prompted much debate over whether
turbine-powered machinery would
eventually become the standard.
“Will turbines take over Indy, and are
they the passenger cars of the future?”
mused two-time Indy winner Rodger
Ward in a Popular Mechanics column
ahead of the 1968 race.
“There’s still a lot that can be done
with so-called “conventional” engines,
and I think they’ll dominate the race
for years to come,” he opined. “As for
powering the family bus, turbines – even
in mass production – are just plain too
expensive, period. Also, as we know
them, they could never hope to meet
current antipollution regulations”.
Ultimately, the turbines were done in
by a very different set of regulations:
prior to the 1968 Indy 500, organizers
imposed an engine air-intake size limit
that sapped power, capping recorded
top speed at an uninspiring 161mph.
Perhaps the only thing that Ward
didn’t predict would be that innovation
itself would eventually be legislated out
of the Speedway. Conventional engines
live on to this day, but unlike the 1960s,
there’s no longer an Option B.
The 1931 Indy 500
played out against the
backdrop of the Great
Depression, and AAA
gave Clessie Cummins
to run his diesel-powered car in an
effort to shore up
grid numbers. It was
heavy, but efficient
and durable. The car
qualified at 97mph,
and with Dave Evans
behind the wheel, it
became the first ever
to run the entire race
13th on just $1.40
worth of fuel.
FIRST SWING WITH
io-fuels? Hydrogen? The world of
endurance sports car racing could look
very different in the future, depending
on what comes out of assorted working
groups commissioned by 24 Hours of
Le Mans organizer the ACO.
But for much of the Indianapolis
500’s history, a laissez-faire approach
to creating power – and indeed, putting
it to the ground - was the norm. There
was not a working group in sight when
Ken Wallis started touting his idea of
bolting a gas turbine to a racecar, nor
when Andy Granatelli decided to throw
all-wheel drive into the same package.
The result – the STP-Paxton Turbine –
almost took Parnelli Jones to victory
in the 1967 Indy 500. For many, it still
represents the high watermark for
innovation at the Brickyard.
Jones’ car was not the first to carry
turbine power into Turn 1 at Indy. Dan
Gurney failed to qualify in a Boeing
turbine-powered car in 1962; Norm
Denler was chased out by the stewards
in 1965 because his turbine roadster
was so lairy in the corners. But it was
Jones’s performance that confirmed
the potential of the technology, and
Diesel had its moment in the Indiana sun in
1952, when Fred Agabashian earned the only
diesel-powered pole in Indy 500 history.
USAC had rules for turbines in 1969 - but not
steam. Enter the Lear Vapordyne. Funding and
technical problems ended the project early.
(LEFT) Managing the
car at the 1967
Indy 500 was an
affair, as evidenced by
taking center stage
during a pitstop. Chief
among the interested
onlookers? Jim Clark,
who’d already retired
from the race.
WHAT STP-PAXTON TURBINE WHERE INDIANAPOLIS 500 WHEN MAY 30-31, 1967