabham was in the ninth position.
The Indianapolis establishment was slow to recognize Brabham and the Cooper’s accomplishment. Seemingly only the astute realized that they had changed the course of Indy car design going forward. Mickey Thompson returned in 1962 with a brace of rear engine cars, one of which qualified eighth. Then in 1963 Colin Chapman arrived from England with his Ford powered Lotus cars. These cars were a match for the Offenhauser horsepower-wise and only a fluke kept them from Victory Lane. In 1964 Roger Ward himself finished second in an American built rear engine car- one of twelve that qualified for the 500 that year. Then in 1965 Jimmy Clark won the race outright in Chapman’s Lotus. Four more rear engined cars followed him across the line. In fact, only six of the thirty three starters that year had their engines mounted in front of the driver. In 1966 the last roadster qualified for the Indianapolis 500 and ironically was eliminated on the first lap. So the revolution that the little Cooper started in 1961 had completely changed the face of Indy car. The process took five years.
Though Jack Brabham is included in the Indianapolis Hall of Fame, he has received little recognition for his influence on “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Fortunately he won other accolades like a third World Championship in a car of his own design (1966). He was also knighted by the Queen of England (1978). “Sir” Jack Brabham retired as a driver at forty four and lived to the ripe old age of eighty eight. A documentary about his life in racing is due for release next year.