Originally published May 25, 2016
I’ll admit it. I am biased on this topic. I love the old front engine cars. Maybe it’s because growing up they were what a race car was. Unlike the rear engine cars, front engine machines came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most rear engine cars look basically the same to me. I’m not talking about today’s Dallara. The early rear engine cars were noticeably distinct from one another. A sameness crept into the design, especially after wings were added.
What were the greatest cars? My criteria is part objective and part subjective. Cars that won more than once easily make the cut. Design and livery are a big qualification as well. I prefer the simpler liveries. Here are my top five greatest cars, front engine division.
5. Belond Exhaust Special. The car designed by George Salih won back to back to back races in 1957-58. The engine is laid on its side, allowing a lower profile. Note the fin behind the driver’s headrest.
4. Blue Crown Spark Plug Special. This Offenhauser powered, front wheel drive machine won in 1947 and 1948 with Mauri Rose driving to victory both years. Car owner Lou Moore is second behind Roger Penske in victories by an owner with five.
3. Sheraton-Thompson Special. The 1964 winning car is a A. J. Watson built roadster driven by A. J. Foyt to his second 500 win. It was the last front engine car to win the race.
2. Fuel Injection Special. Bill Vukovich dominated in 1953 and 1954 in the original “roadster”. Note the cockpit offset to the right. The car was leading in 1952 when a steering rod broke with eight laps left. Vukovich led 435 laps in this car.
- Boyle Special (top of story photo) Another car that dominated the 500. Wilbur Shaw won in this Maserati in 1939 and 1940. He was leading in 1940 when a wheel collapsed late in the race. After the war, Ted Horn drove it from 1946-48 to finishes of third, third, and fourth. Future winner Lee Wallard took the car to the lead in the 1949 race. Bill Vukovich took his 1950 rookie test in the Maserati, but did not make the race. This car was truly the chariot of the gods.
I will be back tomorrow with my race preview. It will be bold, thoughtful, and likely highly inaccurate.