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Were it not for the UAW, the Dodge Stealth R/T would have been the true Indy 500 pace car in 1991

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions.

There have been plenty of lame and forgettable Indy 500 pace cars, but only a few qualify as infamous, among them the Dodge Stealth R/T, the sports coupe slated to pace the 75th running of the race before a pre-production Viper replaced it. Yet, despite its overshadowing, it still ended up serving as the pace car replica edition that year, one of which will go to auction this month among a collection of two dozen other such pace car editions.

The Stealth, introduced in 1991 as a replacement for the Mitsubishi Starion-based Conquest, had plenty of performance-car bonafides: Its twin-turbocharged and intercooled version of the dual overhead-camshaft 24-valve 3.0-liter V-6 put out 300 horsepower, more than what one found in a contemporary base Corvette; its all-wheel-drive system propelled it to a sub-five-second 0-60 time; and its 0.33 coefficient of drag bests that of a Ferrari F40.

As Dodge noted in its 1991 full-line brochure, the Stealth more than held its own in terms of acceleration and handling when compared to several of the world’s best sports cars, including the Porsche 911 Carrera 4, the Lotus Esprit Turbo SE, and the Nissan 300ZX Turbo. “Make no mistake about it, the Stealth is one terrific car,” Chrysler’s vice president of marketing, John Damoose, said at the time.

However, Chrysler’s selection of the Stealth as the 1991 Indy 500 pace car proved controversial. Though Chrysler branded the Stealth as a Dodge and had Dodge designers style it, the Stealth rode on Mitsubishi’s Z16A platform, the same platform that the Mitsubishi GTO/3000GT used, and came from the same Nagoya, Japan, plant that built the 3000GT. Thus, many observers saw the Stealth as nothing other than a Japanese car, and, while no rules forbade foreign cars from pacing the Indianapolis 500, none have before nor since.

As Doron P. Levin wrote for The New York Times, the Gulf War had launched a wave of patriotism across the country, and union leaders mounted protests against the Stealth’s selection as a pace car for what is commonly called “America’s race.”

So, even though Chrysler executives began preparations in the fall of 1990 to send the Stealth to Indianapolis in May, by that February (making it “practically a last-minute decision,” Levin wrote), they switched gears and decided to accelerate the Viper prototype program to get one on the track as the ceremonial pace car. Carroll Shelby would drive it. Face would be saved.

Despite what Levin wrote ahead of the race, the Viper served as both ceremonial pace car and as the yell0w-flag pace car, according to Bob Guerity, who supervised the Viper’s presence at Indy that year. He said Dodge actually provided two pre-production Viper prototypes – the second to serve as a display car and backup, if needed – and that the Vipers ferried track officials and drivers for the entire month leading up to the race.

Bob Longstreth, who oversaw the Stealth’s presence at Indianapolis, said Chrysler did nevertheless supply three yellow Stealths for the race as if it were supplying them as pace cars. One of those three went to race winner Rick Mears instead of the prototype Viper (which went back to Chrysler for further testing and development and then, a year later, to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum). Roger Penske – for whom Mears drove that year – gave Mears a Corvette ZR1 instead and reportedly still has the Stealth in his collection.

In addition, because the Viper didn’t actually enter production until late in 1991, Dodge chose the Stealth as the basis for the pace-car replica. While some of the Stealths used at Indianapolis were painted pearl yellow, the showroom replica editions were all pearl white R/T Twin Turbos. As part of the Chrysler promotional efforts surrounding that year’s race, Longstreth also oversaw a dealer driveaway of a fleet of about 150 pace car replica editions.

Perhaps the most pristine of the Stealth pace cars, the one that Mecum will offer as part of its Kissimmee auction, has just 29 miles on its odometer. The Stealth is one of 23 Indy pace car replicas coming out of the Wilson McMillion collection — a grouping that also includes a 1993 Cadillac Allante pace-car replica, a 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme pace-car replica, a 1990 Chevrolet Beretta GT pace-car replica, and a 1987 Chrysler LeBaron pace-car replica.

The Stealth is expected to sell for $20,000 to $25,000.

Mecum’s Kissimmee sale runs from January 3 to 13, 2019. For more information, visit Mecum.com.