Tag Archives: Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

Monroe Motor Company

One of the lessor-known autos in the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is a 1920 Monroe Model S built by the William Small Company. This is the first Indianapolis-built Monroe I’ve ever seen.

1920 Monroe Model S
1920 Monroe Model S

In 1918, the Monroe Motor Company assets were purchased by the William Small Company, the former distributer of Monroe autos in Indianapolis.

Small then recruited Louis Chevrolet as a consulting engineer to work out design problems for the new Monroe at the Indianapolis Small facilities. This new Monroe sported a 35 horsepower, 4 cylinder Monroe engine. The 1920 Monroe Model S was available in either a five-passenger touring car or a two-passenger roadster.

In preparation of the Small entries for the 1920 Indianapolis 500-mile race, Chevrolet recruited Cornelius Van Ranst to help build seven race cars, four of them to campaigned under the Monroe name, and three as Frontenacs. Louis’ brother, Gaston Chevrolet, drove a Monroe to victory in the 500, which was the first win by an American car at the Brickyard since 1912.

Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 Monroe
Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 Monroe

Unfortunately, three months later, the William Small Company went into receivership. In January 1922, the Monroe assets were acquired by American Fletcher National Bank in Indianapolis. By June 1923, Premier Motor Corporation of Indianapolis obtained control of the Monroe Motor Company and produced cars for a short time.
I believe the brief story of the William Small Company adds rich details to Indiana automotive history and thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for sharing this car.

Be sure to visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit ending March 26, 2017, to see the gems of Indiana automotive production.

Jimmy Clark in a sprint car?

Jimmy Clark in Ford Model T Sprint Car
Jimmy Clark in Ford Model T Sprint Car
Copyright © 1965 Ford Motor Company

While perusing my collection of mid-1960s Indianapolis 500 Mile Race press kits, I found this photo of Jimmy Clark sitting in a Ford Model T sprint car. Let me tell you the story behind this photo.

In 1965, Ford Motor Company entered two Lotus powered by Ford specials in the Indianapolis 500. In the process of developing these racers, the company developed the 495 horsepower Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine available for use by the entire racing fraternity.

The 1965 Ford Motor Company press kit explaining their entries included this photograph showing the old and new look at Indianapolis. A Lotus-Ford is in the foreground with Jimmy Clark trying out the cockpit of the vintage sprint car in the background. What a contrast between 48 years of technological development, front-engine versus rear-engine, four-cylinder versus eight-cylinder, and valve-in-head versus double-overhead-cam!

In 1963, Clark won “Rookie of the Year” honors for placing second in a Ford-powered Lotus entry. Clark earned the coveted pole position with a speed of 158.828 mph in 1964 in another Lotus-Ford. Unfortunately, he dropped out of the race after 47 laps with mechanical failure.

The third time would be the charm for Jim Clark driving the Lotus powered by Ford entry to first place in 1965 Indianapolis 500. A second Lotus-Ford driven by Bobby Johns finished seventh. The Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine powered a number of other entries in this race.

So, that’s the story of Jimmy Clark sitting in a sprint car. I often wondered how would Jimmy Clark do driving around a ½ mile dirt track in a 1960s era sprint car? I guess that’s a discussion for another day.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Thank you Carl Fisher and James Allison

With the 2016 celebrating its 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, I believe Indianapolis residents owe a thank you to Speedway founders Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison.

Before the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911, Indianapolis was a bucolic city with very little to distinguish it. When the founders built the track on a 320 acre parcel outside of the city limits, the Speedway was about five miles northwest of the city’s center. The Speedway would eventually fulfill Carl Fisher’s stated goal of a proving ground “to establish American automobile supremacy.” The result also helped grow the city’s manufacturing base.

Prest-O-Lite 2

Fisher’s vision for grand ventures was first demonstrated when he and Allison obtained the rights to manufacture and market compressed acetylene headlight systems for automobiles in 1904. This firm, known as Prest-O-Lite, would become the cornerstone for their many automotive ventures. Today, an outgrowth of Prest-O-Lite is Praxair Surface Technologies, which employs more than 450 people at the Speedway Main Street site.

By 1911, Indianapolis claimed 11 operating automakers, with names like American Underslung, Cole, Empire, Ideal, Marion, Marmon, New Parry, National, Overland, Premier, and Waverley. This concentration of manufacturers attracted the supporting ancillary machine shops and businesses. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler went on to build operations in Indianapolis.

Allison Engineering
Allison Engineering Plant 1
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

James Allison built a new shop for the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company on Main Street in Speedway to prepare a fleet of race cars in late 1916. This venture provided the genesis for the Allison Engineering Company. When World War I erupted, Allison committed his shop resources to war production for crawler-type tractors, superchargers, and master models for the Liberty aircraft engines. In 1929, a year after Allison died, General Motors Corporation purchased the company. Under General Motors, the operation produced aircraft engines, transmissions, precision bearings, and superchargers. Its descendant companies, Allison Engine Company and Allison Transmission are headquartered in Indianapolis. Combined employment at these plants totaled over 11,000 people in the late 1980’s, making them one of the city’s largest employers.

These companies spawned a number of local machine shops to supply additional services to supplement Allison operations. Skilled machinists and tool makers moved to Indianapolis to work in these shops. I know my father moved to Indianapolis in the mid-1930’s to work in various machine shops and retired with over 25 years at Allison.

Thank you to Carl Fisher and James Allison for your grand vision with these manufacturing endeavors and the creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which drew people to our great city for employment and enjoyment.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

1965 Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine

Following the 1964 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, Ford Motor Company decided to develop its 500 horsepower 1965 Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine. Many of the 1965 Indy 500 participants designed or purchased vehicles built around this now famous engine. Here is the story from my collection of mid-1960s Indianapolis 500 Mile Race press kits.

1965 Ford dohc engine
1965 Ford d.o.h.c. V-8 racing engine
Copyright © 1965 Ford Motor Company

Ford Engineering was assigned the task of preparing the basic double-overhead-cam engine for production. It was primarily a job of redesign for production, plus durability improvements based on findings from the 1964 race. For instance, the 1964 engine experienced valve-spring failure due to excessive interference of inner to outer springs. This situation was corrected by a controlled select fit.

The engine’s lubrication was improved to protect against anticipated higher RPM and greater loads in 1965. The oil pressure was increased from 65 to 115 pounds. The entire lubrication system was enlarged to allow for freer flow and better cooling.

The connecting rods were strengthened and the crankshaft redesigned for 100 percent internal balance. As a result, the loading of the main bearings was improved.

In addition to the push for increased engine durability for 1965, considerable time was spent improving fuel economy. The 1965 version had two basic fuel systems – the modified Hilborn pump used in 1964 and a Ford injection system using a boost venturi in place of an injector nozzle. Economy was improved as much as 20 percent with the second system.

Since the selection of fuel for the 1965 race was at the discretion of the car owner, Ford calibrated fuel systems for blends of 80 percent methanol and 20 percent toluene, benzol, or gasoline. Additional tests were run on methanol with small percentages of nitro methane added, because most owners used some nitro in qualifying. These tests yielded information needed to determine calibration of the fuel system and spark requirements.

The 1965 Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine developed close to 500 horsepower at 8,600 RPM and 333 pound feet of torque at 6,700 RPM, an increase of over six percent over the 1964 offering. The engine’s operating limit was raised to 8,800 RPM.

Considerable attention was given in selection and training of personnel to assemble the production engine. A service manual was prepared to aid the car builders and mechanics in maintaining engines, and facilities were established for factory rebuilding engines if desired by owners.

The Meyer-Drake firm was the sole agent for the sale and servicing this engine. The company established an Indianapolis facility for parts and equipment for the racing fraternity.

Ford hosted a 10-day seminar for race mechanics in Dearborn, MI, devoted to care and maintenance of the engine. They observed engine disassembly, reassembly, and explanations of all design phases. Ford personnel were available at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to provide technical assistance and parts selection to meet owners’ performance requirements.

All of this pre-race preparation paid-off for Ford in 1965. Seventeen of the 33 cars in the starting field had this engine. Jimmy Clark drove his Lotus powered by Ford to first place in the Indianapolis 500. In fact, The 1965 Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine captured positions 1-4 and 7-9 finishing positions.

The 1965 Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine in various configurations enjoyed success in Indy Car racing and other venues for a number of years.

Another approach to the 1965 Indianapolis 500

J. C. Agajanian’s Hurst Special took a different approach to the 1965 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

1965 Agajanian Hurst Special
1965 Agajanian Hurst Special

After holding out on entering a rear-engine race car for a couple of years, J. C. Agajanian entered a rebuilt Lotus Ford entry for Parnelli Jones in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 classic. For 1965, 44 of the 68 entries were rear-engine cars.

After exhaustive study over many months, it became apparent to veteran chief mechanic Johnny Pouelsen that they had to strengthen inherently weak components that had turned up in the original design. This total overhaul was to compensate for the extreme pressures on the chassis and suspension due primarily to the increase in horsepower demands plus wider tire tread widths. To accomplish this feat, Pouelsen and body constructor Eddie Kuzma transformed car 98 by replacing every inch of the original metal milled in England.

It is interesting to note that with all of this re-engineering of the Lotus Fords, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones both suffered failure of their right-rear hub carriers in practice during May 6 and May 9 respectively. On Pole Day, the all-Lotus-Ford front row consisted of A.J. Foyt, Jimmy Clark, and Dan Gurney. Parnelli qualified for the middle of the second row. On Thursday, May 20, while Parnelli was breaking in a new engine, his right rear suspension broke off entering turn four and slammed into the wall. Agajanian vowed the car would be ready for race day.

On Race Day, Jimmy Clark’s superbly prepared green and yellow Lotus Ford was too much car for the rest of the field. Foyt, Gurney, and Jones battled for second place. Parnelli’s engine began missing at 150 miles, and Foyt’s gearbox gave out just short of 300 miles. Clark finished first after leading 190 of the 200 laps. As Parnelli completed the final lap, he was moving his car from side-to-side across the track, shaking down the last few drops of fuel in his tanks. The crowd cheered for him as he crossed the finish line in second place just six seconds ahead of Mario Andretti.