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The Indy Roadster Era


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#1 Magoo

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 23:05

Despite its seeming backwardness (ok, indisputable backwardness) the classic Indy roadster circa 1952-65 has a lot of fans. Here's a brief history and a big photo gallery featuring Kurtis, Watson, Epperly, et al. The design and workmanship are exquisite and technically, they are sort of interesting in detail. LINK:


Another look at the Indy roadster era | Mac's Motor City Garage.com

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#2 DanardiF1

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 23:14

I love these cars as they were a perfect example of the microcosm of American motorsport (and sport in general). The Yanks will keep doing it there way, perfecting it bit by bit, until some fancy Yooropeen comes in blows that paradigm to shreds... thanks Colin Chapman! :p

#3 Lee Nicolle

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 23:32

Like their dirt track cousins they look considerably less sleek under the skin. But those skins are gorgeous
Though they did have some very modern bits too. While Europe was racing on heavy flexible wire wheels they were on alloy wheels in the early 50s.
Like a 60s midget some of those oil tanks are works of art, though I do doubt the efficiency as an oil tank!
Those ugly hairdryers, yuk. Wheras the big polished ram tubes, Yum. And I bet they sounded great too.
Diesels? what were they thinking! You need the rules changing so they can be competitive, Lemans?
I love Smokeys wing, obviously a cast off from an early Supermodified. Plenty of downforce but oh the drag! Though again 10 years before Europe.
The crossbar suspensions and some dubious steering linkages are again a throwback to the dirt trackers. 30s technology still in use today, though very refined ofcourse. In those days they were literally car and commercial parts.
And some were using the old hair pin suspensions so they were VERY bound up.
But a great collection of pics . Thanks Mac.

#4 Kelpiecross

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 12:53



I read somewhere that it was the Maserati wins at Indianapolis in the late thirties that inspired the typical Indy roadster after these wins. Whether this is correct or not I don't know.

#5 MatsNorway

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 12:59

Some of those cars where absolutely stunning to look at.

Thats so true Danardi.

And that was a great post Lee

Edited by MatsNorway, 20 March 2013 - 12:59.


#6 mariner

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 20:30

Everybody sees the Roadster era at Indy as sort of fossilizied. Its true the basic roadster layout was unchanged from about 1946 and the frst Kurtiss chassis to 1963 but speeds actually rose significantly during that time. According to the wonderful " Offenhauser" book by Gordon Elliot White pole times improved by 18% from '46 to 63 or just over 1% per year. In contrast over the last 17 years the Monaco pole time seems to have come down 9%.

Now you can prove anything with numbers and when Lotus, turbos and ground effects arrived at Indy speeds leapt but the actual speed improvement acheived by Indy " master mechanics " weren't too bad versus F1.

#7 Bloggsworth

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 20:44

As a schoolboy in England in the 50s I used to love the signwriting all over the cars, so colourful, they looked fast standing still. Dean Van Lines, Leader Card Roadster, Simoniz Special, glorious stuff.

#8 Tony Matthews

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 21:42

As a schoolboy in England in the 50s I used to love the signwriting all over the cars, so colourful, they looked fast standing still. Dean Van Lines, Leader Card Roadster, Simoniz Special, glorious stuff.

For many years I thought Dean Van Lines was a Duchman named Dean... In the UK is was rare to see photographs, I remember that Automobile Year had a page or two featuring the Indy 500.

Edited by Tony Matthews, 20 March 2013 - 21:43.


#9 Magoo

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 22:17

Roadsters are sort of backward, but they are beautifully designed and built and there is plenty enough variation in them technically to keep them interesting.

#10 Kelpiecross

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 03:30

For many years I thought Dean Van Lines was a Duchman named Dean... In the UK is was rare to see photographs, I remember that Automobile Year had a page or two featuring the Indy 500.


I thought exactly the same thing.

#11 Magoo

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 11:13

Many of the race shops back in the roadster era -- Watson, Kurtis, Epperly, Lujie -- were based in Southern California, which generated an expression back in the day: "LA'd to the max." That meant they walked in with a tall stack of cash and asked for the best of everything. 4130 Chrome moly, heliarc, rolled tinwork, braided lines, dzus fasteners, show chrome and color anodizing on everything, Dean Jeffries or Barris paint, Von Dutch striping. The cars were works of art.

When you see Ferraris of that era today, they're gloriously overrestored. For detailing and crash repair, Ferrari mechanics carried two cans of aerosol paint: red and silver. Many Indy roadsters, however, are pretty much as they were.

#12 mariner

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 11:37

I'm no Indy expert so this may be an urban myth, but one of the different things about Indy cars to Uk eyes was that they were all "specials" although actually mosty Kurtis or Watson chassis .

My favourite name was the " nothing special" if thats not a myth.

I have read that many people entred cars at Indy just to ge lots of good seat tickets etc. Maybe teh Nothing Special was one of those ?

#13 Tony Matthews

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 11:47

That was a Watson chassis sponsored by 'Nut-thing' Peanut Brittle, a popular peanut and caramel bar responsible for the great caries outbreak in the late 1960s.

#14 Magoo

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 12:54

I'm no Indy expert so this may be an urban myth, but one of the different things about Indy cars to Uk eyes was that they were all "specials" although actually mosty Kurtis or Watson chassis .

My favourite name was the " nothing special" if thats not a myth.

I have read that many people entred cars at Indy just to ge lots of good seat tickets etc. Maybe teh Nothing Special was one of those ?


Maybe because I grew up with all of it, it never occurred to me then that an Indy car needed to be of unique manufacture to be called a "special." It was just a word -- the one that came after the name of the sponsor.

And yes, backing race cars was a way for people of a certain economic standing to spend an enjoyable month of May, with special access and big wheel status. Hospitality suites did not yet exist at the Speedway but there were still many perks, both at the track and around town.

It could be especially affordable when a group of associated businessmen joined forces...say, meat packers or prune growers, to name two. Or a community organization might sponsor a car, resulting in a "Spirit of Hicksville Special" or suchlike. It didn't require the huge stack of sheckels it takes today.



#15 GreenMachine

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 08:29

I'm no Indy expert so this may be an urban myth, but one of the different things about Indy cars to Uk eyes was that they were all "specials" although actually mosty Kurtis or Watson chassis .

My favourite name was the " nothing special" if thats not a myth.

I have read that many people entred cars at Indy just to ge lots of good seat tickets etc. Maybe teh Nothing Special was one of those ?


The 'Nothing Special' lives on, in name at least, as the 'Nuth'n Special' (visible in the original photo, above the flag staffs) ... as seen at the PI historics a couple of weeks ago.

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#16 saudoso

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 10:05

I love these cars as they were a perfect example of the microcosm of American motorsport (and sport in general). The Yanks will keep doing it there way, perfecting it bit by bit, until some fancy Yooropeen comes in blows that paradigm to shreds... thanks Colin Chapman! :p

Cheapracer says 'Hi!' and that it is Jack Brabham, not Colin Chapman to thank.

#17 mariner

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 13:55

Rolla Vollstedt is a hero of mine because of the way he kept up with Indy technology and continued to enter indy cars up to the cosworth era.

Also Jim Clark thought enough of him to take a very rare non-Lotus drive in one of his cars IIRC he got it up to 3rd place.

Anyway this thread is an excuse to re-post his wonderful description of starting up an Offy engine.

If only modern F1 technical cheifs were allowed to be so human in public

http://home.earthlin...startoffy1.html

#18 NTSOS

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 15:36

One of the most innovative roadster builders was George Salih, a supervisor in the Meyer-Drake plant who designed and built the 1957 Indy winning Belond-AP Special with Sam Hanks at the wheel. The same car won the 1958 race with Jimmy Bryan driving.

Salih built the car in his SOCAL garage and it was unique with it's lay-down engine design....the engine was tilted 72-degrees to the right for a low center of gravity and very low profile......Quin Epperly fabricated the body panels.

John





#19 desmo

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 15:38

Great link :up: The glamour of the pits.

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#20 Magoo

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Posted 23 March 2013 - 00:04

One of the most innovative roadster builders was George Salih, a supervisor in the Meyer-Drake plant who designed and built the 1957 Indy winning Belond-AP Special with Sam Hanks at the wheel. The same car won the 1958 race with Jimmy Bryan driving.

Salih built the car in his SOCAL garage and it was unique with it's lay-down engine design....the engine was tilted 72-degrees to the right for a low center of gravity and very low profile......Quin Epperly fabricated the body panels.

John


:up: One of my all-time favorite cars and stories at the Speedway.

#21 Bloggsworth

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Posted 27 March 2013 - 23:01

For many years I thought Dean Van Lines was a Duchman named Dean... In the UK is was rare to see photographs, I remember that Automobile Year had a page or two featuring the Indy 500.


One boy at my school, Rosen, had every copy of Automobile Year, and I found cupboards full of Motor Sport in the Car Club, in which I read reports of Monzapolis and Jack Fairman's exploits in an unsuitably shod D Type Jaguar.

#22 Tony Matthews

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Posted 28 March 2013 - 14:38

:up: Reports of races at home had a romance about them, but races abroad seemed even more special. The unfamiliar names of cars, drivers and sponors (whatever they were) all added to the magic.

#23 mariner

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 10:14

I can remember sitting as a UK teenager in front of my parents " radiogram" ( if anybody remembers those) listening to the Indy 500 on US forces radio for 1963, or 64. race.

Amazingly by 1966 (IIRC) it was being shown live by satellite link in UK cinemas

#24 Magoo

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 18:40

I can remember sitting as a UK teenager in front of my parents " radiogram" ( if anybody remembers those) listening to the Indy 500 on US forces radio for 1963, or 64. race.

Amazingly by 1966 (IIRC) it was being shown live by satellite link in UK cinemas


One of my favorite things as a tot was listening to the Indy 500 broadcast, scoring the race over the radio. When I got to see it on Closed Circuit TV aka Theater Television (early pay-per-view setup that never really caught on big in the USA except for boxing) in 1967 it wasn't nearly as stimulating.


#25 Tony Matthews

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 21:05

It has long been known that you get better pictures on the radio.

#26 Magoo

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 22:15

"Radio is the theater of the mind. Television is the theater of the mindless." -Steve Allen

#27 mac miller

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 22:26


.
You guys may want to check out my Indy roadster website:

Visit My Website

Especially interesting is the technical blogs and the roadster list

mac miller in INDY

#28 Magoo

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 23:46

.
You guys may want to check out my Indy roadster website:

Visit My Website

Especially interesting is the technical blogs and the roadster list

mac miller in INDY


Yeah, you guys should do that. It's a nice site. Please hang around, Mac. We have a sensible conversation here once in a while.


#29 Tony Matthews

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Posted 30 March 2013 - 09:50

What Magoo said.

#30 Magoo

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 15:33

Now that it's May, it's time for more roadster material and Indy lore in general. This is a little piece about NASCAR drivers of the golden age who were able to moonlight at Indy: Yarborough, Yarbrough, the Allison brothers, that bunch. One of my favorites of that period was poor old Bobby Johns, who was saddled with the Yunick sidecar in 1964, but thankfully was rewarded with a works Lotus ride the following year. Seems almost fair.


Stock Car Drivers in the Indy 500 | Mac's Motor City Garage.com



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#31 Bob Riebe

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 18:17

"Radio is the theater of the mind. Television is the theater of the mindless." -Steve Allen

What does that make those nowadays who have to have computer based communications gadget of some sort or become incompetent?
-------------------------------------------

I have not totally given up on Indy yet, though last year was the second of two in the past fifty years that only got a read in the newspaper as far as attention goes.

They have done nothing to fix the series, as far as fan appeal goes and the unthinkable is becoming thinkable, though I still think Indy could survive alone, at least for awhile.

Edited by Bob Riebe, 07 May 2013 - 21:18.


#32 desmo

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 22:29

Those photos Mac posted of the early '70s Indy cars harken back to one of the golden eras of Indy from a technical standpoint, really, really close to state of the art--even by F1 standards--chassis from actual competing makers powered by turbo'd V-8s or (better) classic Offenhausers cranking out something like a reported 800-900 bhp. The cars today just aren't serious at all by comparison, they are prop cars-- fast prop cars, but still... It's like modern NASCAR, just generic lowest common denominator entertainment that happens to involve what are designed to look like racing cars but which--again--are really just spec TV props.

#33 mariner

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 19:21

A few years back I had the pleasure of going to the Unser Museum in Albuquerque NM. Who should greet us visitors? - Al Unser Snr himslf, a charming, modest man and so informative about everything in the Musuem.

Thee is a seperate engine collection and we were studying one of the unlimited boost Turbo Offys of 1200 bhp qualifying power fame. Al Unser's face lit up in smile and he said
" they really gave you kick in the back down the straightaways" - nice that a guy who had done thousands of laps of Indy and won there several times still had that childish pleasure in pure speed.

#34 Lee Nicolle

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 00:10

A few years back I had the pleasure of going to the Unser Museum in Albuquerque NM. Who should greet us visitors? - Al Unser Snr himslf, a charming, modest man and so informative about everything in the Musuem.

Thee is a seperate engine collection and we were studying one of the unlimited boost Turbo Offys of 1200 bhp qualifying power fame. Al Unser's face lit up in smile and he said
" they really gave you kick in the back down the straightaways" - nice that a guy who had done thousands of laps of Indy and won there several times still had that childish pleasure in pure speed.

Remember Al was one of the few people that ever got to use these engines and I am sure they kept even his attention of them. While not a great fan of the Indy process those blokes were very brave qualifying those cars

#35 MatsNorway

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 09:52

I have to agree with Desmo.

Most top racing series now is watered down and sterilized.




I am just waiting for pikes peak to get stopped by the US goverment. :(

#36 ghinzani

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Posted 02 July 2022 - 22:52

I've often wondered what was the last front engined non-roadster ie pre the roadster car to qualify at Indy was? Also did the cars before the roadster have a generic name like the roadster did? To the eye some of the stuff still running in the mid 50s hadn't changed much since the end of the two seat era in the mid 30s.

#37 BRG

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Posted 03 July 2022 - 10:24

Cheapracer says 'Hi!' and that it is Jack Brabham, not Colin Chapman to thank.

Very late to the party, but, surely it was John Cooper that we should thank?  Black Jack was just the driver in those days



#38 Charlieman

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Posted 03 July 2022 - 13:53

Very late to the party, but, surely it was John Cooper that we should thank?  Black Jack was just the driver in those days

Or Dunlop? Dunlop didn't have the right sort of tyres but even the wrong sort on a Cooper was good enough to show that British-style rear engined cars were the way to go.



#39 Henri Greuter

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Posted 05 July 2022 - 14:00

I've often wondered what was the last front engined non-roadster ie pre the roadster car to qualify at Indy was? Also did the cars before the roadster have a generic name like the roadster did? To the eye some of the stuff still running in the mid 50s hadn't changed much since the end of the two seat era in the mid 30s.

 

 

I think there are two answers on that one.

The first answer, I can't give the complete answer but as far as I recall, the last `Dirtcar` that qualified for the 500 was in 1956. But I have to check the photobooks for that one.

 

The second answer may be a surprising one.

There are Indy Diehards who proclaim that the  4WD1964 Ferguson P104-Novi was not a roadster because a roadster had the engine asymmetric located into the chassis as well as the drive shaft running asides the driver.

The Ferguson did have an asymmetric drive line (on the left of the car) but the engine was located in the middle of the chassis and for them the Ferguson-Novi technically was not a true to the word Roadster. So for them: P104-Novi technically was the last ever front-engined non-Roadster at Indy.


Edited by Henri Greuter, 05 July 2022 - 14:02.


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#40 Bob Riebe

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Posted 05 July 2022 - 16:09

Had the RE cars not come along to see what would have morphed out of the roadster take a look super-modifieds; a fair number of roadsters raced in that arena.

Now on a road coarse, there would have been oval cars and twisties cars.

 

The late great Copper World Classic showed how close the Super Mods. were to indy cars, a fair number of years back now.



#41 Jim Thurman

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Posted 05 July 2022 - 16:55

Very late to the party, but, surely it was John Cooper that we should thank?  Black Jack was just the driver in those days

 

And thank American driver Rodger Ward and American sponsor Jim Kimberly, as they played big roles in getting Cooper to Indianapolis   ;)



#42 Henri Greuter

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Posted 05 July 2022 - 19:00

I've often wondered what was the last front engined non-roadster ie pre the roadster car to qualify at Indy was? Also did the cars before the roadster have a generic name like the roadster did? To the eye some of the stuff still running in the mid 50s hadn't changed much since the end of the two seat era in the mid 30s.

 

 

I think there are two answers on that one.

The first answer, I can't give the complete answer but as far as I recall, the last `Dirtcar` that qualified for the 500 was in 1956. But I have to check the photobooks for that one.

 

Indeed, 1956 was the last year for a KK4000 and 2 Kuzma's drioven by Al Keller, Eddie Johnson and Billy Garrett respectively. and a Stevens driven by Gliff Griffith.

 

Warned by experience: the listed names for the chassis is as found in the  Illustrated History of the Indy 500 by Jack Fox but I know of at least one fellow member within our midst who might know the accurate names for the cars,

Anyway, those 4 cars were no roadsters. And at least in my eyes all cars in the remaining years of the 50s look as roadsters to me.



#43 Collombin

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 05:25

I assume Herk's Mallard when it qualified in 1968 was a roadster (by the offset engine/driveshaft definition), but from photos I can't really tell.

#44 Henri Greuter

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 07:13

I assume Herk's Mallard when it qualified in 1968 was a roadster (by the offset engine/driveshaft definition), but from photos I can't really tell.

 

It was.

Also after 1968 is was defacto a Roadster based on the drive lin specs


Edited by Henri Greuter, 06 July 2022 - 07:14.


#45 ghinzani

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 09:00

Thanks Henri thats really great information. 
Regarding my question of the pre Roadster cars I answered the question myself watching a Donald Davidson video clip where he referred to them as "the Upright cars" , which makes a lot of sense. So I'd be really interested to know the last Upright car to qualify. I know Bettenhausen tried to take his rookie test in an "Upright" Mevosky in 68 but it was too slow by then. I have seen a picture but would love to have seen it going round, imagine what a ride that would have been. Scarey!

I think there are two answers on that one.

The first answer, I can't give the complete answer but as far as I recall, the last `Dirtcar` that qualified for the 500 was in 1956. But I have to check the photobooks for that one.

 

The second answer may be a surprising one.

There are Indy Diehards who proclaim that the  4WD1964 Ferguson P104-Novi was not a roadster because a roadster had the engine asymmetric located into the chassis as well as the drive shaft running asides the driver.

The Ferguson did have an asymmetric drive line (on the left of the car) but the engine was located in the middle of the chassis and for them the Ferguson-Novi technically was not a true to the word Roadster. So for them: P104-Novi technically was the last ever front-engined non-Roadster at Indy.



#46 Collombin

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 09:51

So I'd be really interested to know the last Upright car to qualify


The last qualifying run in 1956 was that of Eddie Johnson's Kuzma so looks like that must be it.

#47 Magoo

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 10:08

The Indy roadsters, like a number of open-wheel cars in oval racing in the USA, used a device called a Jacob's Ladder for lateral location of the rear axle --- in place of oh, say, a Panhard bar or a Watt's link. It's an interesting mechanism with some distinctive mechanical properties. Worth a look. 



#48 Henri Greuter

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 11:29

Thanks Henri thats really great information. 
Regarding my question of the pre Roadster cars I answered the question myself watching a Donald Davidson video clip where he referred to them as "the Upright cars" , which makes a lot of sense. So I'd be really interested to know the last Upright car to qualify. I know Bettenhausen tried to take his rookie test in an "Upright" Mevosky in 68 but it was too slow by then. I have seen a picture but would love to have seen it going round, imagine what a ride that would have been. Scarey!

 

All correct. The idea had been to put a turbocharged Offy in that car for Indy but that never happened.



#49 Magoo

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 12:56

Interesting trivia: of the first series of five Kurtis-Kraft KK500 roadsters constructed by Frank Kurtis, only one technically met the definition of a roadster as the term came to be understood. Howard Keck's Hilborn Fuel Injection Special used a left-offset drivetrain, but the other four buyers were not sold on the idea and spec'ed their cars with centerline drivetrains. 



#50 Bob Riebe

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Posted 06 July 2022 - 17:18

Can any one find what last -- I still call them Big Cars -- from the era of sprint cars and big cars, one to run on any paved oval?