While reading JP Cavanaugh’s excellent series on Indy Pace cars, I noticed when writing about the 1979 Mustang pace car he also mentioned the 1979 Ford Indy 500 Official Truck. Reading about the 1979 Ford Indy 500 Official Truck got me thinking, why not write a quick piece on the other special trucks of the Indy 500? While the Ford was the only truck mentioned in the Indy Pace Car articles, there were a number of other special edition pickups utilized during the Indy 500 over the years.
The company that provided the Pace Car for the Indy 500 usually also provided support trucks for the field. Through the 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s, these pickups were generally non-descript work horses on the field. There was nothing particularly unique or special about these trucks, other than that they were used in the Indy 500. This article is going to focus on the special edition Indy 500 official trucks, which were often sold as replicas to the public.
In 1973, GMC trucks were used as support trucks alongside the 1973 Cadillac Eldorado Pace Car. These trucks just followed the standard protocol set in the past and were nothing particularly special. Things changed in 1974. The Hurst/Olds Cutlass was selected for the 1974 Indy 500 Pace Car, and this meant that GMC trucks were used in the field. However, this time GMC decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Other GM divisions had the ability to have one of their cars selected as a Pace Car, which of course was a great marketing opportunity. GMC being a truck only manufacturer would not have this opportunity. So GMC decided to release a special package for the Indy 500 Official truck.
Painted in white and gold to match the Hurst Olds, these pickups were dressed to the nines. This marked the first time that an Indy 500 official truck was designed to match the Pace Car in colour and style. GMC provided 55 trucks to the Indy 500 with this special paint scheme, including pickups, crew cabs, and wreckers to be used as safety and emergency vehicles. There was nothing particularly special about the trucks other than the extravagant paint job and decals, but they sure did draw attention compared to the relatively plain trucks used in previous years.
As another first, GMC decided that it would also sell Indy 500 official truck replicas on a limited basis. Included with the package was the special “quadratone” paint job, Indy 500 decals, a rally striped tonneau cover, an inset gold grille and steel belted radial white strip tires. GM planned to build approximately 1000 of these Pace Truck replicas. Many were used by dealerships to draw customers into their showrooms.
For 1975 there was another GM pace car, a 1975 Buick Century, and again the official trucks were provided by GMC. Not to miss any opportunity, GMC used a special edition truck for official duties. The Buick Pace car used a white, blue and read theme, so the GMC trucks followed suit. The 1975 GMC were painted white and had red, white and blue accents applied in a very 1970’s style.
As in 1974, GMC released versions of these trucks on a limited basis to the public. Saginaw Steering Division got in on the action and used the Indy 500 truck as an opportunity to market their newly offered Tilt Wheel option for GMC trucks. The Saginaw division also rewarded the pit crew chief of the winning car with a new 1975 GMC Indy 500 Official Truck. GMC planned to produce 500 official truck replicas to be sold on a limited basis. Much like the 1974 trucks, these were essential a trim and decal package and often used for promotional purposes.
Buick once again was awarded with the Pace Car for 1976 and so GMC again was able to supply the official trucks. Like the Buick Century Pace car, which sported a quite outlandish decal package, the GMC trucks had an outlandish decal package. The GMC truck used large eagle decals on its flanks but it also included a Trans Am like eagle decal on the hood. Again GMC planned to produce 500 of these trucks on a limited edition basis. GMC used the trucks to show case their newly available forged aluminum wheels. Saginaw gear continued to use these trucks to market tilt wheel and provide a new truck to the pit crew chief for the winning car.
1977 had another BOP division car being awarded the Pace Car, this time the 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and GMC again supplied the trucks. GMC compliment the Olds Pace car with a white, silver, silver gray, gray and flat black in the paint scheme along with red accent stripes. To make the truck more sporty looking, GMC also added subtle wheel flares and a chin spoiler, which was painted and stripped to match the body.
A.J. Foyt’s winning team celebrating after the 1977 Indy 500
The replica trucks include the same paint and body accessories, and also included spoked wheels trimmed in a silver vinyl applique, and low profile raised white letter tires. GMC literature shows that the truck was available with either the fleetside or fenderside bodies, 6 ½ or 8 foot boxes, and in two wheel or 4-wheel drive.
For 1978 the Chevrolet Corvette was the Indy 500 Pace car. Of course this meant that Chevrolet trucks were to get in on the action, breaking the 5 year streak of GMC trucks. For 1978, Chevrolet supplied the Indy 500 with the official trucks for the race. Unlike GMC though, Chevrolet did not decorated it’s trucks to match the pace car.
Chevrolet used a red and white paint scheme with red and orange stripes, which was quite different from the black and silver Corvettes. The Chevy Indy 500 Official Trucks also used a chin spoiler that was similar to the 1977 GMC trucks and had a body colour front bumper to match. These Chevy’s were again used to help market Saginaw Steering’s Tilt Wheel option. I could not find any information on whether any of these trucks were offered as replicas to the public like the GMC’s in previous years.
Someone other than GM finally got a crack at the Pace Car duties for 1979. With the Ford Mustang selected as the Pace Car, Ford did not miss the opportunity to market its popular pickups. Ford offered an Indianapolis Speedway Official Truck Package for its Ford pickups. It was available on F-100, F-150, F-250 2-wheel drive trucks and on F-150, F-250 and F-350 4×4 trucks.
Ford followed the precedent set by GMC and designed a paint and stripe package that complimented the Ford Mustang Pace car. The trucks were painted silver with black decals and red and orange accent stripes. They used blacked out grilles, side mirrors and front bumpers and had a black GT bar roll bar. The Ford trucks also used a black, silver, red, orange themed in the interior, which was actually was the interior that was used in the Free Wheeling Ford Pickups.
The Ford Free Wheeling Interior was also used by the Indy Trucks
These Ford trucks all were required to be trimmed as Rangers. Several mandatory options included forged aluminum wheels with raised white letters on the F-100 and F-150 trucks, a silver step bumper or a black contoured rear bumper, and an auxiliary fuel tank. Ford produced these trucks on a limited basis but in numbers much greater than past GMCs. According to Marti Auto Works a total of 4225 Ford F-150 trucks with the Indianapolis Speedway Official Truck Package were produced.
For 1980, the Pontiac Trans Am was selected to be the Pace car and so the official truck duties returned to GMC. The GMC trucks were modeled to follow the theme set by the Pace Car and featured a white and gray paint job with black and red accent stripes. Like the Trans Am it also had the infamous “screaming chicken” eagle decal on the hood.
The truck also used a similar chin spoiler as the 1977 variation. GMC now called their truck “Indy Haulers.” New for the 1980 truck was the use of the rectangular headlights. GMC produced replicas on a limited basis for the public available on short and long box trucks, fleetside or stepside.
Buick was again selected as the Pace Car for 1981, supplying a Regal to the Indy 500. So GMC was able to take to the field yet again with their pickups. GMC continued its tradition of making its trucks look like the Pace Car. The GMC trucks featured silver and black paint jobs with red, yellow and orange accent stripes. 1981 was the first year of the newly restyled GM pickups and there was no chin spoiler used on the more aerodynamic front sheet metal.
Chevrolet got Pace Car duty in 1982, and used the chance to showcase its new 1982 Camaro. They also took this opportunity to use its new Chevy S10 pickups on the field along with its full sized brother. The S10 official trucks didn’t copy the Camaro’s paint scheme, and instead used a simply red and white two tone paint job with simple lettering on the doors.
With a traditional Buick Riviera convertible being selected as the 1983 Indy Pace Car, GMC was used to take to the field yet again. Like the Buick, the GMC used a more subtle paint scheme this year. GMC described that it used subtle colour hues from the 1930’s era on its Indy Pickups The GMC trucks used several shades of brown to compliment the brown toned Riviera. This paint scheme was probably the most conservative paint and strip package that GMC had put on its trucks since it started dressing them up in 1974.
1984 is the final year I will cover with this article to coincide with JP’s Pace Car articles. For 1984 the Pontiac Fiero was selected as the Pace car, and GMC decided to show case its small trucks this year. GMC dressed up the S15 pickups and S15 Jimmy’s to match the Fieros. The GMCs had two tone gray and white paint jobs with a front air dam and some basic ground effects. Also included were Trans Am style alloy wheels. These trucks certainly had a much more 1980s style compared to GMC’s more outlandish designs in the past.
I had lots of information on the 1974-80 trucks, but not much for the 1981-84 models. I don’t have any information for the later years about any replicas (if they were even produced in some cases). Unlike the Pace cars, there is very little information on many of these special edition pickups. Further, since the Indy 500 occurs well into the model year, the special Indy Edition vehicles don’t show up in the standard sales literature that is created in the fall. So please comment if you have more information on these trucks. Otherwise, just post a comment and tell us, which truck is your favorite?
I’m not even a truck person and really enjoyed this article!
Love the period graphics on these (and their associated pace cars.) While in the 90s graphics got kind of overdone and tired, I’d like to see some of the 70s/80s more geometric stripe patterns make a comeback.
I’m so in love with that 79′ Ford Indianapolis Speedway Official Truck it’s embarrassing…
I had an Indy F150. It was pretty crusty but still presented well and moved very well with it’s 460. The previous owner suspected it to be one of the Festival trucks but I could never prove it.
We just bought our first house and it was more of a project than I could handle at the time so off it went.
That paint scheme (minus decals) carried over to the 1980+ “Bull Nose” Trucks and looked just as handsome as the 79.
I really enjoyed this article and would love to see more! At least finish out the 80’s! Thank you for the time and research you put into making this post.
Thanks to you and other’s for the positive feedback. I’d consider doing a longer version if there were more interest.
A great complement to the pace car series. I remember seeing many of these in regular use. Pace car editions were considered something special and were often preserved at higher rates than normal. These trucks, however, were just pickups with fancy graphics and lived normal life cycles.
There were also wagons and vans that would round out the “official vehicle” fleets, and those were not unheard of sights in central Indiana either.
Also, this area is ripe for further mining, as this shot from 1952 shows.
Thanks JP, your articles were the inspiration. We could defintiely flesh this idea out further if readers have any interest. I literally just did a quick write-up on this yesterday as I wanted to get it out before the Indy 500. I chose to focus on this generation of trucks becuase this was the era when these trucks were made to be special editions rather than just a red pickup with a label slapped on the door. I also don’t have a ton of information on the years not covered.
I might do a more detailed article on the ’79 Ford’s later on. We had one in our family for many years so I have the most information on these particular trucks.
Love to have the performance numbers .
Friend had one with the 460/4v that would fly on top end. The big mirrors would slap against doors at top speed estimated at 140mph. Smoked all trucks in the 1/4 and no contest on straightaways for a few miles.
Ditto on this being a great complementary article! That ’80 Indy Hauler with the chicken on the hood is strangely calling out to me…
The 1993 Camaro paced and was white over black with multi colored striping. Beautiful cars and trucks that matched. Loved the graphics on those.
I have enjoyed the cars and this truck article. Probably more than I like the actual race
There was an F-350 4×4 before 1980?
Yes, I believe 1979 was the first year. The stats I have are that there were 72,674 1979 F350’s produced and 18.4% of those F-350s that had 4WD, or roughly 13,372 trucks.
Vince! So many fantastic tarted-up trucks for this urban cowboy. It’s hard to choose a favourite. ok it’s the 77. Shame the El Camino didn’t get the gig.
My favorite of all of these is the 1980 GMC. The white/gray color combo, the decals… just the best of this bunch.
I hope this series continues. I know that one of the most outlandish (in a 90s kinda way) was the 1993 Chevy pickup. Those graphics are so 90s, it hurts.
Forgot to include the pic
Many years ago NBC’s Dateline investigative series did an expose’ on GM’s 73-87 pick ups being firey death traps showing what happened when the truck was broadsided. It’s sidesaddle fuel tank ruptured on impact and the truck was ingulfed in flames. I think something like over 2000 deaths were attributed to the truck’s leathal design flaw that GM was well aware of! It’s no wonder why GM went bankrupt!
The merits of the sidesaddle tanks aside, NBC was later exposed for rigging their “test” to make sure of a firey finish for TV.
Unfortunately for NBC, they were caught using model rocket ignitors and motors to support that assumption about ‘deathtraps’…
GMC was not the official truck for 1973, Chevrolet was.
Looking for information about 1980 GMC INDY HAULER TRUCK
I own one and looking for information!