It was the 1960s with “revolution in the air,” not just among the younger generation but at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Brickyard was undergoing a fundamental changeover.
Powerful, front-engine roadsters had ruled at the Indy 500 for decades, but something new was being added to the mix that was shaking things up: nimble, lightweight race cars with their engines in the rear.
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance celebrates the Indianapolis Revolution on August 26 when it presents a special class on the competition field, as once again front-engine cars battle the rear-engine interlopers, this time for prizes on the concours field.
Included in the selection will be a freshly restored “laydown” roadster, with the engine on its side to lower the center of gravity, and the historic rear-engine Lotus that won the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Starting in 1961, when Jack Brabham’s new rear-engine Cooper came in ninth at the 500, beating many more-powerful front-engine cars with its superior handling, and two years later when Jimmy Clark drove a rear-engine Lotus to second place, it became apparent that A Change is Gonna Come, as Sam Cooke sang in his iconic ballad of 1964.
The lessons learned in European Formula 1 racing were making their way onto the Brickyard track through 1964, when one-third of the cars in the field had their engines in back. That race was won by a front-engine roadster driven by the great A.J. Foyt, but it had become obvious that the roadsters’ reign was done.
For the 1965 Indy 500, Dan Gurney convinced Lotus founder Colin Chapman to build a new rear-engine car, and Ford provided a powerful new four-cam V8. Lots of other competitors also had seen the light, as 27 of the 33 cars starting the race were rear-engine cars.
Lotus 38, built by Chapman, powered by Ford and driven by Clark, not only scored a landmark victory as the first rear-engine car to win Indy, it did so with a record average speed of 150.686 mph.
The revolution was over. Rear-engine cars had won.
“At first, Indy traditionalists scoffed at these light and lithe new cars, but they proved to be significantly faster than the old roadsters, and once they could be reliably raced, it was obvious that the rear-engine configuration was the only way to go,” Ken Gross, Pebble Beach Concours Selection Committee member and Chief Class Judge, said in a news release.
Other special features for the 2018 concours will be Motor Cars of the Raj, Rollston Coachwork, Postwar Custom Citroën, Sporting Vintage Cars and Tucker, as well as a few surprises promised for this summer by the organizers.
In its 68th year, the Pebble Beach Concours is held at the Pebble Beach Golf Links as the culmination of the Monterey Peninsula’s famed Car Week of collector car auctions, show and events. For more information, visit the concours website.