Photo by DoctorIndy.
While plenty of drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 multiple times over the century-plus history of the great American race, only five have managed to do so in consecutive years. Later this summer, the car that Mauri Rose drove to become the second of those five will headline a class of historic Indy cars at the Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance.
While former driver Lou Moore recorded his first wins at Indy as a car owner before World War II – in 1938 and 1941 – he also had a front-row seat to the various experiments with engine layout and drivelines during the Twenties and Thirties and decided, during the war, to switch to front-wheel drive.
Doing so would not only simplify the rear axle, thus saving weight, it would also eliminate the driveshaft and allow the driver to sit lower, thus reducing drag and dropping the center of gravity. Others had already discovered the benefits of front-wheel drive in an Indy car – Dave Lewis’s Miller took second in 1925 – but others had also discovered the pitfalls of the setup as well.
According to Gordon Eliot White’s “Offenhauser: The Legendary Racing Engine and the Men Who Built It,” Moore had a specific strategy in mind. “Moore built his cars to be as reliable and as economical on fuel as possible in order to reduce the number of pit stops,” White wrote. To the latter point, front-wheel drive would free up space for a larger fuel tank; to the former, an unsupercharged engine would put less strain on the front-end components.
Already a man of resources, Moore turned to Leo Goossen to design the cars and Emil Diedt and Lujie Lesovsky to build a pair of them to Goossen’s specification. Power would come from the first two Offenhauser 270s that Meyer and Drake built after taking over the Offenhauser plant, and Moore already had a sizeable stable of drivers at his disposal, among them Rose, co-winner of the 1941 race, and Bill Holland, a rookie for 1947. Funding came from Blue Crown Spark Plugs.
Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
The strategy paid off: Both Rose and Holland started in the top third of the 30-car field, and both remained in the lead toward the end of the race, Holland ahead of Rose. When Moore’s mechanics held up a sign advising both to go easy on the cars coming into the finish, Holland slowed but Rose didn’t, taking the lead and the win from his teammate. “Holland had been leading comfortably and thought he was a lap ahead of Rose when he let Mauri go by, seven laps from the end,” White wrote.
The duo returned in the same cars for Indy in 1948 and finished in the same positions, making Rose the second consecutive Indy winner after Wilbur Shaw in 1939 and 1940.
Holland nevertheless got his time in the spotlight in 1949 when he took his Blue Crown Spark Plug Special to the win at Indy, giving Moore his third-straight victory. (Rose may well have threepeated in 1949 were it not for a failed magneto strap that handed him a DNF.) Holland and Rose then finished the 1950 Indy 500 in second and third, marking the end of the Blue Crown Spark Plug Specials’ run at the Brickyard.
While both cars still exist, Rose’s car – which wears the No. 3 livery from the 1948 race and has made its way to the collection of Dana Mecum – will take part in the Milwaukee Concours class alongside the H.C.S. that Tommy Milton used to win the 1923 edition of the race and the 1914 Duesenberg that Eddie Rickenbacker drove to 10th place in that year’s race.
The Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance will take place August 6. For more information, visit MilwaukeeConcours.com.