|Echoes of a Distant Time
||[May. 25th, 2017|10:00 pm]
So, while looking for my pocket AM/FM radio, I found, in a plastic storage box... The cookie (an almond biscotti) that Delta gave me on the flight when I returned from Findra's funeral. I don't remember saving it, but that's most assuredly what it is. It's wrapped in airtight Mylar, and probably still good. I may make some kind of remembrance ceremony out of eating it.
So, I started thinking about the history of rear-engined cars at the Speedway...
1923 could well have been the year that rear-engined cars started to be used at Indianapolis. Mercedes Benz sent a three car factory team that year. It was headed by the great Christian Lautenschlager, so was obviously a serious effort. Benz at the time was deep into development on their rear-engined Tropfenwagen, but unfortunately, it would be September of that year before it finally raced, and then didn't prove very successful.
In 1937, Marmon Automotive brought what was, so far as I know, the first rear-engined car to Indianapolis. It practiced throughout the month of May, driven by Lee Oldfield, but had issues, and never (I think) even attempted a qualifying run.
Harry Miller, in 1938, brought his two "Cars from Mars", based on the Auto-Union B-type design, to the Speedway. One was wrecked in practice, but the other qualifed, and was raced by George Bailey. Both cars came back in '39, '40, and '41, and showed themselves competitive, but not dominant. One car was ruined in the garage fire in 1941 on the morning of the race, so that only one competed that year.
After the War, Miller was done with racing, and sold the two cars to his semi-deranged chief engineer, Preston Tucker. Tucker raced them both in '46 and '47, adding a pair of conventionally-designed Lencki dirt-cars to field a four-car team in 1947. Caught up in financial difficulties by the collapse of his passenger car company, the team folded, and didn't reappear in 1948.
1946 saw an entry which was technically both a front and rear engined car. The Fageol Special, designed and built by bus manufacturer Lou Fageol, had two engines, one in front, and one in back, with four-wheel drive. He expected the weight balance to give the car superior handling and reduced tire wear. The fatal weakness of the design was in the fact that each engine had its own drive train and gearbox - the only thing coordinating them was the throttle linkage. The handling was described as "different". In the race, Paul Russo, no small talent as a driver, managed to keep the thing under control for 16 laps before he finally spun and crashed. Fageol came back next year with a much more conventional front-engined design.
1947 saw one other rear-engined car come to the Speedway. This was the remarkably modern-looking Rounds Rocket, itself based on the Auto-Union D-type. The car had fundamental suspension design issues which made it difficult to control in the turns, and was withdrawn, never to return.
After that, no rear-engined car was entered until 1961, when Jack Brabham competed in an underpowered Cooper Formula One car, and managed a ninth-place finish. Within five years, the revolution was complete, with Bobby Grim's 1966 drive in a Watson being the last front-engined car ever to compete. Interestingly, this was also the first car to compete using straight methanol fuel with a turbocharger, so marked a beginning as well as an end.
You continued to see the occasional front-engined entry through the 60s and 70s, but none ever qualified. Jim Hurtubise brought the last one to the track in 1980, more to hang out in the garage with his old buddies than to try to put it in the race.
Edit: Also, I think, (I'm pretty sure, actually) that Grim's 1966 Watson is the same car that Gary Bettenhausen took his rookie test in in 1968.
Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/12251.html