Regular #SpeedRead readers will recall Marshall Pruett’s eight-part series on “Weird and Wonderful Cars of the ‘500’” that appeared in the weeks leading up to the 100th Running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Now, the feature continues with one car featured biweekly.
It was the car that gave the great Dan Gurney his start at the Indianapolis 500, used an uncommon engine and represented one of the few responses to the rear-engine revolutions sparked by John Cooper and Jack Brabham in 1961.
For the 1962 event, Mickey Thompson’s Buick V8-powered chassis broke from convention in many ways: Its 256-cubic-inch stock-block motor stood out from the hordes of purpose-built Offenhauser four-cylinders that dominated the grid, and with its placement behind the driver, the Thompson chassis stood out as the only rear-engine entry to make the field of 33.
And it was fast. Gurney, in the midst of a full Formula 1 season in 1962 with Porsche, added to his usual accompaniment of major races at the Daytona 500 by embarking on his first Indy 500 with Thompson, the renowned Californian innovator.
Qualifying eighth at an average speed of 147.886 mph, Gurney used the Thompson’s balance to run inside the top 10 despite the Buick running on fewer than eight cylinders. A transmission problem halted Gurney’s progress on Lap 92, leaving him 20th at the finish, but his performance was impressive enough to reinforce the validity of rear-engine design.
Where one rear-engine car took part in the 1962 race, four were on the grid in 1963, 12 in 1964, and the numbers grew until all 33 spots were taken.