Phoenix Art Museum’s Legends of Speed Part 1
Phoenix Art Museum’s Legends of Speed Part 1
Phoenix Art Museum is the largest of its kind in the Southwestern United States. For almost 60 years, this museum has enriched the area with culture through visual arts and educational programs. It is no surprise that one of the many beautiful events on display includes the exhibit of “The Fine Art of Fashion Illustration.” In addition to the museum’s rotating calendar, they also have a permanent collection consisting of more than 19,000 sophisticated designs from across the globe. But what about an exhibit for race cars?
In the museum’s Steele Gallery, from now through March 15, is a remarkable display of 22 competition machines. Some are open-wheel racers; others are sports and Grand Touring designs. Each car is part of racing history. The exhibit featured Grand Prix, Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 winners, plus excellent examples of other historic race cars.
Well-known collectors provided many of the cars. Other vehicles came from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and The Henry Ford in Dearborn. Legends of Speed is the first significant exhibition of racing cars presented at Phoenix Art Museum.
This article will be one of two posts covering the Legends of Speed exhibition, and we focus on the open-wheel machines.
1967 Gurney Eagle F1, Chassis 104
Although Dan Gurney raced for such teams as Ferrari, BRM, Porsche and Brabham, his dream was to create all-American Formula 1 and Indianapolis Eagle race cars. That led to a trio of Indianapolis 500-winning machines including the one on display, Formula 1 Eagle chassis 104. In it, Gurney won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (also known as Spa) — an “All-American Racers” win unduplicated in the modern era. The Len Terry-designed race car features an Aubrey Woods-penned Weslake V-12. This winning chassis was assembled using titanium and magnesium, not excellent materials should the car crash and catch fire. Gurney once said it was like, “driving a Ronson cigarette lighter.” When not on the road, Eagle 104 is on display at Revs Institute in Naples, Florida as part of The Miles Collier Collections. In 1997, Road & Track put Gurney in the Eagle at Spa so he could recall memories of that historic win. When finished, the driver said, “I can’t believe I used to do this for a living.”
1928 Bugatti Type 35B, Chassis 4863
Have many race car designs been driven to more than 1,000 wins? That’s all part of the Bugatti Type 35’s legacy. This tally includes the 1926 Grand Prix World Championship and three wins at the Monaco Grand Prix. Type 35 went through many iterations as it continued to be developed, so there was a Type 35, 35A 35B, 35C, etc. On display is a 35B with its 140-horsepower, 2.3-liter 8-cylinder engine. That powerplant is as famous for its technical beauty as its strength and reliability. What sets chassis 4863 apart can be seen in the photo behind the car. It was raced by Hellé Nice, a pioneering woman race driver who finished third during the 1930 Le Mans Grand Prix and was well placed in several Grands Prix in 1931.
1978 Lotus 79
There seemed little doubt Mario Andretti would one day be a Formula 1 champion. He just needed the right car. That turned out to be Colin Chapman’s Lotus 79, in which Andretti won the title in 1978. The beautiful wedge-shaped Lotus is powered by a 480-horsepower, 3.0-liter Ford Cosworth V-8. A notable feature of F1 cars at the time was skirting at the car’s outer sides that scraped along the road, adding downforce. The sad irony of Andretti’s win is that it came at Monza’s Italian Grand Prix, a race in which his friend, teammate and championship rival, Ronnie Peterson, died as the result of an accident. The only other US F1 champ, Phil Hill, won his title at Monza in 1961 when his team and title rival, Count Wolfgang von Trips, died in a crash. The date of both wins and tragedies was September 10.
1956 Maserati 250F, Chassis 2525
When rules for the 1954 Formula 1 season called for 2.5-liter un-supercharged engines, Maserati saw an inroad to winning. It created the 250F, a beautiful Grand Prix car that would be competitive for years. Juan Manuel Fangio won the first two 1954 Grands Prix in a 250F before joining Mercedes-Benz. Then, in the 1957 season, Fangio won the F1 World Drivers’ Championship while racing a 250F to four victories. Through those years, the 250F went through development, though was always successful with the 2.5-liter straight-6 engine. The car in Phoenix has chassis 2525 and was one of the “offset” 250Fs with the driveshaft next to the driver, who could then sit lower in the race car. Chassis 2025 was only raced once, at the 1956 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, but it was a winner driven by Stirling Moss.
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1961 Trevis Offenhauser
A.J. Foyt raced in the Indianapolis 500 for 35 consecutive years. He won four times, the first in 1961, when he beat Eddie Sachs by eight seconds. He was driving the Trevis Offenhauser on show in Phoenix. While many competition cars are the product of one race shop, this one had many fathers. Based on A.J. Watson’s designs, the chassis was assembled by Floyd Trevis. Eddie Kuzma created the body, and Halibrand provided some running gear, while Meyer and Drake did the engine and transmission. George Bignotti assembled it all before Dean Jeffries added the paint scheme. Then Foyt provided the driving talent to put the Trevis Offenhauser in the Indianapolis winner’s circle.
1965 Lotus-Ford Type 38
Drivers in mid-engine race cars had been trying unsuccessfully to win the Indianapolis 500 since Jack Brabham and his Cooper in 1961. Dan Gurney enticed Colin Chapman of Lotus to the 1962 Indianapolis 500. This challenge piqued the Brit’s interest, and the race car company began developing Indianapolis cars for 1963. Come 1965, Chapman had Len Terry design the Lotus 38. With Ford backing, its 4.2-liter V-8, Firestone tires and Formula 1 driver Jimmy Clark, the Lotus 38 won the Indianapolis 500, leading 190 of the race’s 200 laps. This victory was the first win by a mid-engine car at the Brickyard and changed the tide, making front-engine Indianapolis cars a thing of the past.
Mention Fred and Augie Duesenberg and many auto enthusiasts will focus on the grand luxury cars the brothers created. Years before, the German immigrants were applying their genius to race cars. For the 1914 Indianapolis 500, they updated their race car from the previous year with a 100-horsepower, 5.9-liter inline-4, and just as important, installed Eddie Rickenbacker in the driver’s seat. The team would finish 10th, but it wasn’t an important race for them. That came in Sioux City, Iowa on Independence Day 1914 on a two-mile dirt track. The main competition? A more powerful Mercer driven by Spencer Wishart. It was a grueling race, and Rickenbacker’s riding mechanic was knocked unconscious by a dirt clot. But they never backed down and won the Sioux City race, putting both Rickenbacker’s and the Duesenbergs’ reputations on the fast track.
These days the 375-mile journey from Los Angeles to Phoenix is a five and a half-hour freeway slog dotted with gas stations and fast-food drive-thrus. Back in the 1900s, this terrain was covered by dirt roads. Imagine a drive of some 500 miles on stagecoach trails in 1910 when the average speed was less than 20 mph! This was the setting for the Cactus Derby race organized by the Los Angeles Auto Club. The famous Desert Race was meant to prove the reliability of automobiles. Now, picture yourself riding alongside Ralph Hamlin in this Franklin with its air-cooled 5.0-liter 6-cylinder engine under that barrel hood. After several years of trying, Hamlin was victorious and won the race in 1912, and thankfully the car remained intact.
1934 Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3
Tazio Nuvolari gave the Italian salute to the Nazis with this Alfa, serial number 50005. It was the 1935 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, and the German Grand Prix cars now had the edge in power and speed. But it was raining, and Italian Nuvolari was a genius in Alfa Romeo’s Tipo B P3 with its famed supercharged, 3.2-liter Vittorio Jano straight-8. Fighting through the field, he took the lead on lap 10, but a disastrous pit stop relegated him to fifth place. Now the genius was in full stride in the P3, racing back to the lead and the win. When the Nazis had only the German national anthem to play at the winner’s ceremony, Nuvolari went to his car and retrieved a personal record with his home country’s national anthem and completed the Italian salute.
1927 Miller 91
If you ever see a Miller 91 engine, your first impulse is to touch it. Why? Harry Miller insisted that his race cars were to be finished to show level, to be beautified after their assembly. You’d also love to hear it at speed. Miller race cars, which won the Indianapolis 500 six times, came in several varieties. The one featured in Phoenix is a front-drive 91, which has a supercharged, intercooled 91-cubic-inch, 252-horsepower inline-4. Leon Duray put this Miller on the pole for the 1928 Indianapolis 500, setting a new one-lap record of 124.018 mph and a four-lap mark of 122.391 mph. This car is one of two Millers traded to Ettore Bugatti, who went on to create twin-camshaft engines based on the Miller design.
If you can’t visit Phoenix Art Museum to enjoy the race car display, there is an excellent book that supports the collection. Appropriately titled Legends of Speed, it has entertaining descriptions of all the race cars with superb photography by Bill Pack. The price is $75, and the book can be ordered through https://store.phxart.org.
Look out for our next article featuring the closed-wheel cars on display at Phoenix Art Museum.
John Lamm worked for Road & Track for 37 years and is equally happy behind a keyboard or a camera. He has written ten automotive books and has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy award and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor award for writing. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and has been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades.