When Cars Were Special

Of course there is nothing special about the current Indycar. They are all the same except for the engines.

It had to happen. This may seem like a “get off my lawn” post. I have been thinking the last couple of days about the names of cars and how I miss the term “Special” in the name.  A Special added the air of romance to the race. The car name gave a hint of its personality. The Bardahl Special sounds like a mean machine. Travelon Trailer Special?  It had to be a sleek cruiser.The Bowes Seal Fast Special just rolls off the tongue.

Of course there is nothing special about the current Indycar. They are all the same except for the engines.

Cars in the 500 weren’t always called specials. From 1911-1919 the car was just the manufacturer’s name. There were no company sponsors.  The first instance of the term special I found was in 1920, when John Boling drove the Richards Special to an 11th place finish. In 1923 all top 10 finishers’ cars carried Special in the cars names.

In 1924 all cars in the field were Specials. While not every car in following years was a special, the majority of cars were. In the era in which I grew up, which was the 50’s and 60’s, it seemed as if every car was a “Special.”  The term made sense as each car was individually built by people who had their own ideas of how a winning Indianapolis car should look.

In 1959 Roger Ward won the 500 in the Leader Card 500 Roadster. This smal drip away from Special was barely noticed. In 1961 jack brabham brought his rear engine Cooper-Climax to the race. We were back to just the car maker as the name. In 1963 Jim Clark entered the race with the Lotus powered by Ford. Dan Gurney entered his Eagles and then McLaren joined, all with thesponsor and car manufacturer name instead of Special.

Mark Donohue won in 1972 in the Sunoco McLaren. The term Special was still on some cars up until around 1990. Now the name has completely disappeared.

It’s understandable, since the cars are spec. When Special first began disappearing, however, cars were still produced from several sources. Somke manufacturers like Swift, March, P,enske, Foyt, March, and Lola began making cars.

What I mostly miss are the great sponsor names that Special just seemed to fit at the end of. My all time favorite car names-  Bowes Seal Fast Special, Travelon Trailer Special,  Thermo-King Special, Dean Van Lines Special, and Wynn’s Friction Proofing Special.

I’d like to hear what your favorites from the “special” era are. Send them to me in the3 comments section and I’ll do a follow up column next Wednesday. I know I’m forgetting some.

Reminder- The mildly popular Bump Tales returns tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “When Cars Were Special

  1. For many years I thought that the John Player Special Lotuses in Formula 1 were named as the classic Indy racers were, with “special” referring to the car and not a part of the sponsor’s brand name.
    I recall the Rahal team entering their cars as “specials” in 2010 and 2011, which I thought was a nice touch.


  2. I was awe of the STP Specials of Andy Graneteli. I thought the STP crew outfits with all the logos was beyond cool. I will be attending the 500 this year. My 54th year in a row.


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