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5 pace cars you wouldn't expect for the Indy 500

The 2014 Corvette makes pacing a race look too easy, but the Indy 500's 102-year history isn't all filled with super speed.

By Clifford Atiyeh May 24, 2013 1:31PM
Before cars turned a tire at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, hot air balloons raced overhead a 2.5-mile oval that in 1909 was filled with crushed rock and tar, a dangerous combination that had motorcyclists complaining of treacherous conditions.

Months later, workers laid the track with paved bricks, and for the next 100 years, the Speedway would too pave the way for some of the world's fastest circuit speeds (by 1961, the entire track was finished with asphalt, but a three-foot strip of original brick still lies on the straightaway). In 1911, the first Indianapolis 500 tore up the track with an average winning speed of 74 mph, an experience no less frightening than taking an early aircraft into the skies.

But safety, even in the early racing days of goggles, skinny tires and no seat belts, would become paramount at the track. Starting in 1911 -- before its world-first safety warning lights and mandatory helmet rule in 1935 -- pace cars were ordered to lead the Indy 500 on a rolling start after one lap. They've been in place ever since.

To that end, we've compiled some Indy 500 pace cars that aren't the typical Corvette, Camaro or other sporty cars that steal the show in our modern times.

1911 Stoddard-Dayton

With today's open-wheeled Indy racers screaming past 230 mph, this wagon-wheeled Stoddard-Dayton was actually quick for its day, promising up to 58 horsepower. The Ohio manufacturer, like many early automakers, keeled over in 1913.

1956 DeSoto Fireflite

DeSoto, a defunct Chrysler brand, was building luxurious cruisers in 1956, near the end of its life. With tailfins, lazy V8 engines and options such as swiveling front seats and an in-dash 45-rpm record player, the Fireflite may not have belonged on a race track, but it sure looked pretty.

1976 Buick Century Turbo

Buick's 270-horsepower Regal GS can give all credit to this 1976 Century Turbo, which was specially developed for the Indy 500 with a turbocharged V6 that proved faster than the production car's huge V8 engine. The 70s-era deep-dish red wheels, T-top and bird graphics might be dated -- plus, the replica seen here didn't include the turbo V6. On the track, though, this Century made it happen, unlike what the model name would become by the late 90s.

1987 Chrysler LeBaron

The Chrysler LeBaron gets as much flack now as the company's Sebring, yet this popular model wasn't a joke on the track. Chrysler fitted a larger turbo and low-restriction intercooler, a new header and tossed the A/C and catalytic converter. The result was 236 horsepower and a 151-mph top speed. That apparently was enough for driver Carroll Shelby, who was also busy at that time modifying the company's Omni hatchback and Charger coupe into "Goes Like Hell" specials.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme

Unlike earlier Olds 4-4-2 pace cars, this 1988 Cutlass Supreme convertible literally fell apart when it was sold as a series of 50 convertible replicas. The body leaked and wasn't strong enough, and many cars were immediately junked. The heads-up display, however, was an industry first.

[Sources: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Allpar, Hemmings, Hagerty]

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May 24, 2013 10:56PM

Love the Indy cars, but my love bug was a 1987 Buick Regal Grand National, the last year they were in production.  We had heard they were to bring the Turbo Six back, of course, intercooled and we have been waiting.  I had a Vanity Plate that said " LEDFOT", it was my summer daily ride to work and was challenged every night in five o'clock going home traffic.  "Give me a break, traffic in Pittsburgh, is not light, but sometimes I had fun."  Was always wiping somebodies clock.  Loved that car.  It was purchased by a car collector that has not put it on the road.  Kind of miss the fun, even though I am older and retired, loved the speed and the black beauty of that car.  GM Bring the V-6 Turbo back, love the old muscle car speed, with the new technology.  "Old Grey Haired Gear Head".


May 25, 2013 12:27AM
They left the best car out of the article - Studebaker
May 24, 2013 10:19PM
DeSoto didn't end production until 1961, another example of shoddy reporting by MSN!
May 25, 2013 4:02AM
As concerns the DeSoto... this was Chrysler's "experimental" car, having many features that would later grace other Chrysler products, especially when it came to power under the hood. To refer to the DeSoto's engines as "lazy" is ridiculous, given that those mid-60's cars had such innovations as cross-pollination manifolds with two 4-barrel carbs feedin 383 c.u., 413 c.u. and hemi engines. In their day, NOTHING on the American highway could touch a tricked-out Desoto... either in power, speed or just plain good looks. I wish they were still being built but, of course, the modern DeSoto would likely languish in today's Chrysler by Fiat, and would have long since been cheapened, as was Imperial, Plymouth and the once grounding-pounding Dodges.

I owned Dodges for most of my adult life... until I finally realized that even Dodge dealers didn't want a Dodge in trade because it was a piece of junk after 3-4 years of driving - and I got tired of taking a beating at trade-in time.

May 25, 2013 2:53AM
The '56 De Soto pace car wasn't just a FireFlyte model, but an Adventurer model that boasted two 4-barrels, a higher compression, and other performance enhancements to the hemi engine. 
May 25, 2013 4:41AM
Those were they days of some real automobiles, not the plastic, aluminum foil gov't mandated overpriced stuff we have today. 
May 25, 2013 2:14AM

A simple Google lets you review Chrysler's stats on Desoto production from 1928 to Dec 1960( 1961 model).   May not have been hot, but to a 16 year old in the late 50's was a good looking car and speeds up near 100 on MO black top roads were probably well beyond the suspension and braking capability for safety.

D Tarbet

May 25, 2013 4:20AM

From the cars that MSN has shown, I favor the Desoto, and the Buick. Take a look at a chrysler of the same vintage as the Desoto and see if there is much difference. Then there was the Chrysler 300 series that had hemi's, cross ram manifolds with dual four barrel carbs, high performance brakes, and performance tuned suspension. High performance did not start just a few short years ago, it has just now become High Priced. In 69, you could buy a Plymouth Roadrunner, with a 383, limited slip diff., and a four on the floor, for about $2900. Anyone know what hemi cuda, or a Yenko Camaro cost? NOT $50,000 +.


MSN , and Consumer Reports, are so full of bad info I want to puke. If you buy a car based on what you read in a report from Consumer Reports, or JD power, you are too stupid to be driving in the first place. As to the pace cars, they left a lot of the good ones out. I really miss the older cars,that felt like you had something under you, and the torque of a big engine.


What is pathetic is these modern "soda cans" most drive today. They are not safe at any speed, and I know that for a fact, and have been in accidents in the older cars, and a car with a full frame under it is much safer than a "soda can", with several exploding balloons in it. The manufacturers have been busy training the sheeple their modern wonders are safer, and it leading lots of injuries and death.



May 25, 2013 3:46AM

Something that should be on every car and truck , was in the last sentence of the last car . The 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme . Why hasn't the auto industry put heads-up display in every car .
Why must we have to look down through the steering wheel , to see the speedometer ?


May 24, 2013 11:12PM
My first Pace Car was a '74 Hurst Olds and it was a beauty. It was Cameo White with gold stripes, a soft vinyl black/white roof with the H/O emblems on both sides. Then it had the gold H/O wheels and H/O decals on both the left and right rear quarter panels. It was powered by a 455 W30 Oldsmobile engine. This was the sharpest car in town then but sadly I traded it in on a Chevy Good-Times Van in '76. A few years later a friend gave me a '77 Olds 88 Royale Pace Car. It was sharp but it just seemed like a turtle racing a jet fighter. I sold it for $1000 2 years later and that was the last Pace Car I ever owned.
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