Top Ten List of Historic Indy 500 Race Cars

Published On December 24, 2010 » 12908 Views» By Jeff Olson » Blogs, Indy 500

What’s your favorite car in Indy 500 history? Here’s a start — a top 10 list of my favorite entries on purely aesthetic grounds. Not necessarily the best, but the most striking to the eyes:

1911 Marmon Wasp

Imagine bouncing around on bricks in this horseless carriage for 500 miles. Still, 100 years after it won the first 500, the Wasp looks as menacing as it did in those warped photos from back in the day. It looks like a race car.

Marmon Wasp

Marmon Wasp

1923 Mercedes Benz

From its bug-eyed windscreen to its tapered nose, this beast was decades ahead of its time. Even with the skinny tires, it’s still a beautiful fright 87 years after the fact.

1952 Cummins Diesel Special

A cigar with four wheels, this car was a radical departure from the typical designs of the day. Remarkably low and aerodynamic. A minimalistic work of art. Drivers joked that they didn’t know whether to race it or take a bath in it.

1952 Cummins Diesel Special

Cummins Diesel Special

1955 Kurtis Kraft/Offenhauser

Kurtis Kraft and Watson dominated the designs from the classic roadster era of the 1950s and early ‘60s, but this model – driven to victory by Bob Sweikert – had an unmatched elegance. The glory days of pretty cars.

1955 Kurtis Kraft/Offenhauser

1955 Kurtis Kraft/Offenhauser

1964 Watson/Offenhauser

All of the Watson roadsters from the ‘50s and ‘60s are worthy of recognition for their looks and performance, but the one A.J. Foyt drove to victory in ’64 was the genre at its peak. Snarling and low-slung, it flexed its muscles while sitting still.

1964 Watson/Offenhauser

1964 Watson/Offenhauser

1965 Lotus 38

One of the all-time best. Sleek, elegant lines. A simple beauty until you get to the ferocious headers, and you realize this car is a flying mullet. Business in the front, party in the back. There were several adaptations of this model, but the unadorned version Jim Clark drove to victory in 1965 is the best.

1965 Lotus 38

1965 Lotus 38

1967 Silent Sam Turbine

If not for a bad bearing, Parnelli Jones would have won the ’67 race in this radical, all-wheel-drive Andy Granatelli monster powered by a jet turbine engine. Perhaps the most innovative single step in 500 history, and one of the sexiest.

1967 Silent Sam Turbine

1967 Silent Sam Turbine

1971 McLaren M16

A strange but fierce design that featured an unusually low, flat front nose, open engine cowl and flat, broad rear wing. The only elements higher than the tires were the roll cage and a tripod-mounted rearview mirror. Mean yet stylish.

1971 McLaren M16

1971 McLaren M16

1980 Chaparral 2K

All of Jim Hall’s creations are revolutionary beauties, but Johnny Rutherford’s winner in 1980 truly changed things. The first ground effects car at the Speedway, the Yellow Submarine was an odd but exquisite bird.

1980 Chaparral 2K

1980 Chaparral 2k

1984 Penske March

All four of Rick Mears’ winners are gorgeous, but this one has a certain unmatched grace. Sleek, streamlined and low, with no wasted space. It was as beautiful as it was effective. Looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still.

1984 Penske March

1984 Penske March

Obviously this is a short list that left out countless creations. Help us out. What are your favorites? Add to the list by commenting below which Indy 500 cars knocked you out with their looks.

Thank you, fans, for the great comments on this blog post. Catch the follow-up blog post with YOUR picks for the best-looking, historic Indy 500 cars here.]]>

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About The Author


My freelance coverage of IndyCar racing began in 2003, but the seeds were planted long before that. As a sportswriter for The Des Moines Register, I covered a wide variety of beats, including Nebraska football, Drake football and basketball, Iowa wrestling and – key point here – Knoxville Raceway. My interest in racing led to regular coverage of the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 1992. In 2003, I left the newspaper and moved to Indianapolis to cover IndyCar racing for several clients, including RACER, Autosport and IndyCar magazines and their websites. The list of clients for the 500 has expanded to include versus.com and the annual advertising section in Sports Illustrated. I surrendered Colts and Butler basketball season tickets for the sunshine of Florida in 2009, but still spend the month of May in Indianapolis and spend the rest of the season chasing the IZOD IndyCar Series around the country. Find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jeffolson77 and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeffolson
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