[first posted 6/9/2012. all pictures were taken by the author on his Kodak Instamatic 100] Between 1956 and 1965, the Indy 500 had been won by a Watson Roadster seven times. Roger Ward won in ’59 and ’62, and A.J. Foyt had won in ’61 and ’64. Parnelli Jones won in ’63. Watson chassis won six consecutive races from 1959 through 1964. Also in ’64, Chuck Stevenson was in another Dinosaur, a well-worn Kuzma; he qualified 26th but finished 25th with a burnt piston.
But by 1961, the writing was on the wall. A Cooper T54, driven by Jack Brabham, with a tiny Coventry Climax 168 c.i. four, finished 9th on the lead lap. The car was sponsored by Jim Kimberly of Kleenex tissue fame. In keeping with contemporary Formula 1 conventions, the sponsor’s name was not to be seen on the car. The Watson Roadsters, along with all front engine Indy cars, were labeled “dinosaurs” by the automotive press.
The first serious threat to the Dinosaur’s domination came in 1963 when Jimmy Clark, in a pushrod Lotus-Ford, finished second to Parnelli Jones. Clark was running strong in 1964 in a Lotus-4 cam Ford but his Dunlop tires let him down.
Jim Clark looks over his #82 Lotus Powered by Ford. Colin Chapman, in gray, attends to some details before the final practice.
Jim Clark had narrowly lost 500 wins in both 1963 and 1964. In ’63 Clark lost a controversial race to Parnelli Jones’ dinosaur with a badly leaking oil tank. In ’64, Colin Chapman, against advice otherwise, ran Dunlop tires. They predictably “chunked” (catastrophic tread loss). I had my field glasses on Clark’s car as a band of rubber came off the left rear tire, wrapped around the upper A-arm, and broke the suspension, ending Clark’s run that year.
Colin Chapman in discussion with one of the Lotus mechanics.
At the time, Enco/Humble/Esso (now Exxon) wasn’t sure how they wanted the buying public to know them by. Colin Chapman, seen in this photo, really didn’t give a rat’s ass. Aside from his sponsorship by Enco, which provided only engine oil and lubes, the Lotus ran on 100% ethanol.
A Mobil fuel rig. My father worked for Mobil so this was a required photo.
Only A.J. Foyt and Al Unser ran gasoline in ’65. The Fords were able to achieve 3-4 mpg on alcohol. Clark only needed two fuel stops, the mandated minimum. Clark’s team used the Wood Brothers of NASCAR renown as a pit crew, and their refueling efforts were so fast it was speculated that they were using a “blend”, gasoline/alcohol.
Jim Clark qualified on the pole with a speed of 160.729 mph. He won the race with an average speed of 150.686 mph.
Clark skipped the Monaco F1 GP in ’65 to run the 500. Nonetheless he won the F1 Championship in that year, the only driver to have achieved that distinction to date (Mario Andretti won the 500 and the F1 championship, as did others, but not in the same year).
Firestones and Halibrand magnesium wheels.
Amazingly, Clark ran the entire race on one set of Firestones. Appropriately, the tires were known as “stones” as they were rock hard. It didn’t take long before the tire makers and the racers figured out that softer/grippier tires could be run and changed out at every pit stop, without a time penalty, due to smaller fuel loads. Today tires are typically changed at every pit stop.
Chuck Stevenson’s Vita Fresh Orange Juice Special.
The Dinosaurs, be they Watsons, Kuzmas or Epperlys with Offy power, were designed to compete reliably on not only paved ovals, but dirt tracks as well. The USAC trail was a grueling series in which drivers and chief mechanics towed their cars behind their pickups and station wagons from race-to-race, not only to the Indy 500, but numerous state fair races plus the usual USAC fare such as Langhorne, PA, and Trenton, NJ.
Gordon Johncock’s #76 Weinberger Homes Spl, a Watson chassis.
These things were tanks. Straight axles front and rear. Torsion bar suspensions. Low-revving Offy fours. Only well-heeled owners could afford engine refreshing by Meyer-Drake at the end of the season. At the end of the season! These things had to run an entire schedule with one chassis, one engine. Many promising efforts were scuttled by magneto failure. Why? Because the cheap-assed owners wouldn’t cough up for a new Scintilla (magneto). These things had to run competitively the entire USAC season with no more than tuning and a fresh set of plugs.
Gordon Johncock inside Gasoline Alley.
But by 1965 the Dinosaurs were curiosities. Only six front-engined cars qualified for the race, two of which were Novis. The Novis were anomalies that never were considered Dinosaurs. They were just Novis, or front-engined V8 cars with superchargers. After 1965 a front-engined car would never again qualify, or run at the Brickyard.
Eddie Johnson’s #23 Chapman Special, a Watson, qualified 28th but managed to finish 10th, five laps down.
Eddie Johnson, driving a Watson Offy, finished 10th. I was fortunate to have witnessed the last running of the Dinosaurs at the 500. At the time I felt a certain sense of satisfaction (I had a Euro-centric bias) when Clark won in 1965. Today I have a sense of loss. The shark-nosed Watson Dinosaurs, and the laydown Epperlys were some of the most beautiful racers ever crafted.
Postscript: My father was in marketing for the Mobil Oil Corp. That had gotten me into the 1964 race (sat just behind Ted Kennedy and family), but as an added bonus in 1965, I also had a pass to enter the track on Carburation Day. This was when these photos were taken. I was 16 years-old at the time. I took all of these photos with my new Kodak Instamatic 100. I mistakenly bought slide film (I didn’t own a slide projector), but the film turned out to be Kodak Kodachrome so the images are as brilliant today as they were in 1965. Lucky mistake!
What a great complement to the Indy Pace Car series we just had. Kevin, your old pictures are beautiful. Kodachrome by chance?
These racers were a bit before my time, but like you, I miss them. There is something attractive to me about these old-school cars. It would be inconceivable today to tell a racing team that once they were done with the first race of the season, to change the oil because they were going to race it many more times.
The races are much faster and safer today, but I love the stories of the old days.
I just put up a note at the beginning confirming that Kevin took these with his Kodak Instamatic 100.
Good eye! Kodachrome slide film. I bought the film by mistake as I had wanted print film. The slides are as sharp today as they were in 1965.
My parents took a lot of pictures on Kodachrome slide film in that same time period and they are the only pictures I have ever seen that kept such vivid and lifelike color after all those years. These reminded me of those.
Kodachrome was different than the other color films. The color dyes were not added until processing. Sadly, it was also more expensive, and as digital advanced, Kodak stopped making it, and has stopped processing it.
I recall reading recently that the last processing lab in the country that would still process Kodachrome stopped fairly recently. I understood that Kodak stopped making it several years ago. I am no photographer, but I miss it because there was nothing else like it. Just like I miss movies made with the genuine Technicolor process.
Sadly, Kodachrome died in 2010.
I worked for a while at a Photo Shop (when was the last time you saw those words separated?) in High School that made their name on Kodak..
They had been around long enough to be my mom’s first job too..
By the late 80s Rayline made most of their money on Blaupunkt and Bosch promo pics. And the Kodak “Disc” for a while..
Dwayne’s Photo in Kansas was the last lab in the world processing Kodachrome. They stopped processing Kodachrome in December of 2010.
I’ve recently been scanning some of my Dad’s old slides, some dating from the ’60s, and agree that the Kodachrome colour is still looks very fresh.
I am writing a book on Jim Clark. I love your Images of Jim Clark.
Can you email me please.
Dave Miles- email@example.com
Kevin passed away a few years back.
As a huge Jimmy Clark fan, I followed these races very carefully. He really should have won it first time out. With Ford paying the bills and Chapman making the cars, nothing was really going to out-pace them. Only thing I didn’t like was the offset suspension on these Lotus Indy cars – they were built to corner in one direction only.
The first hotrod magazine I ever saw, in ’61 I think, was an issue of Rod & Custom which included a light-hearted article about a new Offy roadster featuring a countersunk motor, which thanks to its’ low CofG could corner very fast provided you kept it ” in the groove” at the Brickyard.
All these front-engined roadsters were “offset” too. Undoubtedly, they chose which side of the car the engine sat to maximize the fact that they spent their lives only making left hand turns, right? How well would they have done in a F1 or road course event? I’d say Chapman was just following the crowd in that regard.
How well would they have done on a road course? In July of 1959 USAC held a Formula Libre (run what ya brung) race at Lime Rock in Connecticut. Entered in the race was the 1959 Le Mans winning Aston Martin DBR-1 (driven at Le Mans by Carroll Shelby), a former Formula 1-winning Maserati, and a lot of other high zoot European equipment. So what does Roger Ward (two-time Indy 500 winner) compete in? An 11-year old Kurtis midget running a 91 cu in Offy with more than a thousand races under its belt. No transmission, just an in-out box. Offset to the left, but Lime Rock is run clockwise. So guess who won the race? Roger Ward of course!
For more see-
Yes, I remember reading about that. Great drive by Ward. But it probably could only have happened at Lime Rock, which is the closest thing possible to an oval track: 1.5 miles, 7 turns. Not exactly the typical F1 type track. Which is why he chose to do it there.
He also ran the car at Sebring in 1959, in a book on Jack Brabham I have, he describes how Ward expected the midget’s cornering power would more than compensate for the F1 cars’ extra power. But in practice he arrived at the first corner with Brabham & Bruce McLaren, and their cars just left him behind when they got on the power. It gave him an insight into the F1 cars cornering, and his encouragement lead to Brabham running at Indy.
Brabham started racing in midgets, and also ran his car in hillclimbs. He built the car with a few other guys and after the first season when the 1100cc JAP engine wasn’t making enough power, built his own 1350cc v-twin from scratch.
Thanks for sharing the photos & memories Kevin, it must have been a fantastic experience!
Ahem. RoDger Ward, tywm…
What the f does “tywm” stand for?
It means that despite my not speaking German, I still for some reason tend to interchange Vs and Ws…
tyvm… (thank you very much)
Two geniuses, Chapman and Clark. I remember listening to the ’63 race on my transistor radio. These guys from England taking on the mighty Indy!
Colin Chapman had some serious style. I’ve been spending the past few weeks on YOutube watching year by year Formula 1 reviews of the 70s. Such panache and verve.
Those guys were the real deal.
RIP Colin & JIm.
Articles like this and the fact that they come in such a variety of interests make this site the best on the net.
Very good job.
Thanks so much for the pictures. They bring back memories of going to the Trenton races with my Dad from ’64 to about ’69. Through ’65 Trenton hosted three races per year – a 100 miler in late April (last race before the month of May in Indy), a 150 in mid July, and a 200 in late September, in conjunction with the New Jersey State Fair. I remember when we were driving home from the July race in ’64 (won by Foyt in a Watson in the middle of a remarkable season), we stopped at an Esso station at the White Horse traffic circle to fill up and there was Foyt’s car, being driven on an open trailer, with a couple of mechanics filling up their truck. I was thrilled to get to see, not just a race car close up, but the winning car that day. Those sure were different days, not just in terms of race car transport, but in terms of the number of cars brought to the track (that was Foyt’s car that day, and if he crashed it in practice or qualifying he was out of luck).
I hope it’s not just nostalgia for lost youth, but the 60s were the era of the most handsome race cars. Not just the Watsons, but also Clark’s Lotus 38 and the road racers of the day (Chaparrals, Ford GT40s, Ferrari LM 250/275, not to mention various F1 cars) were truly handsome machines. Of course, as it turns out, these cars left something to be desired from an aerodynamic standpoint (when Ford decided to build the Ford GT in the early 2000s, their aerodynamicists found that the original design generated gobs of lift rather than downforce, and they had to, mmm, tweak the design for modern drivers).
Finally a slight correction (or maybe a clarification), the Watsons that ran at Indy, Trenton, etc., didn’t run on the dirt tracks. For these, the teams had purpose-built dirt-track cars, looking similar to today’s sprint racers (but without the full roll cages and wings). The teams that ran a full season had a dirt-track car for, e.g., Springfield and DuQuoin and Langhorne (pre-1965 IIRC), and a Watson or Kuzma for the paved tracks. Now, in the early years of my attendance at Trenton, there would be some dirt-track cars as field fillers, but I’m not aware of any Indy-style roadsters racing at dirt tracks.
Sorry I was obscure. The “roadsters” and “laydowns” ran on paved tracks. The “uprights” ran dirt, the high CG helping transfer weight to the outside tires. I think the last time an upright qualified for Indy was 1953. By that time the Kurtis chassis was large and in charge.
I’m not sure I’d say the 60s produced the best looking, sexists cars. I ‘d say Formula one cars post 74 thru 82 might take that honor.
all a matter of taste, thou.
Don’t forget that the modern Ford GT was based on the Mk2, the later cars were further developed, for example longer tails. And the Mk1 GT40 wasn’t particularly stable.
I generally agree though, things like Dan Gurney’s Eagle F1 car of that era is fantastically good-looking. Road cars of the era weren’t bad either… I do agree with fastback that later cars have their virtues, eg the Lola T332 F5000 is just awesome.
Gurney’s F1 Eagle Westlake V12 was probably the best looking open wheel car ever raced.
In 1977 or’78, I raced my bicycle on the Trenton track at what event I don’t remember. I was in college at the time. Not too many years before they tore the track down.
“Enco/Humble/Esso (now Exxon) wasn’t sure how they wanted the buying public to know them by.”
Actually Humble Oil had no choice.
It was part of the blowback from the breakup of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust 100 years ago.
Fascinating story if you’re into this stuff. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esso
You are incredibly lucky as the Instamatic 100 did not have any exposure control. That’s OK when shooting negatives as negative film is forgiving and the guy that prints the neg (machine that prints the neg now) can compensate for exposure problems to an amazing degree.
No such luck when shooting slides. You get only one chance to get the exposure right. But, you’re right. You probably wouldn’t have these pix today if you hadn’t shot them on Kodachrome.
It’s a treat to see the photos–thanks kindly for sharing (and hooray! to the Kodachrome). With some Ford employees in the extended family, I took great interest in the all-out 1960s racing push, and thought that Indy V8, with its bundle-of-snakes exhaust, was beautiful sculpture. It was indeed a pivotal year at Indy.
So good to see this one again.
Amazing shots. What a great privilege to be so close to these major players. Wish you were around Kevin for a bit more of a chat about this race.
Your comment about no front engined car ever qualifying or running at Indianapolis after 1965 misses two efforts that made the field after 1965:
1966 – Bobby Grim qualified a turbocharged Offenhauser powered Watson Roadster. He was caught up in the big first lap crash and finished 31st
1968 – Jim Hurtubise qualified a turbocharged Offenhauser powered Mallard chassis. It was the last front engined car to qualify and race at the Indianapolis 500. He finished 30th.
After the ’64 crash & fire petrol was banned for ’65!! So AJ & Al Unser did not use petrol in the ’65 500!! Lotus used a Ford engine with a central injection venturi, the only team to use that system, it gave better consumption, allowing the 2 stops!! By the way I am the mechanic talking to Colin!!
Thanks for responding Mr. Smith. Unfortunately the author of this piece, Kevin Martin, has passed, but we appreciate you chiming in.
Did you ever call Colin Chapman ‘Chunky’ to his face?