Andy Granatelli: Born Supercharged

01 Andy & Mario

Andy and Mario, Indy 1969 (photo courtesy STP)


Andy Granatelli died on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. He was 90. As a team owner he won the Indy 500 twice, first in 1969 with Mario Andretti, and lastly with Gordon Johncock in 1973.

If you were to characterize Granatelli as a shameless self-promoter, a braggart of the first order, you would, in part, be right. But as Mohammad Ali once said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”, and Andy Granatelli did more that just back it up.


02 1935 Miller Ford

1935 Miller Ford


Granatelli and his brothers had a gas station, and a hot rod parts business in Chicago, named Grancor. They specialized in speed parts for the flat head Ford V8. After WWII they decided to attack the Indy 500 with one of the ten Miller Ford V8s that were entered by Harry Miller in the 1935 500, only four of which qualified. Granatelli figured that what he and his brothers knew about making the Flattie fast, and the reasons for the failures of the ‘35 Miller Fords, that they had a fighting chance at winning the 500 with one of the Miller Fords. Think again.

In 1946 the Grancor Special qualified 33rd and finished 21st, not bad for a car prepared in the Granatelli shop in Chicago and driven to the track after being made street legal (headlights, taillights, mufflers, fenders). The Granatellis didn’t have enough money to afford hotel accommodations in Indy so they slept in their garage in Gasoline Alley.


03 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk

Paxton-supercharged 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk


Granatelli’s Indy obsession didn’t end with his 1946 attempt. In 1950 the Grancor Auto Specilties Offy-powered Kurtis Kraft 3000 finished 10th with Pat Flaherty at the wheel (Flaherty won the 1956 500 driving for John Zink).

But running an established engine in what was becoming the chassis of choice didn’t hold much allure for Andy. After 1953 Andy was pretty much out of the Indy 500 game in spite of finishing 2nd in ‘52 and 4th in ‘53.

He then concentrated on his business interests which led him to buy Paxton superchargers from McCullogh in 1958. But Paxton superchargers were junk causing Studebaker to stop offering them as options in 1957. Granatelli did a bit of QA and determined that the ball bearings, crucial to the unit’s reliable operation, varied widely in diameter. He remedied the ball bearing situation and the superchargers began to run reliably, and Studebaker once again became a customer.


04 Novi #9

1965 Indy 500-Bobby Unser’s #9 Novi, Q 8th, F 19th (photo by author)


But Andy had not lost his love for Indy, and combined with his acquired knowledge of superchagers, bought the Novi racing team in 1961. In his words “that sound, that penetrating, stinging roar of a perfect engine in balance of the world” had him hooked as it had so many fans of the marque. Only a couple of problems-Novis with their Leo Goosen-designed supercharged engines were fast but fragile, and since 1941, had yet to win a race though sometimes finishing well.

Guess what? Granatelli found out that the superchargers were running too fast, going into a stall condition at high rpm, thus limiting engine output. He fixed that and figured that he had a natural.


05 Novi #9

Indy 1965-Granatelli outraged purists by outfitting his team (as well as himself) in STP pajamas (photo by author)


I attended the Indy 500 in 1964 and 65. The Offy’s emitted a low, gutteral groan. The Ford cammers screamed. The Novis shrieked enough to make your short hairs stand up straight. Unfortunately, the STP Tombstone Life Special with its brilliant burnt orange livery and engine-turned gold leaf lettering didn’t get Jim Hurtubise (Herk) past the first lap. I still salivate thinking about that car.

1965 marked the end of the Novis at Indy or anywhere else. By 1966 STP (which Granatelli owned) was campaigning a Ford cammer-powered Loti.

Granatelli finally won his first 500 in 1969 with Mario Andretti. He kissed Mario in victory lane before the race queen could. Hey you goombas! It’s an Italian thing!

Andy, we will miss you. For a thoroughly entertaining read, get “They Call Me Mister 500” by Anthony (Andy) Granatelli.

OK, they say it happens in threes. Kjell Qvale, Stu Hilborn, and now Andy Granatelli. Time’s almost up.