Monthly Archives: March 2016

Carl Fisher’s 1905 Premier Vanderbilt Cup Racer

I believe one of the most interesting cars in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum is Carl G. Fisher’s 1905 Premier built for the Vanderbilt Cup Race. What makes this car so interesting is that it possesses one of the world’s first automotive engines with an overhead camshaft operating overhead valves. It was air-cooled and was one of the first American race cars to use magneto ignition.

Fisher earlier enjoyed some success with a 1903 Premier Comet racer, which is why he turned to George A. Weidley, co-owner and chief engineer of Premier Motor Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, to build his new Vanderbilt Cup Racer for one of the important speed contests in the world.

1905 Premier side view
1905 Premier side view

The four-cylinder engine that Weidley designed had a bore and stroke of 7.0 in. by 5.5 in. for a total displacement of 846.6 cu.in. The single overhead valve camshaft operated 45-degree valve rocker arms above the valves in the hemispherical cylinder heads.

Weidley shared some thoughts about one of the car’s first shakedown runs along East Washington Street. He commented that the racer’s seats were remarkably easy riding. Then he reportedly ran close to a mile in a minute clip for a short distance with the throttle slightly opened with the exhaust muffled to a mild roar. He soon wondered what the car would do with the throttle wide open and without a muffler.

Unfortunately, the car exceeded the 2,200-pound maximum weight limitation in the rules for the race by some 300 pounds. The crew went to work drilling 470 holes in the car, but it was still 120 pounds’ overweight and not eligible for the race. Weidley placed a Premier advertisement in several trade papers criticizing the Vanderbilt Cup’s race commissioners for lack of sportsmanship for failure to allow the car to compete because it was overweight versus underweight.

Weidley’s 1905 Premier ad
Weidley’s 1905 Premier ad

Later, Fisher drove the car in one race at the Indiana State Fairground’s one-mile horse track on October 21, 1905. In the five-mile handicap race, he won the contest, turning the final lap at 59.21 mph.

Weidley’s design for the Fisher Premier race car had many features far in advance of the time frame and would later become popular on racing cars.

The next time you visit the Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum I invite you to take a careful look at Carl G. Fisher’s 1905 Premier racer. A number of innovations debuted on this car which would later be standard on race cars of the future.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Studebaker Indianapolis Race Cars

Prior to the start of the 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile race, in view of the entirely unexpected effects of the economic depression and in an effort to rekindle the interest of automobile manufacturers in racing, Speedway president Eddie Rickenbacker announced a revolutionary change in specifications.

All entrants would be required to carry riding mechanics and engines of up to 366-cubic-inch displacement would be eligible. A minimum weight of 1,750 pounds of 7.5 pounds per cubic inch of piston displacement (whichever figure was larger) would be enforced. As an added inducement for entry of cars with semi-stock engines, the number of starting positions would be increased from 33 to 40. These new specifications were known as the “Semi-Stock Formula.”

1932 Studebaker Specials
1932 Studebaker Specials
Photo Courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 1932, Studebaker Corporation, one the oldest manufacturers of highway vehicles in the world, entered five cars in the race. The entries from left to right in the photo are Tony Gulotta in # 25, Cliff Bergere in #22, Zeke Miller in #37, Luther Johnson in #46, and Peter Kreis in #18.

The performance of these entries was of great interest with Cliff Bergere making the best semi-stock showing by driving his Studebaker-built entry to third place behind a pair of “all-out” racers. Miller finished in sixth place and Gulotta drove to 13th place. Kreis and Johnson drove the remaining Studebakers to 15th place and 16th place, respectively.

The excellent showing of these semi-stock racers caught the attention of the racing world. New entrants began discussing the merits of these racers costing in the neighborhood of $3,500 and compared with the special racing creations priced at $10,000 and up. When replacement parts were considered for the semi-stock racers, they were substantially less expensive. This was another bonus.

In September 1932, a joint meeting of Indianapolis Motor Speedway officers, Detroit factory engineers, and racing officials discussed changes to the semi-stock formula. Delmar “Barney” Roos, Studebaker chief engineer, urged that gasoline and oil consumption be limited in future races. Semi-stock formula changes included a minimum weight of 1,950 pounds, 7.0 pounds per cubic inch of piston displacement, a 15.0 gallon fuel tank capacity, and a limit of 6.0 gallons of lubricating oil for the entire race.

1933 Studebaker Specials
1933 Studebaker Specials

For the 1933 Indianapolis race, Studebaker entered five new streamlined entries from left to right in the photo are L. L. Corum and his mechanic Jimmy Louden in #47, Luther Johnson and his mechanic W. T. Tucker in #46, Tony Gulotta and his mechanic Carl Riscignio in #34, Zeke Miller and his mechanic Walter Mitchell in #9, and Cliff Bergere and his mechanic Vern Lake in #6.

Again, the Studebaker Specials made an outstanding showing for the semi-stock entries with all of their entries running at the finish. Tony Gulotta finished seventh, Zeke Miller finished ninth, Luther Johnson finished tenth, Cliff Bergere finished 11th, and L. L. Corum finished 12th.

It is interesting how Studebaker Corporation undertook the challenge of creating two five-car racing teams during the depths of the depression. No other auto manufacturer fared so well in the challenge of the greatest spectacle in racing at the time.

I salute the efforts of the Studebaker Corporation personnel in creating these automobiles during these troubling times.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.

Duesenberg sign dedication

IndyGo, Indiana Automotive, and Indiana Landmarks announced the Duesenberg sign dedication on April 23, 2014, at IndyGo Headquarters, 1501 West Washington Street. The trio restored the sign to commemorate the Duesenberg company’s contribution to the auto industry and Indianapolis.

Restored Duesenberg Sign
Restored Duesenberg Sign

In 1920, Fred and August Duesenberg brought their company to Indianapolis along with their well-established reputation. Previous to their move, the brothers built extremely high-quality and advanced engines and automobiles, but were seldom financially successful. Part of their reason for moving to the Hoosier capital was to return to their racing roots and be near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they had enjoyed some success. The Speedway could be used for testing their passenger cars as well as their racers.

The company’s manufacturing complex consisted of a 17-acre site at 1511 West Washington Street that opened for production in July 1921.

Duesenberg’s attention to detail was evident throughout the process and went a long way toward achieving the Duesenberg mystique. The Duesenberg Model J existed at a time when the coachbuilding craft was at its peak in the mid-1930’s. Yet, Duesenberg and coachbuilding declined and closed out the 1930’s era. The make survived most of the Depres¬sion, but died in the collapse of the Cord Corporation, which had earlier bought the company, in 1937. Over 75 percent of the original Model Js built are still roadworthy some 70 years later. No other American marque has been so fortunate.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Photo Courtesy of Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

Today, Building No. 3 houses the Indy Metro garage on South Harding Street and is the only remaining building from the original Duesenberg complex. Today, you can see the restored ghost sign spelling out Duesenberg Motors Company on the north side of the building. This sign now serves as a touchstone to trumpet Indianapolis’ automotive legacy to future generations.

Check-out the Duesenberg sign restoration. Way to go, Indy!

Wahoo!

cruise-in logo

Many of you have asked, what are you doing this spring? I would like to say Wahoo! I finally completed renovating my website Cruise-IN.com.

As most of you know, I am a “Genuine Car Nut.” It was about time that I renovated my website.

I started my Cruise-IN.com site in 1997 to share the continuing story of Indiana automotive history. This story started in the early 1890’s and continues today. I continually find new information about vehicles built in Indiana. Once, I was notified about the Mutual Trucks built in Sullivan, IN. I enjoy sharing these stories, and I will post any information I receive on Cruise-IN.com.

I invite you to check out the various sections to find out more about the auto pioneers, cars, companies, our Indiana-built list, and the mileposts in Indiana automotive history. The Resource sections offer book reviews, backroads trips, museums, exhibits and events for your discovery. Other sections link to our book Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana, Indianapolis Auto Tours, Presentations, Bookstore, and Heritage.

In our Bookstore you’ll find works by my wife Terri and I.

My passion for learning and sharing Indiana automotive history arose from my upbringing in Indiana and involvement with autos in the early 1960’s. I am the co-author of three books Cruise IN: A guide to Indiana’s automotive past and present, Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana, and Hoosier Tour: A 1913 Indiana to Pacific Journey. As many or know, I am also is the Web publisher of the companion site Cruise-IN.com: Celebrating Indiana Car Culture, which won an International Automotive Media Award — Silver Medallion for Excellence in 1999.

For more information on our Bookstore follow this link.

So, grab a cup of your beverage and peruse Cruise-IN.com to Celebrate Indiana Car Culture.

I hope you enjoy our new offerings and learn something new about our automotive heritage.