The '33 Custom Imperial CL...
The '33 Custom Imperial CL roadster, with bodywork by LeBaron, was a stunning automobile from any angle. Less than 20 were built, with just the one example being designated for pace car driving duties. Credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation.
Ever let it be said that Chrysler Corporation misses an opportunity to showcase its motor vehicles to the general public. One of the most popular venues-outside of the major auto shows/salons-is the Indianapolis 500-mile race, held every year at the end of May.
The most prestigious of honors for an automobile manufacturer is having one of its vehicles named the race's official pace car. Chrysler producers have served as official pace cars 12 times in the parent company's history, but many more of Walter P. Chrysler's finest have served as official vehicles throughout the years. This has allowed Chrysler to prominently feature its latest offerings, advanced designs, engineering triumphs, and glimpses into the future. So let's start from the beginning-when Chrysler got involved.
The official pace car was a '26 Imperial E-80 two-door roadster, with the body resting on a 120-inch wheelbase chassis. The engine was a 288.7ci L-head Six, designed by Chrysler's J. B. Macauley. On 4.7:1 compression, the output was 92 hp at 3,000 rpm and 192 lb-ft of torque at 1,000 rpm. The transmission of choice was a three-speed manual gearbox. The base price for the two-door roadster was $2,885.
The '26 Imperial E-80 roadster...
The '26 Imperial E-80 roadster was the first Chrysler Corporation passenger car to be an official pace car for the Indy 500 race. Louis Chevrolet was behind the wheel, while Walter P. Chrysler was present to promote the new Imperial series. Credit: IMSC.
The E-80 Imperials were built from December 1925 through October 1927. Alan Leamy was responsible for the crisp, clean styling. A total of 9,114 E-80s were manufactured, with no breakdowns available for individual body styles. The pace car featured wire spoke wheels. Louis Chevrolet was behind the wheel of the official pace car for the May 31, 1926 race. Frank
Lockhart won the rain-shortened, 400 mile event in the No. 15 Miller Special.
The official pace car was the '33 Custom Imperial CL two-door roadster. The coachwork was performed by LeBaron, and less than 20 were constructed. Special features on the official pace car included chromed hood louvers and wheel spokes. The Goodyear tires measured 7.60x17 inches, and were mounted on special wheels made by the Motor Wheel Company. The optional side-mount spare-tire covers were made from canvas.
From 1933 through 1941, Chrysler...
From 1933 through 1941, Chrysler regularly provided official cars to the Indy 500. The year 1936 huge, with the parent company supplying a pair of official cars, including this rare, Chrysler Airstream C-8 four-door convertible sedan. Credit: IMSC.
The wheelbase was a mammoth 146 inches. The drivetrain consisted of a 384.8ci L-head Eight (Red Head) with 5.8:1 compression, 135 hp at 2,100 rpm, 280 lb-ft of torque at 1,200 rpm, and a three-speed manual transmission. The official pace car was built in Detroit, shipped to Indianapolis, and originally painted Special White. There was no backup pace car. DeSoto Division President Byron Roy drove the official pace car for the May 30, 1933 race.
The official car of the Chief Steward was a model SD DeSoto Custom two-door convertible coupe (412 built from November 1932 through October 1933). The DeSoto was powered by a 217.8ci Six with 6.0:1 compression, 86 hp at 3,400 rpm and 160 lb-ft of torque at 1,200 rpm. Louis Meyer was the Indy 500 race winner for the second time in the No. 36 Tydol Special.
A '34 Chrysler CU Airflow 8 two-door sedan (732 built from January through October 1934) was the Chief Steward's official car for the May 30, 1934 race. The 298.7 cube mill used an aluminum cylinder head with 6.5:1 compression. Horsepower was 122 at 3,400 rpm, and torque came in at 225 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm. The wheelbase length was 31/416-inch less than 123 inches. Taking the checkered flag was Bill Cummings in the No. 7 Boyle Products Special.
The Chief Steward's official car for the May 30, 1935 race was a '35 DeSoto SG Airflow four-door sedan (6,269 built from November 1934 through September 1935). The wind cheating DeSoto rested on a 115 11/42 inch wheelbase chassis. Locomotion was provided by a 241.5ci six-cylinder. With 6.5:1 compression the engine produced 100 hp at 3,400 rpm, and 185 lb-ft of torque at 1,200 rpm. Despite a cracked frame, Michilli "Kelly" Petillo finished ahead of the pack in the No. 5 Gilmore Speedway Special.
DeSotos were regularly used...
DeSotos were regularly used as official cars at Indianapolis during the '30s. Chrysler liked to showcase new and popular models as evidenced by this Model SD convertible coupe. Credit: IMSC.
For the second year in a row,...
For the second year in a row, Chrysler provided an Airflow as an O.C. at the Brickyard, this time supplying a '35 DeSoto SG four-door sedan. Despite massive hype and publicity, the Airflows were not a big hit with customers, but now are considered some of the most historically important automobiles ever built, due to their aerodynamic designs. Credit: IMSC.
For the second year in a row,...
For the second year in a row, there was a DeSoto Airflow official car (S-2 four-door sedan). By now, the Airflow's fate was sealed, but you can't blame an auto manufacturer for trying to market its vehicles, even with the end of the line in sight. Credit: IMSC.