Put out here with approval of moderators
The Michel Vaillant adventure "Suspense à Indianapolis": Where fantasy and reality met and about that reality
I must start these reflections with a disclaimer.
No comment, no observation within this piece is to downgrade the work of author Jean Graton. Nothing what reads as, or appears to be negative must be rated as being negative. I have no reason to be negative about Jean Graton and his work because I am one of the many readers of his albums who owes a lot of his interest for auto racing to the albums he created. And I have more reasons to credit "Suspense à Indianapolis" as one of the mains sources of the inspiration for all that.
If there was a Hall of Fame for they who have promoted motor racing among the youth (and adults...), I will nominate Jean Graton instantly.
Secondly, I rate it as not unlikely that elsewhere at the internet articles like this have been published about the Vaillant albums. If not in English then in other languages. I hereby want to state, maybe must confess, that I have not done a detailed search on the Internet for such pieces. So if there are any, I simply was not aware of their existence at the time of writing of this piece.
Then: This writing should probably benefit from inclusion of drawings taken from the album discussed. And of pictures and/or other images form cars mentioned within the story. But due to wanting to honor and respecting the copyrights of the authors and the current copyright holders for drawings and/or pictures I can’t bring myself to doing so.
Some time ago I put out my first discussion and reflections about a Michel Vaillant comic story, or a graphic novel if you want.
Maybe predictable that, for they who know me a bit over here at this forum, my selection to discuss another Michel Vaillant adventure could be narrowed down to one out of a fairly small number of albums. Being: the one with Indianapolis adventures and/or featuring cars named Novi!
So. If you’re not into any of those subjects at all or felt these adventures to be disappointing, then the selection of album being discussed over here will likely disappoint you as well.
I have opted for the one that, some 10 years after I got my copy of the adventure managed to surprise me big time. This because of after all those years discovering something about the album that, at least at that time, according me, was little known among the many fans of the Michel Vaillant albums in primarily Europe.
And that this story is posted in a month of May of a calendar year, that is of course for good reasons.
“Suspense a Indianapolis” is the eleventh album of the Michel Vaillant series, released in September 1966. It is to some extend the follow up on the tenth album “L’Honneur du Samourai”, which appeared less than half a year earlier.
In “L’Honneur du Samourai” the story deals with a F1 season that appears to have been either 1964 or 1965 which is lost by Michel but instead his team mate and friend, Steve Warson took the world title for the team.
For a description of the story presented in “Suspense à Indianapolis” I have used the Dutch translation of the story. To my knowledge, this adventure has not been released in an English translation. Regrettably.
(SPOILER) The plot of the adventure (SPOILER)
In the early part of “Suspense à Indianapolis” it is Steve who, shortly after he won the F1 world title, suggests to the Vaillant family that, in order to make up for the disappointment of loosing that world title, Michel should try to win the “Championship of the United States”. Steve has had some talks with the organizers already and they have reacted positively. But in order to participate, Vaillante has to built two entirely new cars, a sports car for events at Daytona and Riverside and a singleseater for the Indianapolis 500.
The plans of Vaillante to compete in the US championship don’t go well at all with a privateer racing team, located in Texas, named the “Texas Driver’s Club”, a team that are sworn enemies of initially only Steve Warson. After the first encounter of Steve and his enemies on European soil (in album 5; “No 13 au depart”) the Texas Drivers are the sworn enemies of the Vaillante Team and thus Michel as well.
After hearing about the talks between Steve and the organizers of the "Championship of the United States), the Texas Drivers Club fears for their chances and the future of their club and in order to prevent Vaillante to compete at Indianapolis, they infiltrate within the Vaillante factory. They carry out a bomb attack at the Competition dept. of Vaillante to undo all the work on the Indycar. Some action to minimize the damage can be undertaken thanks to a mysterious telephone call the Vaillants receive shortly before the bomb goes off. A quick reaction by people still at the factory makes that the damage is less extensive as otherwise would have been the case.
Michel and Steve get their new sports cars in time to participate at Daytona in a 1000 km event organized by NASCAR which is won by Michel. The second event is at Riverside, also for the sports cars and this time Steve wins the race, which turned into a wild rodeo ride with more than half the field wiped out.
In those two Sportscars events, the Texas Driver’s Club entered three entirely different cars for their three current drivers that are still eligible to race. The first car is an early version of the Ford GT40, driven by a driver named Jones (his Christian name is never mentioned within the entire album), a rear engined open cockpit Scarab for Sam Hawkins and a Cheetah-Chevrolet for Donald Payntor. Jones in the GT40 turns out to be the most formidable opponent of the three `Texas` entries in both events, finishing second in each of the two events.
At Indianapolis, Jones is driving a Lotus-Ford (numbered 2), Payntor and Hawkins are driving front engined cars, named Novi, numbered 4 and 5 respectively. Team Vaillante brings two very elegant looking rear engined cars to Indianapolis. Michel and Steve take the first two starting spots but then something goes wrong. A friend of Steve who works for the FBI appears at Indy and tells them he has received a message that Steve and Michel are in danger and need his protection. Steve and Michel then make it known that they will spend some time `in the mountains` and leave the following day. Once the president of the “Texas Driver’s Club” hears about these plans he organizes an assault on the car of Michel and Steve to be pushed off the road by a truck. Michel and Steve are hospitalized and out of the race.
On race day, short before the start of the race, the president of the “Texas Driver’s Club” is informed that one of his drivers he had trusted, Donald Payntor is responsible for the telephone call that enabled Vaillante to minimize the damage onto the Indycar during the bomb attack in the factory. And literally seconds after hearing this news, he spots, as if out of nowhere, Steve and Michel in good shape, ready to race. The spokesman of Team Vaillante explains that they knew about an attack on their drivers being possible and a decoy plan had been planned to keep Michel and Steve safe and out of sight with two FBI men taking their place. These two men indeed being hospitalized yet way less severely injured as had been told till then.
The Texas `capo` immediately calls for a replacement driver to replace Payntor. When this mysterious driver shows up, he appears being so menacing that both Steve and Michel have a suspicion with who they have to deal.
The race starts with a massive fiery accident (no details on the outcome for the drivers involved). Steve and Michel are signalled to be ready for fighting the way to the front of the field about halfway the race. When they want to overtake the #4 Novi driven by the mysterious replacement of Payntor, he refuses to make way. But then he becomes under attack of his team mate Sam Hawkins in the other Novi! Both Michel and Steve use the opportunity to pass the battling team mates and move forward through the field.
Now, in the Dutch translation of the album, it is mentioned at this point in the story that about halfway the race Michel and Steve have fought their way to the lead. Something has gone wrong within the translation or in the plot to have both these events happen at about the same time in the race. Together with some other cars Steve and Michel are ready to lap the two Novis which are still running together. Since one of the leaders is the Texas Drivers Lotus-Ford of Jones, the mysterious driver in Payntor’s Novi prepares to help his teammate. But yet again it is Sam Hawkins who runs his own car into the #4 to prevent any actions by the driver in #4. This time however the cars spin off the track. The two Novi drivers then get out of their cars and start a fistfight! When officials and police rushes in it turns out that it wasn’t Sam Hawkins who drove his own (#5) car but Payntor who had taken Hawkins’ place. The driver of his own car (the #4) is identified by Payntor as Bob Cramer. Payntor explains to the police and other bystanders that he knew that he was to be replaced by Cramer, the most evil of all Texas Drivers and Steve Warson’s biggest enemy and that Cramer was sent out to disturb the race of Michel and Steve.
Payntor explains to the police he was dreaming about becoming a great racing driver but realizing he had become a gangster instead. And how by now he was fed up with all he had to do and got involved in so secretly tried to warn the Vaillants in Paris and later on the FBI.
When all Texas Drivers Club members are arrested and taken from the track, the speaker reveals that the Vaillantes of Steve and Michel had not made pit stops yet for fresh tires. The explanation has been given that they are using special new tires, brought from Europe that are good enough to last the entire race and will save them the time otherwise lost in tire changes. It helps Michel to win the race and become “Champion of the United States”.
Whow, what a story.
But how often have you had thoughts that started with “But how”, “But when”, or a variant on that?
Reflections and observations
A few details within this plot are entirely impossible, unrealistic to begin with. But it is a graphic story and dealing with a racing world of which most of the audience for which this book was aimed upon knew little to nothing. So you can get away with much and no-one to stop you.
?1: When could this adventure have taken place?
OK, let's take a good look on this adventure and see what was real, could be real and what was sheer fantasy. First question is of course: When did this adventure take place?
I will get back to this later on within this piece but there is one kind of publication existing that tells “Suspense” to be a 1964 event. But this publication is not a Michel Vaillant story or another official “Graton Editeur” publication. Another argument going for 1964 is that, just like the real race of 1964, Graton’s race also saw a horrible fiery crash involving several cars early on in the race.
But I rather focus on the actual Michel Vaillant albums themselves as well as the actual situation of the racing world as it was in that period of time to answer this question.
There are no definitive clues that mention a year within the actual album itself or in other albums but the strongest arguments I can make are for the year being 1965. To come to this conclusion however you need to make a side step to the previous album. In “L’Honneur du Samourai” appears a Japanese driver who bought a Lotus chassis and fitted it with a Honda engine. Honda made its debut in F1 (using V12 engines) in 1964. Curious detail. If we assume that "L'Honneur du Samourai" is a 1964 adventure, then this Japanese driver debuts his Lotus-Honda even earilier in the reace season than the actual factory Honda team makes its race debut in the real 1964 GP season. Now for the purists: I must mention that the 1964 Honda factory V12 car had its engine mounted transversally within the chassis, while Graton's Lotus-Honda appears to have the engine mounted conventionally (longitudinal),within the car. So has the real Honda engine been an inspiration for Graton?
Anyway, remembering that the adventure in this album and the outcome of it inspired Steve’s plan. So that makes the next year (when `Suspense a Indianapolis` took place) 1965.
The first plans and the talking about it within the Vaillante Organisation are after this 1964 season but there is no talk about commitments to continue within F1, not a single reference. But in the talks, chief designer (Michel’s older brother) Jean-Pierre Vaillant recalls having seen how Jim Clark almost won the Indy 500 the year before. Such did indeed happen in 1963, thus suggesting that the talks could indeed have taken place after the last F1 race of 1964. In real life, that was the Mexican GP held at October 25th of that year. Later on in the script, there is a talk between Jean-Pierre and Michel. Within this conversation Jean-Pierre gives a round-up of cars that appeared at Indy of which he had obtained info in order to start a study on what would be needed for Vaillante to built a decent car. The round-up by Jean-Pierre consists of a list of cars that (as I found out many years later) were entered and raced in the 1964 race.
By the way, I can truly imagine that, when the album was released in 1966, that for the majority of the readers, most if them very likely not familiar with Indy in the mid 60's, all those names that supposedly were cars must have been rated as bewildering. If you were only familiar with names of factories like Ferrari, Lotus, or constructors like Cooper and Brabham, that list given by Jean-Pierre may cause some wonders about what this all stood for.
Anyway, the task for Vaillante is a massive one. As mentioned, the first talks about entering the “Championship of the United States” can be at best have taken place in late October 1964. In that time era, the actual race at Indianapolis traditionally takes place on May 30th, Memorial Day in the USA. But practice and qualifying starting way earlier. So, in order to participate, Vaillante had the monumental job of designing and building an Indycar within little over half a year. If we keep in mind that it took Lotus and Ford a lot of efforts to get their combined 1963 efforts off the ground within less that a year, go figure..
But that's not all the work to do! For the two other races ahead of Indy (no time indication when actually taking place) they also had to design and built a new sportcar/prototype! Vaillante actually built 4 examples of this prototype and they are finished even before the Indycar. Not a single detail or spec is given about this particular sportscar. Like for example what kind of engine it had? Now, how much work for these projects had been done at the Vaillante factory already, in particular for the sportscar, no clue given. But for those cars there was even less time avaliable to design and built them!
But as we knew already from earlier adventures: the Vaillante designers and engineers are capable of miracles. Within the sixth adventure of the series (“La trahison de Steve Warson”) the Vaillante team is in desperate need for a car suitable to run in the revived for the occasion Panamerican road race in Mexico and within less than two months the company designs and builts two brand new cars (Vaillante Panamericana, in later albums branded the Le Mans GT) for the job that went on to win the event too. So what's new for the factory in order to provide Michel and his friend Steve with a brandnew all sorted out sportscar within a few weeks?
About this particular sportscar built for the "Championship of the USA", in modern reprints of the older albums I found overviews of different Vaillantes as they appeared over time. The sportscar debuted in "Suspense" is one of them and it is designated as being the Vaillante `Daytona` Proto-GT. On the Internet I found sites dealing with Michel Vaillant that mentioned the car to be a 1964 model. Thus suggesting this album to be a 1964 adventure. Curiously enough, one of these sites also listed the eventually built Indianapolis car to be a 1965 model. And then we would have more than a year difference between the first race (Daytona) and the third one (Indianapolis) within one album ???
But some more comments on the year of this adventure later on. Within the upcoming pace I will introduce more data and facts that can be used in discussions about the time frame of the adventure. We will get back to this.
?2 The “championship of the United States", what’s to tell about that?
Then: this “Championship of the United States”.
This is by far the biggest fantasy of author Jean Graton within this particular album. A championship like Graton described, consisting of two sportscars races and the Indy 500 simply did not exist and it is very unlikely anything like it could ever exist.
Within the album, the race in Daytona was organized by NASCAR. It was an event for sportscars, thus not for the stock cars for which NASCAR is better known since his organization focused primarily on racing street legal production cars. But sports car races were held at Daytona since 1962, using parts of the oval as well as the infield track. Thus this event could have been the one that Graton envisioned to be used within his championship.
There is no mentioning who organized the second event at Riverside, no clue given to figure out which organisation it could have been either.
In that time era, Indianapolis was organized and sanctioned by USAC (United States Auto Club). They mainly concentrated on open wheelers. Indy was part of USAC’s “National championship”, a series held for open wheeled cars. In the early 60's the majority of the events had been on dirt track ovals. But another event that was part of the championship was nothing else but the Pikes Peak Hill climb. Within the album however, there is not the slightest referring to any of these other events on the USAC championship. But in the mid 60’s the focus of this championship was shifting more and more to paved ovals. But one thing about that USAC championship had remained the same. Indianapolis was by far and away the most important event within the championship.
Thus: both NASCAR and USAC organized their own championship. And they were not exactly in excellent standings with another. Let alone that both of these organizations ever would combine forces for a single Championship. So much for the “Championship of the United States”.
Sports cars and GTs were kind of popular in certain areas within the USA but stock car racing and the USAC single seater categories were generally better known. So, in order to get a series that had these three tracks in the story, Jean Graton simply created his own championship, there was no-one to stop him and why should he be stopped.
And thus: “Suspense a Indianapolis” shares something with the very first album of Graton I mentioned briefly early on in this thread: Jean Graton created an imaginary Championship to be contested by his hero in which Indianapolis is one of the events and then he wrote a plot for it.
?3: About the cars that appear within the story, the real ones and the imaginary ones
The Daytona and Riverside races provide Graton with the opportunity to draw a lot of cars common for the time, GT’s and sportcars. Ferraris, Maseratis, Cobra Daytona, a wide variety. The main opponents, the Texas Drivers Club have an early version of the Ford GT40 which is of course a fairly familiar car for many race fans nowadays and back then. The two other `Texas` cars are way less familiar and exotic but I found out later on that they were inspired on existing cars. The second car is a Cheetah-Chevy which must have made some impression as well for young readers, unfamiliar with the American hardware. The third “Texan” car is another rare one: an open cockpit, mid engined Scarab. Though Scarab is an existing brand, they are best known for some front engine sportscars and a 1960 F1 project with a front engined car. But the last ever Scarab built was indeed a rear engined open sportcar and obviously, Graton had seen this car or pictures of it since the Texas Driver’s car resembles the real one quite well.
The Scarab has been mentioned within this forum once:
By the way, with making this Scarab part of the story, Graton continued another tradition. Within his third album (“Le circuit de la peur”, released in July 1961) Graton brought in one of the Scarab sportscars and the front engine F1 car as well. Scarabs were certainly no strangers within the early Michel Vaillant albums.
Where Graton exactly found his inspiration for the cars is unclear. But there were all kind of magazines available in those days so it can’t have been too much of a challenge for him.
But Indianapolis is the main event in the “Suspense” album. Very early on in the album there is a meeting of the board members of the Texas Drivers Club where the Club President brings the importance of Indy under the attention. In the past they had fielded some decent drivers but the cars had let them down. Though things looked much better for the upcoming event for which the team had acquired two extraordinary cars. But success is no longer near certain anymore should the Vaillantes appear be at Indy.
I must say that I think that the Texas Drivers must have a tremendous amount of respect for a company that has not the slightest amount of experience at Indianapolis yet.
The two extraordinary cars for Indy that the Texas Drivers will enter are mentioned by name. They are Novis.
Graton thus once again brings back this remarkable brand of cars. In his very first album “Le Grand Defi” which also has an Indy race he gave an important role to a Novi. In his second album “Le Pilot sans Visage” he creates an imaginary American built F1 car inspired on the genuine Novi Indycar and names it Novi Europ. All together, there are some reasons for Graton to take up where he has left and continue his interest for the Novi.
I obtained my copy of "Suspense" in late 1973. Then, some 2 years later I found out that there had been real Novi Indycars. On that occasion I did not see pictures of a car that resembled the Texas Drivers Novis like the real one I saw in a picture resembled the white #1 in "Le Grand Defi". It took me another 9 years to find out more about the actual Novis that were built. So I can give the following details as they were at the time when the adventure was created by Graton.
In real life, there are still Novis in use at Indy in 1965 but the end of the line of these legendary cars comes in sight. In 1965 the cars and engines are owned and maintained by the Granatelli Brothers (high profilic Andy and his brothers within the background Joe and Vince) who bought the inventory from first owner Lew Welch in early 1961. Under their guidance the 2.8 liter supercharged V8 is modernized and rejuvenated and its power output increases from some 600 to a bewildering 775 hp in 1965. The brothers initially still use one of the two existing 1956 built Kurtis Kraft 500F chassis in their first year they owned the team. But in 1962 they replace the aged 500F chassis (that inspired Jean Graton for Steve's white Novi #1 in "Le Grand Defi") with 2 new cars (Built by Kurtis-Kraft, dubbed the type 500K). In 1964 the Granatelli brothers order a 4WD car built by the British Ferguson company. Then in 1965 they built their own chassis fitted with another Ferguson 4WD drive line.
Given how the team was organized, it was absolutely impossible that any of the existing Novi cars and engines could be hired by another team, let alone being sold and ending up in different hands. For they who care to know: between 1961 and 1965 the Granatellis owned a total of 6 different chassis. But the two oldest chassis were retired after the race of 1963 and never in these years between ‘61 and ’65 the team had more than 4 different chassis available. But out of these 4 cars, the Granatellis never uses more than three cars at the same time, the fourth car not existing yet or being one of the two oldest cars being parked. Cars or engines were never made available to anyone outside the Granatelli team for use at Indy.
Nevertheless, within the Graton story, the Texas Drivers manage to obtain two Novis.
But contrary to what one might believe, these two cars are not the latest built (most modern) two 4WD cars. Instead the Texans have obtained the two last built reardrive cars, what in the real world were the 2 1962 built 500K's. One of them appears on the very first page of the book: during a test by the Texans on a private track. You need to look closely to identify that car as a Novi. It carries a name of STP Special, a Novi decal on the tail and it is numbered #2.
Another single seater that appears early on in the album (page 2) is a rear engined car that is named “Liquid Suspension Special”. This car doesn’t appear later on in the album anymore. The Novi does return though by then it doesn't look like the car that appeared on the first page of the story. But to make up for that, not one but two Novis appear. These two cars look a bit different than the car at the first page. By now the nose cone is full of blisters and power bulges and has an extra air intake on top of the nose cone. In several drawings the cars look quite menacing, as if supporting the image of being driven by `bad guys`. Given the reputation of the “Texas Drivers Club” and their drivers, the cars certainly `belong` to the team with their mean looks. The #2 used on the car on the first page is not used on either Novi, they have the numbers 4 and 5
The differences between the #2 early in the album and the #4 & #5 that appear later on were not clear for me for quite some time since I had no idea if either or both versions were fantasy or not.
As mentioned, the rear engined Texas Drivers owned “MG Liquid Suspension Special” doesn’t appear in the Indy part of the album anymore. Instead a Lotus-Ford has shown up as a `Texas` entry. This particular Lotus-Ford is a 1963 model. For they who are familiar with Lotus cars, it is the type 29 with the carbureted pushrod Ford engine. Funny enough, this Lotus-Ford has taken over the number 2 initially used on the Novi we saw on page 1.
I already explained that it was very unlikely that in the real world a team like the `Texas Drivers Club` ever could have ended up with Novis. To get a 1963 Lotus-Ford was also next to impossible. Ford took over the 1963 cars from Team Lotus after the season and the 1963 type `pushrod` engines were parked and replaced by a much improved version with DOHC and 4 valves per cylinder. Ford fielded way more engines for the 1964 races and some of the 1963 Lotus 29 chassis were placed within other teams Ford took on. So, in theory, the Texas Drivers somehow could have obtained full support from Ford, got one of the 1963 Lotus chassis but then it would have been fitted with the latest Ford engine, often referred to within the Indy world as the “Quadcam Ford”.
But of course, there might have been some links between the Texas Drivers and Ford already: the team already used an early version of the GT40 in the two sportscar events.
?4: The star of the entire story: the feared Vaillante, facts and observations
Then: the Vaillante Indycar, the miracle car, designed, built and races within 6 months of time. It is referred to in the album and on later occasions as being the “Vaillante Speciale Indianapolis”.
Of course, the car is rear engined, European constructors are no longer building outdated front engined open wheel racing cars anymore. Remember, it was only in 1964 that even American constructors at large began to understand that those (for them) weird rear engine cars had more speed potential than the old-style front engined Roadsters they were using since the mid 50s. Vaillante is one of the teams showing off innovation and the way to go.
It is an elegant little car to see, inspired on the F1 car used in the previous album, but larger. It is however difficult to make up what kind of engine is used other than most likely a Vee type of engine. It has only two exhaust stacks on top of the rear bodywork, thus suggesting the engine to be of the V type with the exhausts within the V. Air intakes appear to be at the top of the car at the start of the engine bay, at shoulder and neck level of the driver, both on the left and the right of him.
At that time, Indianapolis allowed the use of several types of engines but by far and away the most logical choice was for 4.2 liter atmospheric engines of which the fourcilinder Offenhauser (`Offy`) was the most popular choice. These big fourbangers were rated at a maximum of some 410 tot 425 hp, depending on fuel mixture supplied. Ford had just appeared at the scene with their 4.2 liter V8 and they were trying to make a name for themselves. The 1963 Ford V8 had about 350 to 375 hp, the highly updated 1964 version with 4 valves per cylinder and DOHC had some 425 to 460 hp, depending of fuel blend used.
The rules also allowed 2.8 liter engines with superchargers (free choice between mechanical or turbo) but the only engine of that kind in use at that time was the already mentioned Novi V8 within the Granatelli owned team.
But nowhere in the albums is any indication as of what kind of engine the Vaillante used. To my knowledge, nothing has ever been suggested about what engine the car had in any of the following Michel Vaillant albums either.
We had to wait for more details about the car till 2009. In a manner that I never ever expected at all to be possible I finally found out more about the Vaillante "Spéciale Indianapolis" was suppused to be for kind of car.
It was in 2008 when in France a series of scale models of cars appearing in the Michel Vaillant comics was released. I already mentioned this series within my description about “Le Grand Defi”. Number 25 of this series that was released (in 2009) was the “Vaillante Spéciale Indianapolis”. And the booklet with information with the car contained a number of background stories with surprising details. To begin with, the car was told to be a 1964 model, participating in the 1964 event, thus one year earlier than I believed it to be as I argued over here.
Now let's take the mentioning on the year being 1964 for granted for the time being. I will get back to the year of origin of the car and the story later on.
About the contents of the Altaya booklet, way more bewildering then all about the year is the background info about the car and how it was supposed to have come along. I honestly wonder if Jean Graton ever had such a plot within his mind at the time he wrote the album. And if so, then why he never gave the slightest clue about it in the actual album or succeeding ones. Neither can I make up my mind if the plot as given in the Altaya info booklet is supplied from, or compiled in cooperation with Graton Editeur or that the info is simply brought together elsewhere and without input from anyone within Graton Editeur.
In short, according the booklet, Vaillante was already thinking about the future in F1 with a new formula for 3 liter engined cars coming up and Jean-Pierre Vaillant believed Indy to be a good testcase for the new 3 liter V12 engine Vaillante was working on for that Formula. Curiously, Altaya is one year off with telling that the new 3 liter formula is introduced form 1965 on, it was however in 1966 that F1 went to 3 liters.
Anyway, the “Speciale Indianapolis” is listed to be powered by that upcoming F1 engien tht Vaillantet is working on. It is a 3 liter 48 valve V12 engine. Bore and stroke are listed as being 78.5 x 51.5 mm, thus a shortstroke engine. It is capable of 430 hp at 11000 rpm.
So despite being less than 3/4th of the capacity of the primary atmospheric opposition (Offy and Ford), the V12 was producing approximately the same amount of power. Those engineers at Vaillante were doing miracles! Think about this: in 1966, when F1 went over to the 3 liter formula, there was no V12 capable of delivering a reliable 430 hp yet. Had this engine being used in the 1966 Vaillante F1 cars it had the potential to leave its opponents for dead. But let’s not forget the lesson of the true cars that inspired the Texas Drivers Novi: being way and way more powerful than anything else on the track doesn’t make that car the instant runaway winner.
The “Spéciale Indianapolis” was, in power at least in theory about on par compared with the best of its 4.2 liter opponents. But at 580 kgs it wasn’t a heavyweight like most of the Offenhauser powered front engine cars were and in theory it probably handled better thanks to the mid engine design. Nevertheless, if using a smaller than permitted engine giving away more that 25% of the allowed capacity!) is the way to go at Indy? Since the power output is in the ballpark of the genuine Indy engines, that leads to the conclusion that, apart from being a higher revving V12, the Vaillante engine also must have been way more highly tuned that the American engines, and thus more stressed as a result. What kind of effects that had on the reliability of the engine?
After WW2, there are two historic precedents for a car being fitted with a (much) smaller engine and being underpowered because of that yet still doing well at Indy. The winning car of 1951 used a 4 liter version of the Offenhauser, all other atmo Offies were 4.5 liter. That was used in a lightweight car for which it was hoped that with a faster revving engine the car would still be competitive. It won thus confirmed the hopes. But I have my doubts if Jean Graton was aware of this example of smaller engine than used permitted and thus being inspired because of it one way or another.
The other case is the legendary Cooper-Climax of Jack Brabham in 1961, a 2.7 liter engine giving away 1.5 liter to the atmospheric opponents but the lightweight and rear engine car had a superior roadholding in the corners that made the car competitive. Brabham finished 9th, which was a decent result.
So to say that fitting the Vaillante with a smaller capacity engine and put it up against larger capacity engines, it had been done but to say that it was the way to go? Only in the case of a devastating superior advantage that made up for the power deficit.
But the V12 as a concept had another thing going against it at Indy. Because the reality at Indy was that history had been difficult on multicylinder engines.
Since the revival of the Indy 500 after WW2 in 1946, the winning car in '46 had used a Straight Six engine but from then on between 1947 and 1964 all races had been won by `Offy` fourbangers. In 1965 it was a (Ford) V8 that powered the winning Lotus driven by Jim Clark. Before the war, some race winners had been powered by straight eight engines but no engine with more than 8 cylinders had ever won at Indy. Over the years only a few of such engines had been entered over the years.
V12's had been ultra rare at Indy since 1946. A genuine 1939 Mercedes GP car, fitted with a supercharged V12 had been entered and races in ’47 and ’48 and been fairly fast in practice and qualifying. But without the full factory support and knowledge about the car available, the car did not make the impression against way more simple American built cars. Still, it could be worse.
In 1952 Ferrari had tried to qualify with their by then redundant 4.5 liter cars, used in F1 the previous year. Despite the power output being acceptable, the V12 had so little torque that the cars had difficulties to get up to speed on the straights. The in theory less sophisticated Offy fourbangers had less power yet had so much more torque that they pulled out of the corners like mad and then reaching their top speeds. Shortstroke engines are not known for the torque levels so if a 3 liter high revving V12 engine should have stand a serious chance at Indy to be competitive against the 4.2 liter Offy and Ford?
For the record, I refer to the Offy as `in theory less sophisticated` . But it needs to be said that the Offy had proven already for quite some time to be a more than capable tool for the job and did what was asked from it. It was a truly remarkable engine.
Final observation: the car is told to have a fuel capacity of 220 liter but how to cram all that fuel in the little car? Besides that, when seen from aside, the engine bay looks fairly small to accommodate a long engine like a V12 and there is little to no overhang of a gearbox visible either. Could they really make a V12 that compact already in the mid 60’s? If you wish, make that a compact driveline consisting of a V12 and gearbox as the Spéciale appears to have?
But of course, none of all these thoughts cause any problem. It is simply an imaginary adventure and in it Jean Graton can dream up anything he wants.
I personally wonder if Jean Graton ever put down those specifications for the “Spéciale” when he created the album in the mid 60’s. But where the specs and plot behind it as printed in the Altaya booklet came from, who made them up and if anyone related somehow with the Graton Family or the editors of the original comic were involved with them?
But anyway, assuming that it was indeed a 3 liter V12 car that was used by Michel and Steve, then it does mean that Jean Graton again repeats something in “Suspense” what he had let happen before in “Le Grand defi”. Being: Michel Vaillant winning the race at Indianapolis in a car with a much smaller engine than his opponents! (In “Le Grand Defi” Michel beats the 4.2 liter Offy Roadsters and 2.8 liter supercharged Novi with a slight modified version of a then current F1 car, powered by a straight 6 engine of only 2.5 liter.
As for the importance and status of “Suspense” among the Michel Vaillant albums, perhaps the album is rated as one of the more important ones within the series. Or is the fact that Altaya also released a model of Donald Payntor’s Novi #4 (released in 2010 as number 32 in the series of 50 releases,) just a mere coincidence? Or is it just another case of something that can be seen more often within this model series. The fact is that when the Vaillante that features in a certain album is selected to be modelled then the car of the most important opponent within the adventure is often released as a model as well.
(In which case Altaya regrettably didn’t do so with “Le Grand Defi”: Michel’s Indy winning F1 hybrid is released as a model, Steve’s Novi #1 regrettably not. Altaya released no less than 4 different cars that appear within `Le Grand Défi` but none of those make up for a pair of Vaillante & opponent witin one of the races within this adventure.)
?5 Despite evidence for being a 1964 adventure given: why still a 1965 story for me?
I have already mentioned that there are identifications for the used Sports-Prototype being a 1964 car. Altaya tells within their info booklet that came with the model of the `Speciale Indianapolis` that it was supposedly a 1964 car.
That would make the previous adventure being a 1963 adventure. But that adventure featured a Honda F1 engine that in real was not yet introduced within racing yet until a year later! Or must we rate that Honda engine as a piece of fantasy by Graton which, by coincidence was coming true one year later?
Anyway, if the “Spéciale” was indeed a 1964 car and the album a 1964 adventure, then it explains to some extend the appearance of at least two 1964 Indycars and a rundown of 1964 cars named by Jean-Pierre within one of his discussions. But then, there is that one discussion in which Jean-Pierre recalls seeing Jim Clark almost win Indy the previous year. Since that was in 1963, and because of the 1964 Honda appearance, I think the Altaya publishers are a year off: I still believe that the best determination of year in which this adventure took place, based on data and arguements and data must be 1965.
And then, there are two very important giveaways within the album that make it simply impossible to be an 1964 adventure. The first of these clues appears right on the very first page, in the very first drawing of the "Suspense" album. We see one of the members of the Texas Drivers, (his name is Miller, no first name ever given for him) driving a Ford Mustang. But the Mustang was not on sale yet in the first half of 1964 yet, let alone that Miller could drive one in late 1963! Ironically, the Mustang was the real pace car of the Indy 500 in 1964 and one of the most beloved ones ever.
For the second giveaway why this adventure can’t be a 1964 story we need to look to the few clues about the time path given in the adventure. The only time line points given are the fact that Michel Vaillant and Steve arrive in Indianapolis in `early May`. Practice started that yeo on Saturday May 1st, the first day of qualifying (Pole Day) was Saturday May 15th so that arrival of Steve and Michel was indeed in early May. The album tells that Michel and Steve spend a month at home in France after the second of the sportscar races. There is not time period between these two sports car events listed. It could be a week, but nothing excludes it to be longer then that. Anyway, all of that allows us to conclude that the second sports car race appears to have taken place in early April.
I have a suspicion that a few readers with knowledge about the history of one particular car know by now what is the second giveaway that excludes 1964 as the year of the adventure taking place. Because the second clue deals with yet another Ford that appears in the album.
In the two sportscars races preceding Indianapolis, the Texas Drivers team used an early version of the Ford GT40.
Now without going into details about how the Ford GT40 project started and so on, there are however a few days within the history of the GT40 of importance to mention in relation with this adventure. The very first Ford GT40 prototype was finished on April 1st, the second one some 10 days later and both these cars were hurridly prepped for the Le Mans test weekend of April 18&19, where it was discovered that the cars still needed an awful lot of work to be ready.
Thus: within "Suspense a Indianapolis": at the time when Ford was still working very hard on preparing their first prototypes of the car and get it ready for Le Mans in June later that year, the Texas Drivers were already running a GT40 and with quite some success! (Two times a second place in these races isn't a bad result)
Then, as mentioned within the info booklet with the model of the "Speciale Indianapolis": According Altaya the new 3 liter F1 regulations started in 1965, but in reality it was in 1966. So if Vaillante was trying their upcoming F1 engine the year before in an Indycar, that would have happened in 1965.
Anyway, despite the year 1964 being mentioned for both Vaillante types within the album, for me there is way more evidence against that year and instead state that the adventure must have taken place in 1965.
Indianapolis in the Mid `60s according Jean Graton and where did the inspiration come from?
Unlike in “Le Grand Defi”, Graton gives a lot of attention to how a month of May at Indianapolis proceeds with a lot of drawings that give a fairly accurate view on how things looked at that time. He does a much better job in this than in “Le Grand Defi”. He also draws a fair number of cars and telling some details about them. One car was familiar for me: a 1963 Mickey Thompson Spcl. One other car is mentioned by name. (BMC Aston-Martin-Cooper, many years later I found out this was indeed an existing entry for the 1963 race).
How Jean Graton obtained all that knowledge?
I already mentioned the fact that Altaya released a model of the Texas Drivers Novi #4 of Donald Payntor. This car was also released accompanied by an info booklet about the car and the album it appeared in. One of the things discussed within this booklet is how Jean Graton got his information that he used to create “Suspense”.
Jean couldn’t afford to go to the USA so instead he contacted Big Bill France, the boss of NASCAR for more info. France supplied Graton with photos and other material Graton needed and then used for the album. A bit surprising that France, as president of NASCAR, still took the efforts to gather enough data about Indianapolis, which was really not his thing at all or had any interest in. But given the final result as finished by Graton, he did a fantastic job in gathering and supplying material for Graton. This is something that is also acknowledged within the article.
By the way, this Altaya booklet about the Texas Drivers Novi lists no year of origin for either the car or the story in which the cars appears to take place in. And curiously, a picture of the real Novi cars on which the Texas Driver's Novis were inspired (both the car appearing on page 1 of the story and the duo that appear later on within the album) are missing in the booklet.
The link below gives access to a web site which shows the Altaya Vaillante Series numbers 25 to 36. Number 25 is the Vaillante Spéciale Indianapolis, number 32 is the Texas Drivers Novi
Then, an interesting question arises: What kind of material Bill France gathered and provided to Graton?
Now for the record: I was a 12 year old boy when I got my copy of "Suspense" in 1973. Together with "Le Grand Defi", the album started my interest for Indianapolis and Novis. But it took me another 8 years before I began to built up my library of Indianapolis Annuals (Thank you Carl Hungness Publishing)
And it was in December 1983 (10 years after I got "Suspense") when I made a stunning discovery about the album. This happened when I managed to get hold of the majority of the Indy 500 Annuals published by Floyd Clymer between 1946 and 1968. Among them were the 1963 and 1964 annuals. Going through the 1963 book, it took me only a few seconds to realize that the Texas Drivers Club Novis in "Suspense" were inspired on two of the three Novis that started the 1963 race, this were the two Type 500K cars built in 1962. That menacing intimidating Texas Driver's car was inspired on a real existing car that raced in 1963.Two such cars were driven by Jim Hurtubise (red #56) and Bobby Unser (yellow #6), by then for me familiar names. So that mystery of where the origins of the Texas Novis lay was solved at last.
But there was something else about that 1963 yearbook. Several pictures looked so familiar, too familiar.....
About the pictures that Graton got from Bill France, I am near dead certain that the source for these pictures was the same as at least one of the sources for pictures used in the 1963 Clymer Indianapolis 500 yearbook. Or maybe that one of the other items that France send to Graton was a copy of this particular book. I personally believe that it was likely way cheaper and easier for Bill France to obtain a copy of the book (sold for $3 at the time) than getting a load of printed pictures he had to obtain from a press agency.
Several drawings in the “Suspense” album are carbon copy reproductions of pictures that (also) appear within the mentioned Clymer. But there are also drawings which are heavily inspired on pictures within the book, though no direct copies anymore. Another thing that is obvious: several pictures in which cars are appearing are inspired on pictures within the Clymer but the cars in the picture replaced by one or both Vaillantes. All of a sudden it became obvious for me as of why the sceneries within the storyboard look so convincing and realistic. Far more realistic than what Graton made of the location in the previous adventure in which Indianapolis appears. (album #1 “Le Grand Défi” of 1959) Because here in “Suspense” a number of drawings are inspired on pictures taken at location.
It also leads to a funny situation. On page 44, first drawing on the second row we see a car that spin out and hit the wall during qualifying. This drawing is a near carbon copy of a picture taken on race day when Bobby Unser has spun out and hit the wall in his second lap. In other words: in a drawing appears a Novi that wasn't a `Texas Drivers Novi` and also is not identified as a Novi.
Another funny drawing can be found on page 54, third row, most right drawing. On the right side of this drawing we can see the rear end of a front engined car that features a high tailfin. This is also a near carbon copy drawing of a picture that appears in the '63 Clymer. I have already mentioned that three Novis participated in the real 1963 Indy 500. The third Novi was one of the older chassis, built in 1956 and since 1961 the car was fitted with a massive tailfin. Funny enough, in its original shape as it ran in '56 and '57, that car had been the inspiration for the white #1 Novi that Steve Warson drove in "Le Grand Défi". And here, in "Suspense", the most distinctive and recognizable part of that '56 Novi in its final 1963 configuration appears yet again in another Michel Vaillant album, be it not identified as being a Novi
I never got a clear answer from Jean Graton if the availability of so much photo material (be it prints or a copy of the 1963 Clymer) has been of influence in the decision to let the Texas drivers use the ’63 versions of the 500K Novis. But whatever the reasons were, on purpose or not, the Texas Drivers got by far and away the car that suited their image and reputation the most of all. A car with the reputation and the looks that were perfectly suited to be part of a team like the Texas Drivers.
And if there was indeed a ’63 Clymer at his his disposal, you can't blame Jean for using the book for more purposes!
As for what other photographic material related with Indianapolis Graton obtained for use to create “Suspense”, I have no clues. The album contains in one way or another a few cars that were seen in 1964. On one occasion Jean-Pierre Vaillant mentions a few by their actual names. But I could not identify any source as having been the inspiration for drawings featuring a 1964 car. I own a 1964 Clymer but there is no picture within that book that I felt to be familiar because of “Suspense”. But it was this book that eventually enabled me to identify two cars appearing in the comic.
I already mentioned that on the very first page of "Suspense" a front engined Indycar, numbered 2 appears that, when looking it over closely, appears to be a Novi. Once I had gone through the 1964 Clymer it was clear for me that this car is a historically correct version of one of the 1962 built 500K cars but this time with the bodywork one of the 500Ks had in 1964. In this first page drawing, that particular Novi even carries the correct name of the car in 1964: “STP special”!
I wrote `a historically correct version of one of the 1962 built 500K` for good reason. Because though both two existing 500K-Novis were entered and raced in 1964, their bodywork was modified compared with the year before and both cars differed slightly from another in 1964: they were no longer nearly identical as in 1963. And at least for me, the drawing of the car is of it being in an angle that makes it difficult for me to identify it beyond doubt as either the 1964 #3 or #28 Novi. The drawn #2 resembles the true 1964 #3 the best of all. It leads to the funny situation that the 1964 version of the Kurtis-Novi 500K appears and disappears before the 1963 version enters the scene.
But also that rear engined "MG Liquid Suspension Spcl" that appears on the second page of the album is indeed a genuine 1964 Indycar that started the race. Graton's version of the car resembles the real car very well. That inspiration must have come from somewhere.
An even more telling approval that 1964 material must have been at hand for Graton: On page 42 of the album, the very last drawing in the right bottom corner features a mans beins seen on the back. His jacket has the text "Mickey Thompson Sears Allstate tires Special" on the back. Sears was the sponsor of Mickey Thompson in 1964. In 1963 it was Harvey Aluminium. I could not find a picture resembling this drawing in the 1964 Clymer. But funny enough, though no mentioning of Mickey Thompson is given, but on the next page, within the last two drawings on the page we can see one of Mickey's Harvey Aluminum Spcls of 1963. Drawings inspired on pictures within the1963 Clymer.
It remains however an interesting question as of why, since there was some 1964 photo material available for Graton, why he did not make more use of such material anymore during the Indianapolis part of the story and this part being almost entirely inspired on material originating from 1963 .
Then, “Suspense” does feature a map of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on page 42. But this drawing appears very familiar too. I did find a B&W version of this drawing in the 1957 Clymer on the pages 54 and 55. If the Clymer is the original source or is printed in another publication Graton had access to I’m not sure. But it is a bit funny that a picture of about 1957 origins is used here. That Graton had access to the picture can be explained with the theory that it was part of the materials he had access to when he wrote his very first album, “Le grand défi”. This album is heavily inspired on events that took place in 1957.
Now, just for the record....
The race at Indianapolis as Jean Graton put it up in his album was fantasy. But he did use existing cars for inspiration. Just out of curiosity, do some of the cars he drew up as appearing in Indy still exist? As a matter of fact, yes. But let's concentrate on the most important figurants within the story, the three Texas cars.
Both the two Kurtis-Novis still exist. The one Jim Hurtubise drove in 1963 also was the #3 that inspired the Texas #2 on page 1 of "Suspense". In almost an identical shape it made its last race at Indy in 1965, again driven by Jim Hurtubise. The car survived in this 1965 configuration and is property of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. It it however rarely on display over there.
The car driven by Bobby Unser in 1963 made one more race in 1964, but nowadays is exposed in the Unser Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico in almost the exact trim as Unser drove it in 1963.
Lotus built three examples of the Type 29, two of them were raced by Jim Clark and Dan Gurney, the third was crashed in practice by Gurney. Following the further history on the cars is notoriously difficult since several of the cars ended up in different hands and ownership. Of 2 cars I have no definitive 100% certain confirmed further careers after Indy 1963 and/or their whereabouts. The third one, raced by Dan Gurney is in the collection of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. It was incomplete for a long time but at the time of writing, (May 2020) the car is in the process of being restored into the conditions as it was when Dan Gurney drove it in May 1963.
And some more personal reflections
OK, after all the things I pointed out, is there more to make comments about because of being questionable or downright impossible?
There are a few scenes within the album that leave a few questions. For example replacing a driver so shortly before the race without making this official and register him as the replacement driver. In those years, replacing a driver in a car would have meant that the car was put back to the last starting spot in the field; 33rd. And it hat to be approved by the race directors too.
Besides that: replacing the original driver with a mysterious, to remain unknown driver?
Then: during the race when the two Texas Novis have spun off the track, they ended up at the infield. The Boss of the Texas Driver’s Club is supposedly in the pits area, yet somehow he sees his drivers fistfighting with another. In reaction he cries out in despair what is wrong with them. But the question remains how it is possible for him to see the fighting taking place. In the sixties the track was not surrounded yet by big screens that could show what was happening elsewhere at the track and standing in the pitlane, you could only see the front stretch of the track, absolutely nothing of the infield.
There might be more things to point out but…
All these comments and critical notes, one might get the impression that I feel negative towards “Suspense à Indianapolis.”
My comments are based on knowledge, a lot of this knowledge being obtained with hindsight. Authors have the right to create whatever story they want and to change and modify whatever they feel appropriate to enhance their story, make it more accessible or obtaining the desired result.
It is because of the fact that Jean Graton made use of existing and historically correct printed matter that I came up with the idea to have a look on what was real, what could have been real and what is imagination within his album. If my comments read as being harsh, this is not intended to be like that. Please regard my comments as observations, not as critical outburst.
“Suspense a Indianapolis ” and “Le grand défi” were my two first ever introductions to both the “Indianapolis 500” and Novi race cars. Both have become an important part of my live. Thus, even with a flaw here or there, how can I be harsh on a book that has meant so much for me and has been of so much influence.
Is there no really harsh comment to make?
OK, here is what may be seen as one.
Looking at the cover of the album, you see a sinister masked driver in a Texas Drivers Novi being followed by the two Vaillantes. Now I can’t help it but if I look onto that drawing, it appears to me as if the three cars are in a slight corner to the right!
Now, if there is one direction of turn that the track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is missing……
Finally, having said that, permit me to close with:
À Monsieur Jean Graton, chapeau et merci beaucoup pour votre histoire "Suspense à Indianapolis".
Used for reference
- Dutch translations of the Michel Vaillant albums:
No. 1: “Le grand défi” (An English translation of this album (The great match), released in 2007 was also used)
No. 6: "La trahison de Steve Warson”
No. 11: “Suspense à Indianapolis”
- Floyd Clymer’s Indianapolis 500 and Monza 500 yearbook 1957
- Floyd Clymer’s Indianapolis 500 yearbooks 1963 and 1964
The Clymer books were published by his own publishing company, which was located in Los Angeles, CA
- Novi, the legendary Indianapolis race car Volume Two: The Granatelli Years (1961-1966)
by George Peters&Henri Greuter, Bar-Jean Enterprises, Hazelwood MO, (1998)
- The Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500 1911-1994
by Jack C. Fox, Carl Hungness Publishing, Speedway, IN (1995)
- Ford vs Ferrari the battle for Le Mans (revised edition)
Anthony Pritchard, Zuma Marketing, Marina del Rey, CA, (1984)
- Altaya: Les voitures de Michel Vaillant, no 25: Vaillante Spéciale Indianapolis.
- Altaya: Les voitures de Michel Vaillant, no 32: Texas Drivers Kurtis K500 Novi
This were booklets released with the 1:43 scale model of the listed car, released by Altaya France.
I did consult the Internet for verification of some details,
Websites (Replace the # for a . to get the actual address)
- I also had private correspondence with Mr. Jean Graton regarding the Novis he used within his albums. (1990)