Forty years ago this coming Sunday, something pretty wild (almost) happened at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A racing car unlike any other that had ever been built before, or since then almost won the Indianapolis 500. After leading (without opposition) for 171 of the 200 laps of the race, the STP/Paxton Turbine Car of Parnelli Jones fell out of the race on the 197th lap, due to the failure of one small bearing in the car's reduction gearbox. A.J. Foyt then took the lead from Jones and won his second of ultimately four Indy 500s ('61,'64,'67, and 1977).
The STP Turbine Car was a phenomenon. Conceived, designed, and built at the STP Corporation's laboratories by STP's president, Andy Granatelli and his brother, Vince, virtually the only parts that were not fabricated by the company were the Paxton 550-hp turbine engine and the wheels and tires. The car was based on a backbone chassis that was shaped almost like a big "dogbone", with a central member separating the engine, mounted on the left side, and the driver's cockpit on the right side. The car had a Ferguson four-wheel-drive powertrain that was adapted to the high-rpm turbine powerplant with reduction gearing. Without going into micro-detail about the car's other features, it was simply a rolling techno-revolution in racing car design, and the amazing thing was that it seemed to come out of almost nowhere, since the car had been built largely in secret, and unveiled early in '67 when practice at the Speedway began for the 500 in May. One of the intriguging things about the Turbine Car was its uncanny quietness. The word of the month at Indy was "Whoooosh!", as this was the sound the car made while flying around the track at record speeds. It was nearly silent, in comparison to the roaring V8 Cosworth-Fords and Offenhausers that it was competing against.
The STP Turbine Car was a sensation, and it was probably the first racecar that I personally ever paid much attention to other than drag-racing cars. Growing up in Indiana, the Indianapolis 500 was always given at least some attention during May by most folks, but this new turbine-powered exotic machine got everybody's attention that year. I think in some ways that this particular car, and the sensation it created in the media, became a kind of turning-point for motorsports in America. After the "Heartbreaker 500" of '67, Indianapolis began its huge growth of later years, ultimately becoming THE happening of American motorsports until the CART/IRL feud took that away in the late 1990's.
A few shots of the '67 STP Turbine Car:
(Left to right) Andy Granatelli (president of STP), driver Parnelli Jones, and Andy's brother Vince, sitting on the pitwall after the Turbine Car dropped-out of the 500 with less than seven miles left to the checkered flag. A study in frustration and sadness.