BUILDING AN INDY CAR - FROM SCRATCH!

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As some of you may know, I am in the process of building a replica of the 1931-32 Studebaker Indianapolis race cars.  The prototype for these, as seen in the photo above, was the Hunt-Jenkins Special built for the 1931 race by George Hunt and Ab Jenkins and now owned by Bob Valpey.  The chassis was constructed by the Herman Rigling shop in Indianapolis, and the body was made by "Pops" Dreyer for the Rigling shop.   Hunt was an engineer at Studebaker and Jenkins was a race driver who set many speed records in Studebaker cars, though Jenkins did not drive at Indianapolis.  While doing very well late in the race, it went over the wall and did not finish.  However, its performance was good enough that the factory had four more duplicates built for the 1932 race. 

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Top speeds were about 120-130 mph.   The cars finished 3, 6, 12, 13, and 15 for the 500 miles.  For 1933, the factory cars got new, wind tunnel-tested bodies, while the Hunt-Jenkins Special (#37) kept its original body.  After Studebaker went bankrupt later in 1933, they dropped the racing program and sold off the cars

In the years since 1933, many things happened to the cars.  After their racing careers, a couple of them were converted to street-legal sports cars, including one owned by Virgil Exner, Sr.  The green #37 car kept its body and was later restored to original condition by Stanley Smith, and it is now owned by Robert Valpey.  The #25 gray car got a new white body in 1933, along with a new number 34, and is now owned by August Grassis.  The blue #18 car wound up disassembled in a back-alley garage in Chicago, but was restored by and is still owned by Mike Cleary.  See a photo of Mike and me below.  All three of these cars continue to race in vintage car events. 

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If you want to experience what it's like to ride in Mike's car, see this 3-minute YouTube video:  Studebaker Indy Car 18

The black car #46 was sold to an enthusiast in South Africa.  Unfortunately, he crashed the car while racing about 1950 and died in the wreck.  The car was destroyed.  However, legend has it that the engine was put into a 1928 Studebaker and it traveled on South African roads for many years.  Where is it today, I wonder?  In the 1980's, a replica of this car was built by Junior Dreyer, grandson of the original body builder, and was shipped to Germany.  It is believed to be still in Germany owned by Alfred Weber, but has not been seen in recent years.

The red car #22 re-acquired a 1932-style body through efforts of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, where the restored car has been on display.  This car qualified at 111.503 mph and finished third in 1932 at an average speed of 102.662 mph.  The car may be headed for an extended stay at a museum in Japan.

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HOW TO BUILD AN INDY CAR

For many years, I looked with awe on Bob Valpey's #37 car.  But, it's not like you can just go out and buy one of these cars.  They are not for sale and I couldn't swing the price if one was.  So, I decided to build one of my own.  In principle, this ought to be made easier by an article written by Ray Kuns in 1935 entitled "Building a Speedway Car".  The 14 pages of writing, drawings, and photos cover many of the details of the car, provide a "shopping list" for parts, and give many of the techniques of construction.  Unfortunately, nearly 75 years later, it's a little difficult to go to the local junkyard and pick up the pieces that Kuns described.

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First, the chassis is not a modified factory assembly.  The frame was made by Rigling using dies and equipment available to him.  His shop built many Indy cars in a variety of configurations including frame length, engine type, and body style.   Buick- and Hudson-powered cars with similar chassis performed well at Indy.  I was lucky to locate Charlie Glick at Heartland Antique Auto Restoration in Paris, IL.   Charlie had already built a replica of the "Shafer 8", another Rigling car with a Buick engine, using the Studebaker #22 car as a reference.  This car was built for the late Tom McRae of "The Great Race" fame.  You can see this car in the ads for Coker Tire.  Charlie made some more visits to the car at the Indy museum, then turned out an amazing recreation of the original chassis.  It consists of brake-formed and die-pressed heavy gauge frame rails joined by bolted-in cross bars.  The cars were built this way to allow quick repairs after a crash.   Charlie put the frame pieces in the back of his extra-long Chevy van and drove them out to Massachusetts with his wife and daughter.  After assembling the frame in my garage, they drove off to tour Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrim sites nearby.

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The engine is the next major item.  The original cars used a stock block from the 1931-33 Presidents, a 337 cubic inch straight-8 block with 9 main bearings.  The factory added a 6.5:1 compression aluminum head, four carburetors from 1931 Studebaker trucks, a Scintilla magneto with added gear drive, and a hot cam.    These, and many other parts from production Studebaker cars, led the factory to claim that the race cars used 85% factory parts.  It's a nice claim.  The carburetors, magneto, and other modifications boosted the horsepower from about 110 in stock form to 174 hp at 3600 rpm.  Improvements in 1933 raised it to about 200 hp at 4000 rpm.  Both the head and cam came standard in factory-built 1933 President Speedway passenger cars.

Other participants in the Indy races also built cars with Studebaker power, but several of them used the smaller 250 cu in Commander 8 engine.  In fact, while the factory cars and the Hunt-Jenkins Special finished 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in 1933, it was Art Rose in a front-wheel-drive car powered by the 250 cubic inch Commander 8 that finished in 6th place, ahead of the factory cars and their larger engines.  Designed with 9 main bearings, the smaller engine could wind higher and apparently produced about as much horsepower.  While the factory did not race in 1934, they did offer racing versions of the 250 cu in engine for sale in 1934 at $750.  Had they been built for a canceled factory racing program?  These engines also used four carbs, an aluminum head, and a Scintilla magneto.  The photo below shows one of the original 1934 engines.

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So, I am planning on building up an engine like the 1934 versions.  I have two 1937 engine blocks, which have insert bearings on the rods as well as the crankshaft mains.  A search for a Scintilla 8-cylinder magneto has so far proved unsuccessful (except in Bugatti circles), so I may use a distributor on top of the engine.  I have collected four Stromberg EX-23 carbs, which are close to the ones used on the factory engines, and a factory aluminum head with 6.5:1 compression.  I've already made the 4 cast aluminum right-angle carb mounts.  The engine will also need a cam ground to provide good performance.  Based on my engine modeling software, I should be able to obtain about 200 hp at 4000 rpm.

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Two 250-cubic inch straight 8 engines with new intakes. Carburetor linkage under construction.

Replicating the car is only part of the story.  A lot of history goes along with understanding how the cars came to be, who the key players were, and the disposition of the cars after their Indy racing careers were over.  Having seen the photos of the drivers that were used for Studebaker advertising, I decided to replicate the white sweaters with the Studebaker script logo and driver initials. 

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Gary Ash Indy sweater
Cliff Bergere, Studebaker driver and Hollywood stuntman, driving car #22 in 1932 with his Studebaker logo sweater. Gary in his replica sweater.  You can own one, too, just email me.

Special thanks go out to Bob and Alice Valpey (#37), Mike and Laura Cleary (#18), August Grasis and mechanic George Hull (#34), John Shanahan, Richard Quinn, Andy Beckman, and many others for aiding me in this Quixotic pursuit of a dream - to build and drive a Studebaker Indy car!

I'll post more pages as progress continues.

AXLES AND BRAKES

BRAKES - Part 2

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