Chrysler Indy 500 Pace Cars Through The Decades - Chryslers At Indy
The Early History Of Chrysler Indy 500 Pace Cars And Official Vehicles
From the April, 1999 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Karl Pippart III
Photography by Courtesy Of Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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.
Chrysler Corporation supplied...
Chrysler Corporation supplied at least one official car for the fifth year in a row, and two for the second straight year. One of the O.C.s was a C-14 Imperial four-door convertible sedan. It was painted silver to commemorate the 25th running of the 500-mile race at Indianapolis. Credit: IMSC.
Chrysler products did double duty as official vehicles this year. One of them was a '36 DeSoto S-2 Airflow four-door sedan (4,750 built from September 1935 through August 1936). The other was a '36 Chrysler C-8 Airstream four-door convertible sedan (362 built from September 1935 through August 1936). The DeSoto's 241.5ci six-cylinder had 6.5:1 compression, 100 hp at 3,400 rpm, and 185 lb-ft at 1,200 rpm. The Chrysler's 273.8ci eight-cylinder had either 6.2:1 compression, or a squeeze of 7.0:1 using an aluminum cylinder head. Power figures were 105 hp at 3,400 rpm and 200 lb-ft at 1,200 rpm, or 110 hp at 3,400 rpm and 206 lb-ft at 1,200 rpm.
The DeSoto's wheelbase measured 11511/42 inches, and the Chrysler's was 121 inches. The S-2 DeSoto was the official car for the AAA Contest Board's secretary, and the C-8 Chrysler was the official car for the chief steward. Louis Meyer became the first three-time winner at Indy in the No. 8 Ring-Free Special.
The '39 Chrysler Royal C-22...
The '39 Chrysler Royal C-22 four-door sedan was a handsome vehicle for official car duties. Chrysler products from the late '30s through the early '40s had highly distinctive grille/front-end treatments. Credit: IMSC.
The official cars were a '37 DeSoto S-3 four-door convertible sedan (426 built from September 1936 through August 1937), and a '37 Imperial C-14 four-door convertible sedan (325 built from September 1936 through August 1937). The DeSoto was constructed on a 116-inch wheelbase chassis, and its 228.1ci six-cylinder had 6.5:1 compression, 93 hp at 3,600 rpm, and 168 lb-ft at 1,200 rpm. The Imperial's wheelbase measured 121 inches, while its aluminum-head straight-eight generated 110 hp at 3,600 rpm and 212 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm on the standard 6.7:1 compression, or 115 hp at 3,600 rpm and 220 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm, on an optional compression ratio of 7.4:1. Both cars were specially painted silver to commemorate the 25th running of the Indy 500 race on May 31, 1937. Wilbur Shaw won a sprint to the finish by 2.16 seconds over runner-up Ralph Hepburn in the No. 6 Gilmore Special.
The O.C. of the AAA's chief steward for the May 30, 1939 race was a '39 Chrysler Royal C-22 four-door sedan (45,955 built from August 1938 through July 1939). The 241.5ci six-cylinder had either a 6.5:1 compression ratio or a squeeze of 7.0:1, with an optional aluminum cylinder head. The output came to 100 hp at 3,600 rpm and 184 lb-ft at 1,200 rpm, or 107 hp at 3,600 rpm and 190 lb-ft at 1,200 rpm. The wheelbase measured 119 inches. Wilbur Shaw bested all-comers for the second time in the No. 2 Boyle Special.
Acres of swooping aluminum...
Acres of swooping aluminum bodywork graced the Newport dual-cowl phaeton, which was the most uniquely styled official pace car used at Indy prior to World War II. Six Newport phaetons were constructed by Briggs/LeBaron, with Ralph Roberts responsible for the classic design. It is believed that four phaetons still exist, including the official pace car. Credit: IMSC.
The Chrysler Newport dual-cowl phaeton official pace car was designed by Ralph Roberts and constructed by Briggs/LeBaron. A total of six were built during 1940, as were six Thunderbolts, which were the creation of stylist Alex Tremulis. The Newports had all-aluminum bodywork, and rode on the Crown Impe-rial's 145.5-inch wheelbase chassis. The engine of choice was the 323.5ci straight-eight using an aluminum cylinder head, with either 6.80:1 or 7.45:1 compression. Power figures were 132 hp at 3,400 rpm and 260 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm, or 143 hp at 3,400 rpm and 270 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm. The transmission of choice was the four-speed Fluid Drive.
A. B. Couture was tapped to pilot the official pace car However, prior to the start of the May 30, 1941 race, a conflagration erupted in the pit area, which resulted in the destruction of several garages and race vehicles. The race's starting time was delayed for two hours, but once under way, it proved to be a thrilling affair, with Mauri Rose relieving Floyd Davis in the No. 16 NOC-OUT Hose Clamp Special. The two drivers were named co-winners of the last pre-World War II Indy 500 race. The Newport phaeton pace car still resides at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Originally painted gold with a burgundy leather interior, the official pace car is now ivory in color with wire wheels from the '50s. It is believed that several '41 Chrysler sedans were supplied as official cars.
The '51 Chrysler New Yorker...
The '51 Chrysler New Yorker was the first official pace car for Chrysler Corporation since the Newport dual-cowl phaeton of 1941. Posing with his prize for winning the 35th edition of the Indy 500, is Lee Wallard and his No. 99 Belanger Motors Special. Credit: IMSC.
It had been 10 years since Chrysler had fielded an official pace car for the Indy 500, but the car was a classic. For the May 30, 1951 race, the pace car was a '51 Chrysler New Yorker convertible (13111/42-inch wheelbase), with the new, 331.1ci FirePower V8 under the hood. Using a two-barrel carb, output came to 180 hp at 4,000 rpm, and 312 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm on 7.5:1 compression. "FirePower" was emblazoned in red paint on the drop-top's sides. The color chosen was Code 65 Belvidere Ivory, which enhanced the sculptured styling of Henry King. At least one '51 Chrysler hardtop was at the race, as an official car for the AAA Contest Board.
The base price for the upscale Chrysler convertible was $3,916. Production of the New Yorker ragtops measured 2,200 units, which were built during 1951-52, no pace car replicas were constructed. The choice of transmissions included the four-speed Fluid Drive (standard) or Fluid-Torque Drive (optional). Chrysler Division President David A. Wallace was at the wheel of the pace car, and actress Loretta Young was the guest celebrity. Lee Wallard was the winner in the No. 99 Belanger Motors Special, and was the first to break the four-hour barrier at Indy.
Dodge supplied the O.C. for...
Dodge supplied the O.C. for the May 31, 1954 race, which was a '54 Dodge Royal V8 four-door sedan. In addition to the standard 150hp Red Ram V8 under the hood, a customer could order the optional two-speed PowerFlite automatic transmission. Credit: IMSC.
The official announcement for the '54 Dodge Royal 500 convertible came on February 1, 1954. The official pace car was painted Pace Car Yellow (Code 556), and had Jewel Black (Code 501) accents on the windshield surround and at the top of the doors, extending along the quarter-panels, to the end of the boot rails. The front fenders and decklid were adorned with crossed flag/500 emblems, while the "500" number was affixed to the quarter-panels above the chrome-plated stone shields. The headlight bezels were two-piece units, with the back parts painted body color and the fronts chrome-plated.
According to the May/June '54 issue of Chrysler Export News, the Royal 500's interior consisted of "Cordahide in a combination of '500' yellow and black colors; black carpeting throughout; an instrument panel in yellow leathertex with black insert, and a black steering wheel." Additional features included "a special lower black top, which [had] embroidered Dodge crests, and a small rear window. The Boot [was] black with a yellow trim, and the Body [had] a continental spare tire and wheel mounting for disc or wire wheels."
Under the hood was the 241.4ci Red Ram V8, topped off with an Offenhauser intake manifold and factory-cataloged, WCFB Carter No. 2191S four-barrel (instead of the standard two-throat) carburetor. The induction setup was available as a dealer installation for the Royal 500 pace car replicas. The dual exhaust system consisted of twin mufflers and chrome tailpipe extensions. The factory made 701 Royal 500 pace car replicas, which were built on a 114-inch wheelbase chassis, and had an overall length of 19911/42 inches.
The '56 DeSoto Fireflite convertible...
The '56 DeSoto Fireflite convertible official pace car is shown leading the field for the parade lap, at the start of the May 30, 1956 race. Both the official pace car and its backup were equipped with the Adventurer coupe's 341ci, 320hp, Hemi-head V8, with dual four-barrel carburetors. The V8 provided plenty of power to accelerate on the famed speedway. Credit: IMSC.
The Royal 500 official pace car, equipped with a two-speed, PowerFlite automatic transmission, was piloted by Dodge Division President William C. Newberg. Guest celebrities included Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Bill Vukovich won his second consecutive Indy 500 in the No. 14 Fuel Injection Special on May 31, 1954. According to the book Indy 500 Pace Cars by the auto editors of Consumer Guide, Bill Vukovich traded in the Royal 500 pace car he received for winning the race against a DeSoto (p. 89 of Indy 500 Pace Cars.).
Heading up the Emergency Safety Patrol was a '54 Job-Rated Dodge pickup, which bore billboard-style graphics heralding the availability of the new Power Dome V8 engine, with hemispherical combustion chambers. The white pickup sported a curved glass windshield-a Dodge truck first. The official car of AAA's Robert Laycock (Press and Radio) was a '54 Dodge Royal V8 four-door sedan (MSRP of $2,552), with the 150hp Red Ram engine under the hood.
The '54 Dodge Royal 500 pace...
The '54 Dodge Royal 500 pace car pulls over to the side as the race vehicles await the drop of the green flag, to start the 38th running of the Indy 500 race. Dodge Division President William C.Newberg handled the pace car driving duties. For the first time, the official pace car was not an Imperial or Chrysler, but part of an all-Dodge contingent. Credit: MSC.
One of the snazziest official pace cars Chrysler ever fielded was the '56 DeSoto Fireflite convertible, with styling by the acclaimed Virgil Exner. The announcement came on January 11, 1956, in the form of a confidential bulletin for ordering Pace Car replicas. The DeSoto S-24 Fireflite convertible official pace car replicas usually are referred to as Pacesetters (possibly named in reference to the Pace Setters Club at Indianapolis Motor Speedway). The official pace car and its backup were equipped with the Adventurer's V8 (341ci, 320 hp, and dual four-barrel carburation), while the official pace car also had a gold dashpad. The pace car driving duties were bestowed upon DeSoto Division President L. Irving Woolson.
Almost two dozen official vehicles were at the May 30, 1956 race, including an Adventurer two-door hardtop coupe, which had made its debut on February 18. The O.C.s encompassed a wide range of DeSoto models and body styles, but several V8-powered Dodge trucks also were in attendance. Pole-sitter Pat Flaherty claimed a victory in the No. 8 John Zink Special.
Dodge trucks were an important...
Dodge trucks were an important part of Chrysler Corporation, and were worthy of promotion at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The "Emergency Safety Patrol" Dodge truck announced the arrival of the Power Dome, Hemi-head V8, which was a 241.4ci powerhouse. Note the curved glass windshield-a Dodge truck first. Fender script read "Job-Rated." Credit: IMSC.
Almost 400 Pacesetter replicas were built. A stencil kit was made available to dealers so they could letter the replicas. The base price was $3,264, but ordering for dealer stock meant the following extra-cost options also were installed: the power seat ($70.00), power windows ($102.30), electric clock ($18.25), and Jiffy Jet Windshield Washer ($10.80-price for Chrysler Windsor; DeSoto price N/A).
The paint code 438 included Surf White (body) and Adventurer Gold (color sweep). The code 569 upholstery was brown tweed cloth and gold vinyl, while the carpet was black with gold Lurex threads. The code 5 top was gold vinyl in cotan grain, with a white lining, and the boot was done in gold. The instrument panel also was gold, but the padded dash was black. According to the confidential bulletin, the following exterior features included "special design Gold Wheel Covers, new 'Forward Look' medallions, Gold Mesh Radiator Grille, Silver Radiator Grille 'V' medallion, Special Air Scoop Medallion, and Special Gold and White Steering Wheel." Each gold-anodized, aluminum wheel cover was secured by a quintet of spring clips.
An assortment of almost two...
An assortment of almost two dozen DeSoto models and body styles were on hand to promote the brand name, including the newly added "Golden" Adventurer two-door hardtop coupe, which was DeSoto's answer to the Chrysler 300B. Note the V8-powered, '56 Dodge trucks in the background. Credit: IMSC.
The Fireflite's Hemi-head engine was a 330ci V8, which produced 255 hp at 4,400 rpm, and 350 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm on 8.5:1 compression. The four-barrel carburetor was a Carter WCFB No. 2311S. All Pacesetter replicas had the PowerFlite automatic transmission. Outfitted with 3.73 gears was Hot Rod Magazine's Pacesetter road test car (Hot Rod Magazine, June '56). The wheelbase measured 126 inches. The DeSoto Pace Car was one of five special vehicles that Chrysler displayed for its International Salon, at the Chrysler Building in New York City, from January 18, 1956 through January 27, 1956.