Many 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.
One 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.
In 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.
Here’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.
For 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.
In 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.