Eight Great but Forgotten Indy 500 Pace Cars

1932 Lincoln with Edsel FordMany great cars have paced the Indianapolis 500 since 1911, but maybe not all of them have received the recognition they deserve. Here are eight pace cars that are more than worthy of another look.



It’s true: History can be fickle. A number of noteworthy automobiles have performed pace car duties at the Indianapolis 500, but only a handful, truthfully, are well known today. To help remedy that, we’ve selected eight cars that, in our view, could stand some more attention. And while we’re at it, we’ve taken this opportunity to call out some famous Speedway landmarks and personalities that also appear in the photos. All images are courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


The 1969 Camaro is among the best-known of the Indy pace cars today, totally stealing the thunder from the original Camaro pace car, the 1967 convertible. Four pace cars were specially prepared for ’67 the race, all powered by 396 CID V8s with Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 transmissions. A small number of pace car replicas were also produced, all Rally Sport models with Ermine White paint and blue interior.


1933 Chrysler Imperial Custom Eight Convertible RoadsterOne of the most beautiful Indianapolis 500 pace cars and yet one of the most obscure today, this Chrysler Imperial Eight Convertible Roadster led the field to the green flag in 1933. Lebaron built just eight Imperials that year in this body style, which boasted a list price of $3,295 and a curb weight of 4,910 lbs. Here, Chrysler executive (and son-in-law of Walter P. Chrysler) Byron Foy shakes hands with Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker.


The 231 CID V6 in the 1976 Buick Century pace car was a fair distance from a factory piece, employing a Rajay turbocharger package and 20+ lbs. of boost to produce more than 300 hp. Only two of these pace cars were built for race day, but they set the stage for more than a decade of turbocharged Buick production models, including the T-Type, Grand National, and GNX. That’s Speedway chief steward Tom Binford in the driver’s seat.


1954 Dodge Roy RogersIn 1954, the Dodge division had a lot to crow about, including: a brand new 241 CID Red ram hemi V8 and a popular celebrity spokesman, Hollywood cowboy Roy Rogers. Here’s Roy with the bright yellow Royal convertible pace car for ’54, decked out with Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and a continental spare tire. However, Dodge division manager W.C. Newberg drove the pace car on race day.


1937 LaSalleHere’s the great Ralph DePalma, winner of the 1915 Indy 500, at the wheel of the 1937 pace car, a sporty LaSalle Series 60 convertible coupe. As Cadillac’s junior brand, the LaSalle was a popular car in these years, offering Cadillac style and performance at a discount price. Finding that the brand mainly served to cannibalize Cadillac sales, General Motors killed LaSalle in 1940.


1958 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible Indianapolis 500 pace car gateFor 1958, a Pontiac Bonneville convertible with 300 hp Tri-Power V8 performed the pace car duties with Sam Hanks, the previous year’s 500 winner, behind the wheel. The fully chromed, top-of-the-line Bonneville ragtop model was a rare bear in ’58 with fewer than 3100 units produced. The colorful structure behind the pace car is the Speedway’s old front gate outside Turn 1 at 16th and Georgetown, where the track’s posh administration building now stands.


1932 Lincoln with Edsel FordIn 1932, Edsel Ford himself drove what must be one of the most elegant pace cars in Indy history: a Lincoln KB Murphy Sports Roadster, one of five produced. Powered by a 448 CID V12 with 150 horsepower, a KB model in a lighter body style like this one was said to be capable of an honest 100 mph.


The last Ford product to serve as Indy 500 pace car was the Rio Red Mustang Cobra convertible that paced the 1994 race. Except for a four-speed automatic transmission replacing the five-speed manual gearbox, the drivetrain was stock, retaining the 240 hp Windsor 5.0L V8 in production tune. Strobe lights, roll bar, fuel cell, and fire system completed the modifications. In the background is the Speedway’s race control tower constructed in 1957, which was replaced by the current pagoda in 2000.


9 thoughts on “Eight Great but Forgotten Indy 500 Pace Cars

  1. Eight Not-So-Great and Best Forgotten Indy 500 Pace Cars

    1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Six – This uninspiring vehicle was particularly egregious coming as it did between the 1946 Lincoln V12 and 1949 Rocket 88 Oldsmobile.

    1983 Buick Riviera – The post musclecar era was a tough time for pace cars. 400 cubic inch motors put out less than 200 horsepower and were mostly found in luxury cars your grandma drove. Not the right image for the Greatest Spectacle in Motorsports. Mid-size GM cars ruled the pace car roost in the late Seventies and early Eighties. The motors in them were surreptitiously hopped up and the convertible bodies could not be found in any showroom.

    1985 Oldsmobile Calais – See above.

    1990 Chevrolet Beretta – Secretaries had their day in the pace car sun with this spunky number available in blazing yellow or eye searing teal.

    1998 Corvette – Purple and yellow are complimentary colors. You won’t get any compliments with this purple Corvette with yellow seats.

    2001 Oldsmobile Bravada – What better way to promote the speed and agility of American open wheel racing speed than with a hulking SUV?

    2003 Chevrolet SSR – That family truckster was a bad idea, how ’bout we use an anemic pickup truck instead?

    2006 Chevrolet Corvette – Look kids! Bozo’s leading the pack! I hope the Shriners are in this parade too! Oh my mistake. That’s not Bozo, it’s Lance Armstrong. No, they’re not the same thing. That’s a horrible thing to say.

  2. Any idea why the lettering on the LaSalle say’s “official pacemaker” instead of pacecar?

    • The terms pace car and pacemaker are apparently interchangeable. On the car signage, pace car appears in 1930, 1933, 1935, 1939, and 1940. Pacemaker appears in 1931, 1934, 1936, 1938, and 1941. After the war, the term pacemaker has disappeared.

  3. I wonder when we’ll get the first Honda pacecar? NASCAR has used Toyotas and they haven’t been firebombed by zealots yet. I remember when Chrysler had to hastily throw together a Viper when there was an uproar over the planned Mitsubishi-made Dodge Stealth.

    While I prefer American cars, the Corvette/Camaro thing is getting tedious. I also noticed the pace car was a coupe. There used to be a requirement for convertibles, which is why all those GM cars had the top chopped off in the 70s. I never noticed when the change was made but it must have been long ago.

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