Two Wheels Too Many: The Story of the Pat Clancy Special

Pat Clancy Special RFThe Pat Clancy Special of 1948-49 easily qualifies as one of the strangest cars ever to run in the Indianapolis 500. Here’s the story behind this unique machine. 



At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 1940s were a time of technical innocence and exploration. Race car builders experimented with all manner of different ideas, including mid-engine layouts, front-wheel drive, and even twin engines. One unique racer that perennially captures the imaginations of Indy 500 fans is the six-wheeled Pat Clancy Special, which appeared at Indy in 1948 and 1949. Let’s take a closer look inside this unusual machine.


1948 Billy DevoreUnlike many of the wackier experiments at Indy, the Clancy Special was nominally competitive, more or less, and actually made the race in its first appearance in 1948. Veteran Billy DeVore qualified 21st and finished 12th in the six-wheeler, 10 laps behind winner Mauri Rose in the front-drive Blue Crown Spark Plug Special.

Team owner and namesake behind the Clancy entry was Memphis trucking fleet operator Pat Clancy, while the six-wheeler’s builder was Clancy’s lead mechanic and shop wizard,  A.J. Bowen. Why six wheels? We’ll get to that.


Clancy chassis frontThanks to the awesome photo collection of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we have some priceless views of the Clancy Special with its bodywork removed, showing how the racer was constructed. Frame rails and semi-finished aluminum body panels were reportedly purchased from top West Coast builder Frank Kurtis, then heavily modified by Bowen.

The front spring is a Ford-style transverse leaf setup, while the distinctive tubular front axle is from a mid-30s Plymouth. Lever-action hydraulic shocks are also visible. Not installed is the 270 CID Offy four-banger, the engine of choice for Indy car builders of the era and said to be good for around 275 horsepower at the time.


Clancy chassis rearThis rear view of the Clancy chassis gives up some of the six-wheeler’s mechanical secrets. All four rear wheels drove the racer in tandem-truck fashion through a pair of Pat Warren quick-change axles. A stub driveshaft with universal joints connected the lower gear of the front quick-change unit to the pinion flange of the rear axle.

Suspension was provided by four trailing quarter-elliptic leaf springs, one for each wheel. Note the rear fuel tank and body supports constructed from basic one-inch angle stock. According to Speedway lore, the Clancy Special’s wheels were cast in magnesium and among the first such components to appear at Indianapolis.


1949 Jackie HolmesIn May of 1949 the six-wheeler returned to the Brickyard, where rookie Jackie Holmes qualified at a quite respectable 128.087 mph. He and the Clancy completed 65 laps on race day, retiring with a driveshaft failure. The chassis was then converted to a conventional four-wheeler but failed to qualify for the 500 in its final two Indy appearances. Observers believe the six-wheel configuration was ultimately doomed because it added more than 200 lbs. of weight and considerable mechanical losses with no apparent benefit.

So why six wheels on an Indy car? What was Clancy thinking? Thanks to automotive writer William Jeanes and his history of the Clancy Special in the January 1975 issue of Car and Driver magazine, we have an answer to that intriguing question. It seems that Clancy had made his tidy fortune in the trucking business hauling overweight loads, mainly construction equipment, through the hills of Tennessee. To Clancy, it appeared that his big tandem-axle trucks had more grip and could make better time than a passenger car on the twisty mountain roads. His theory failed to prove out at Indy, of course, but we have to salute him for having the ambition and nerve to test it. Clancy continued to field Indy 500 entries well into the 1950s, but they were strictly of the standard four-wheeled persuasion.


Pat Clancy Special rear

Photos courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 


5 thoughts on “Two Wheels Too Many: The Story of the Pat Clancy Special

  1. Interesting, and actually impressive that they got that thing somewhat competitive. When Formula 1 teams tried six wheels (the most well known of which was the Tyrrell), the main point was to reduce drag by using smaller wheels. Quite different than Clancy’s thinking.

    • Yes, the car was known to have run on dirt at least once at Milwaukee, which wasn’t paved until 1954. However, the photo was clearly taken in Gasoline Alley at Indy — note the old garages.

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