Indy museum honors life and legacy of Andy Granatelli

Our weekly roundup of car museum news and notes

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Granatelli
Andy Granatelli made STP a household name with his creative promotion in auto racing. This is the turbine-powered Lotus he entered in the Indy 500 in 1968 for driver Art Pollard | Indianapolis Motor Speedway photos by Chris Owens

“Granatelli: Larger Than Life” has opened at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum to chronicle the life and legacy of “one of most colorful and influential personalities in racing history.”

To rekindle memories or perhaps to educate those too young to remember, Andy Granatelli was indeed larger than life, a heavyset car owner and marketing marvel who did such things as outfit his racing team in gear that appeared to be white pajamas covered with the logo for his STP Oil Treatment product. Granatelli turned the additive into a household name. 

The museum’s news release about the exhibition notes that Granatelli won the Indianapolis 500 as a car owner“through sheer will, persistence and a work ethic engrained from childhood. The Granatelli brothers were a true rags-to-riches, ‘American dream’ story.”

Granatelli and his older brother Joe and younger brother Vince grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood and started their automotive careers by helping people start their cars on bitterly cold winter mornings. 

Doing business under the Grancor banner, they promoted races at Soldier Field, otherwise the home for the Chicago Bears professional football team, launched organized drag racing in the Chicago area, and had an auto thrill show that barnstormed Midwestern county fairs.

They entered the Indy 500 when racing at the Brickyard resumed in 1946, with driver Danny Kladis finishing 21st in an aging Miller-Ford race car that was driven from Chicago to Indianapolis for the race.

Two years later, Andy Granatelli attempted to qualify for the 500, but he crashed and suffered a damaged thyroid, the injury leading to his later weight gain. 

Grancor bought the rights to produce Paxton superchargers, eventually selling that business to Studebaker, where he became a vice president who returned to the Indy 500 as a car owner with STP/Studebaker sponsorship. Scientifically Treated Petroleum was a Studebaker holding which Granatelli promoted far and wide as simply STP.

Granatelli entered a variety of cars at Indy, including a four-wheel-drive Novi for Bobby Unser, a rear-engine Lola-Ford that Jim Clark drove to second place in 1966, and turbine-powered cars in 1967, when Parnelli Jones was leading with 3 laps remaining, and in 1968  when Joe Leonard was ahead with 10 laps left; in both years it was the failure of a $6 transmission bearing that kept Granatelli’s cars from victory.

Finally, in 1969, after crashing a 4wd Lotus in practice, Mario Andretti drove the team’s backup car, a Brawner Hawk, to victory in the 500. (Granatelli also had a Plymouth-powered car entered that year, but it didn’t qualify for the race.) STP-sponsored cars won again at Indy in 1973 and 1982 with Gordon Johncock driving. STP also sponsored Richard Petty’s NASCAR program for many years.

After Andretti’s victory — sealed in the Winner’s Circle with a smooch on the driver’s cheek from the car owner — Granatelli published his immodest autobiography, They Call Me Mister 500, which remains a motorsport classic.

The museum plans to showcase the Granatelli exhibit through June 20, 2021.

Indy museum to close during 500 race activities

With the 2020 Indianapolis 500 to be closed to spectators, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum also will be closed on days with on-track activity. That means the museum will be closed August 12-16 (practice and qualifying) and 21-23 (Carb Day, Legends Day and race day).

Harley-Davidson Museum offers focused tours

The Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee offers special tours in August. They include Engines 101 which goes inside the building of the Milwaukee Eight engine and transmission, a walking tour of the museum’s 20-acre campus, and, for those with motorcycle licenses, a riding tour through the Menomonee Valley. 

There also is a special August menu at the Motor Bar & Restaurant and special Harley/Milwaukee Bucks gear at the museum shop. For details, visit the museum website.

‘Genesis’ exhibit at BMW South Carolina center

‘Genesis’ shares BMW history | BMW CCA Foundation photo

A special exhibition, “Genesis: BMW From the Beginning,” has opened at the BMW CCA Foundation Museum in Greer, South Carolina. The exhibit displays the story of BMW’s early history from a maker of airplane engines and on through the ensuing five decades. The exhibit runs through January 2021. For more information, visit the museum website.

LeMay part of ‘Preserve the Passion’ effort

America’s Automotive Trust and its partners — LeMay – America’s Car Museum, the RPM Foundation and the TechForce Foundation — have launched an initiative “aimed at preserving and evolving car culture… building the automotive enthusiast community, and creating new avenues to education and carers for those who love to work on cars.”

Called “Preserve the Passion,” the program will focus on youth STEM education, workforce development, women driving change, car culture and community, and celebrating the past, present and future of mobility, ATT said in its announcement.

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“No one business or nonprofit can do it alone,” Jennifer Maher, chief executive of all ATT organizations, was quoted in the announcement. “We must collaborate and bring all our resources collectively into the lives of the next generation, so that they can be successful in pursuing the hobby, the knowledge, the technical education, the career, and the access they desire… We can work together instead of competing. 

“We hope more museums, car shows, associations, auctions, employers, technical schools and nonprofits join us.”

Mustang museum offers ‘Bullitt’ script

Since it has two copies of the original script to the movie Bullitt, the Mustang Owner’s Museum in North Carolina is staging a contest to give the duplicate copy to a museum member in August. Visit the museum website for details.

Special events this weekend

Youngsters ages 5-13 can take part in the Porsche Museum’s annual “Car Factory” summer program continuing through August 23 in Stuttgart, Germany. The program is offered in German and English and offered insight to automobile production.

The Mustang Owner’s Museum in Concord, North Carolina, now anticipates re-opening on August 7, pending state approval. The museum also plans to organize a cruise to the Holman-Moody shop on August 29. 

The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, unveils its latest “Under the Hood” video at noon (Pacific time) on August 7. Featured this week will be the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS “Goutte d’Eau.”

The British Motor Museum at Gaydon hosts an electric vehicles festival car show on August 8, and a classics and vintage commercial vehicle show on August 8-9.

The Seal Cove Auto Museum in Maine hosts a cars and coffee cruise-in August 8 focusing on “Ford and Ford derivatives” such as Edsel, Mercury Capri, Jaguar XJ8, Volvo V70r and Merkur XR4Ti, the museum said.

August 8-9 is a “Hoods Up” weekend at the Newport Car Museum in Rhode Island, where the engines will be exposed on more than 75 cars in the collection.

LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, offers a series of drive-in movie presentations in August, including Bumblebee on August 8. For details, visit the museum website.

If the thermometer outside the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Germany shows 20 degrees (that’s 20 C, which is 68 F) on any Sunday through September 13, admission will be free.

Mark your calendar

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles stages its virtual version of Monterey Car Week from August 12-16. Visit the museum website for more information.

The New Forest at the British National Motor Museum in Beaulieu launches its new “Park & Picnic” program on August 13, with similar programs planned for August 20 and 27. Tickets must be purchased in advance. For details, visit the museum website.

The Massachusetts chapter of the Challenger Demons club gathers for a show August 16 at the Newport Car Museum in Rhode Island.

The National Corvette Museum hosts the East Coast Rat Fink Reunion August 20-22 in conjunction with the museum’s “Cartoon Creatures, Kustom Kars and Corvettes: The Art and Influence of Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth” exhibition, which has been extended through April 2021.

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, offers “The Corvette Experience” August 23. For $799, visitors can drive a new C8-generation Corvette Stingray Z51 around the 3.2-mile, 23-turn road course. It’s a lead-follow format that includes classroom instruction, track time, lunch and a museum tour. You must be 18 years of age or older to participate. The program also will be offered September 3, 10 and 18, October 9 and 16 and November 13. For information, visit the NCM Motorsports Park website.

The British Motor Museum at Gaydon hosts the Old Ford Rally on August 23, but the Buses Festival planned for that same date has been postponed.

The Porsche Club of America’s Northeast Region gathers for a show August 30 at the Newport Car Museum in Rhode Island.

The Mustang Owners Museum in Concord, North Carolina, is organizing The Carolina Cruise on September 5, when a 14-mile stretch of Highway 29 will become the site of a rolling car show.

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, opens two new exhibits on September 12 — “Yeah, It’s Got a Hemi!” and “Minibike Mania.”

The Miles Through Time museum in Clarkesville, Georgia, plans a “Cruise-In to the Museum” from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on September 12.

Does your local car museum have special events or exhibitions planned? Let us know. Email larrye@classiccars.com

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. As a young gearhead in the late 60′-70’s, I remember Mr. Granatelli’s book. For some reason, I thought it was titled “They call me Mr. STP”. Oh well. Anyway, I totally loved that book and to this day I quote some of his funny and interesting stories from it. It was hilarious in some parts. ! The man could be very funny. He was a guest on the Johnny Carson show a few times back in his heyday and he was fun to watch. Thanks for bringing back these memories

  2. I lived an hour north of Chicago and bought and gave away and lent about 20 copies of “They Call Me Mr. 500 “. I saw an ad 25 years ago, Granatelli book for sale, I drove the 45 minutes in winter weather to buy– The owner worked for a publisher and was at their convention in in 1969, she saw people lined up 100s, getting a book, it was ANDY ! She got inline, got the signed book. It was sealed in a Ziploc Bag, she told me NEVER READ.

    I told that story to the Granatelli’s at SEMA.

    Along with 3-4 copies I have a —ONE OWNER, NEVER BEEN READ, SIGNED COPY !! I HAVE NEVER OPENED IT ALL THE WAY UP. Along with my picture with ANDY one my greatest automotive treasure !

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