The 1965 Indy 500, Part 2 – The Novis And The Rear Engine Revolution

Bobby Unser’s #9 Novi. Notice the mechanic behind the car with STP “pajamas”

Andy Granatelli, the CEO of STP (Scientifically Treated Petroleum) was a shameless huckster. But he was also a bona fide hot rodder with a long association as a car builder/owner at the Indy 500. Granatelli’s first love was the Ford flathead V8. His second were the Novi racecars.

Granatelli ruffled feathers at Indy with his showmanship. In 1965 he outfitted all Novi crewmembers with STP “pajamas”. He wore an STP logo-bedecked suit himself, complete with tie. He also painted whitewalls on the cars for easier identification.

The Novis first raced at Indy in 1941. Granatelli bought the rights to the Novi name and cars and competed at Indy from 1961 through 1965 with the Novis. The car’s greatest distinction was that it never won a Champ Car race.

Bobby Unser’s #9 Novi. Unser qualified 8th but finished 19th due to a broken oil line.

When Granatelli bought the Novi cars he discovered that despite their fearsome reputation for power (and evil nature – two Novi drivers, Chet Miller and Ralph Hepburn, died in practice in 1953), their superchargers were actually running too fast, entering into a stall situation. Granatelli, as the owner of Paxton superchargers, knew a thing or two about huffers. By 1965 it is estimated that the Novis were putting out 830+ hp.

Bobby Unser’s #9 Novi. To harness the horsepower and get it to the ground, Granatelli ran a Ferguson all-wheel drive chassis.

Bobby Unser’s #9 Novi ran a Ferguson AWD system in an attempt to harness all the horsepower. Granatelli later used the Ferguson technology on other Indy racecars. Naturally, Indy outlawed AWD when Granatelli’s cars began to threaten the status quo.

Jim Hurtubise’s #59 Novi on Carburation Day. Hurtubise’s Novi ran a Kurtis chassis with rear-wheel drive.

Jim Hurtubise’s Novi qualified 23rd but left the race after one lap with a busted transmission. He finished last. But it was a strikingly powerful graphic scheme that made the car memorable. Hot red/orange paint job with engine-turned gold leaf lettering.

And there was the sound of the Novis-a piercing scream that was even louder than the 4-cam Fords. The Offy’s muted roar may as well have been running mufflers.

The #54 driven by Bob Veith qualified 10th but finished 24th with a burned piston in his MG Liquid Suspension Special.

Innovation wasn’t confined to Jim Clark’s Lotus or Granatelli’s Novis. With Jack Brabham’s ninth-place finish with an F1 Cooper Climax in 1961, constructors began to see that chassis and engines didn’t have to be designed to compete on the Champ Car Trail (which included dirt tracks), but could be purpose-built for the Indy 500. Mickey Thompson showed up in 1962 with a rear-engine car powered by an aluminum 215 Buick V8 enlarged to 256 cu in. Thompson’s car was the only car that wasn’t powered by an Offy, and the only rear-engine car in the race. All other cars were Watson, Kurtis, Epperly, Lesovsky or similar front engine, rear-wheel drive Dinosaurs with Offy engines.

Team owner Kjell Qvale (a San Francisco importer of British cars) entered three cars built by Joe Huffaker (a race car builder in Sonoma, CA who still runs a race shop to this day) using Offys but sprung by hydrolastic suspensions lifted from MG sedans. These cars were beautiful and entered for Jerry Grant, who qualified 17th, and finished 27th, and Walt Hansgen, who qualified 21st and finished 14th in addition to Bob Veith. It was rumored that someone had doctored the fuel of these cars, which were running in the top ten, before they all fell out with fuel-related problems.

The #41 BRP Ford driven by Masten Gregory

The MG Liquid Suspension Specials weren’t the only exotics. British Racing Partnership (BRP) built two new rear engine cars for Masten Gregory and Johnny Boyd. BRP was formed in 1957 by Alfred Moss (Sterling Moss’s father) and Ken Gregory (no relation to Masten), to provide Masten with decent Formula 1 equipment.

The cars were sponsored (and presumably financed by), Masten Gregory’s stepfather, George Bryant.

Masten Gregory’s #14 BRP Ford

As far as I know, the BRPs were the only Indy cars made by this English partnership. They ran with mid-pack finishes on the USAC trail for the next two years, then disappeared.

But I see by the puzzled looks on your collective faces the question, “who the hell was Masten Gregory”?

Gregory’ Four Cam Ford with its distinctive “Bundle of Snakes” exhaust system

Masten Gregory, also known as the “Kansas City Flash”, began his racing career in 1952. His father, a very successful Kansas City, MO insurance mogul, died when Masten was only three. Masten did what normal 20-year old trust fund babies did, he bought a Mercury-powered Allard and began competing in the SCCA. Soon he was racing sports cars and Formula 1 machines in Europe where he earned a reputation for being fast. He was said to have been Jim Clark’s idol. Anyhow, to me, at the age of 16, he was exotic regardless of who idolized him. In 1965, Gregory qualified 31st and finished 23 (oil pressure), nothing to suggest that three weeks later he would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-driver Jochen Rindt driving a N.A.R.T. Ferrari 275 LM. It was the first time in Le Mans history that an American driver, driving for an American team (N.A.R.T., i.e., North American Racing Team, was owned by Ferrari dealer Luigi Chinetti of Greenwich, CT).

Johnny Boyd’s #14 BRP Ford

Gregory’s teammate, Johnny Boyd, fared a little bit better than Masten, qualifying 29th but finishing 13th with a failed transmission. The Ford four-cammers were said to have cost $15,000 each in 1965. That translates into about $150,000 today, a relative bargain in the racing game.