Indy 500 ‘revolution’ celebration at Pebble Beach Concours

Indy 500 ‘revolution’ celebration at Pebble Beach Concours

The 1960s takeover of the Brickyard race by rear-engine cars will be marked by a special competition class

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.

The 1961 Quinn Epperly Indy Roadster with its unique laydown engine

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.

The 1963 Agajanian Willard Battery Watson Special, one of the last roadsters to win the Indy 500

The 1963 Agajanian Willard Battery Watson Special, one of the last roadsters to win the Indy 500

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.

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  • Philippe de Lespinay
    June 7, 2018, 5:51 PM

    Hello,
    funny that the second most important car in this story after the winning Lotus 38, the Jack Brabham Cooper-Climax Indy car, was not even invited to the celebration. I am and have been its guardian for over 27 years, and am quite amused by that rather odd omission by the Concours historian(s).
    Whatever.

    REPLY
    • Ryan Corman@Philippe de Lespinay
      June 11, 2018, 1:44 AM

      Sorry to hear that the committee left you out. Born and raised in Indy, to a family that did dirt cars, street racing, and legit drags at Clermont… but worshipped the 500 for generations. Parents had seats in the stands at the fourth turn, but as soon as I was old enough to be on my own, always joined my friends at the sadly gone "Snake Pit"- infield, first turn. I remember. I remember Foyt’s last roadster win from the stands, and remember next year and Clark.
      Please post pics- the new Indy format of Dallara single spec chassis, and Chevrolet or Honda turbo 6’s bums me out. Indy used to be all about running what you thought you could win with (I remember in the mid-’70’s a "Joe Hunt Magneto Special" running a built SB Chevrolet with chrome over transom boat headers(!); car didn’t qualify, but boy, did it sound good).
      I wish Indy would go back to the "run what ya brung" rules, with a financial cap rather than a blanket "spec rule". (SIGH)
      Hearing turbo Offys, stock block Chevy’s, and the Cosworth Ford’s, with the odd Buick turbo 6 and whatever else showed up rip around the track used to make my year- you want all the cars to sound the same, go to a NASCAR event (shudder).
      Please post some pics.
      -R

      REPLY
      • Terry Brandli@Ryan Corman
        June 15, 2018, 12:07 AM

        I’ll go along with the "run what ya brung" oh wait a minute, they outlawed the turbines also. NASCAR is a sad joke now. Used to be most of what they raced were actually built in a car factory here that were modified. If the modifications were beneficial the car did good and that modification might be added to the production vehicles. You didn’t have to look for an emblem to tell what brand and model car it was. Now we have cookie cutter cars that are hand built in multi million dollar shops with the modifications made so it is a level playing field. Much of racing has regressed.

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