Developing The Granatelli Race Cars

Using images and technical drawings from the World of Speed Archive’s Granatelli Collection, volunteer Tom Stycznski elaborates on his volunteer talk presentation covering Andy and his development of race cars starting with his early years in Chicago, building Grancor and the Hurricane Hot Rod Association along with his early years in race promotion. Learn about his relationship with McCulloch, Paxton and Studebaker; the development of the Novi engine for Indy car racing; and the partnership with Ferguson to get it to the Indy 500; and then finally the move to the turbine engine and Andy’s relationship with STP. Also, check out blueprints and technical drawing of the 1969 Indy car and the land speed record Avanti. 

Archive volunteer Tom Stycznski:

When the name Granatelli is mentioned, what comes to my mind immediately is STP and Indy Turbine cars. Archiving the Granatelli Technical Drawings Collection revealed an interesting timeline of race car innovation from a Rocket Car in the late 1940s to the purchase of Paxton Supercharger Company and land speed records at Bonneville. My volunteer presentation earlier this month highlighted significant developments in the years of racing under the Granatelli name.

IT STARTED IN CHICAGO – In the mid-1940’s, the Granatelli brothers pooled their interest in cars, mechanical ability and what little money they accumulated to purchase a gas station on the north side of Chicago. Named Andy’s Super Service featuring Pit Stop Service where a team of attendants would check oil, clean windows, and check tire pressures while pumping gas. Their business grew so they decided to pursue their interest in race cars by preparing cars for competition and selling speed parts. When they experienced delays in buying parts they decided to open GRANCOR to manufacture their personal brand. Business was further expanded into Auto Marine Services for boating enthusiast while the speed shop delivered Fordillac conversions that replaced the Ford flat head engine with new, Cadillac overhead valve engines. In order to sell speed parts, the Granatelli brothers promoted racing as the Hurricane Hot Rod Racing Association.

That is Andy, Joe and Vince in the he upper left-hand photos posed at the GRANCOR parts counter. The lower left-hand shows their busy shop. The lower right-hand photo is the GRANCOR booth at a hot rod show in the 1950’s. The display prominently features Paxton supercharger products that will become important in the future.

CHICAGO SITES TODAY – I grew up in Chicago so I was intrigued by the four addresses found in the early literature. I also wondered what existed on the sites today.

The GRANCOR address was listed as 5150 North Western Avenue. This property is now a tune-up service.

5652 North Broadway was the site of GRANCOR shops. Today it serves as a service shop for a Toyota dealer.

The 5058 North Broadway address was a shop but is now a high-rise apartment.

And 4506 North Clarendon was the site of the first gas station. It is now part of a lake front park.

RACE PROMOTION – Andy was a key person in promoting racing in the Chicago area—racing sold speed parts.

Midget racing was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, offering races almost every night of the week. In the summer, the races were held outdoors but Chicago offered the large arenas of the Coliseum and Amphitheater for winter events. The upper left-hand photo shows the midget race track in the Amphitheater.

Andy was instrumental in convincing the Chicago Park District that there was money to be made with racing at their Soldier Field on the lake front. It proved to be true and the stands were filled with spectators for many years. Yes, that is the same Soldier Field that is the home of “DA BEARS”.

Andy was looking for a dragstrip and turned to the military for property that was used as emergency landing areas near larger air bases. Madras and Aurora were similar venues in Oregon. Andy purchased Half Day Naval Outlying Field (lower left-hand photo) that served as an emergency landing field for the Glenview Naval Air Station on the lakefront north of Chicago. This put Half Day, Illinois on the map. That is a typical race day in the lower right-hand photo. The Ford Phaeton is driven by “The Golden Greek” Chris Karamesines who later won numerous National Hot Rod events in his ChiZler dragsters.

RACER/ROCKET CAR – Andy did have dreams of becoming a race car driver. The photo on the upper left-hand corner records Andy’s first and only attempt to drive the Indianapolis 500. It was 1948 when he drove his Miller Ford race car from Chicago to Indianapolis. He crashed the car in practice ending his dream to drive but not the dream to win the Indy 500.

The remainder of the photos show the GRANCOR Rocket. This was a modified race car with JATO rockets strapped to the back. He would tour Midwest county and state fairs, captivating the crowds with displays of smoke, dust, and speed when he fired the rockets on the main straight. His billing was “Antonio the Great and His Rocket Car”. The announcer would attest to speed of a hundred miles per hour but the car was achieving more like 85 mph. Andy once lost control of the car, taking down the racetrack fencing in front of the stands. The announcer quickly chimed in by announcing that it was a planned part of the show.

The car was recently restored complete with the JATO rocket mount.

ROBERT PAXTON McCULLOCH – Robert Paxton McCulloch graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree. An inheritance from his grandfather allowed him to pursue his varied interests ranging from small engines to superchargers to oil exploration. He built numerous 2-stroke engines for midget and boat racing, ultimately selling that business to Borg Warner. The upper left-hand photo is the McCulloch 2-stroke engine. During World War 2 he developed targets for the Army Air Force. After the war he split the company into two divisions—McCulloch Motors Corporation for the development of lawn mower and chainsaw engines and Paxton Products to develop automotive superchargers and other new business opportunities. The upper right-hand photo is an early horizontal supercharger design and the lower left-hand photo is the busy Paxton shop installing superchargers on various cars.

PAXTON/STUDEBAKER – GRANATELLI – In 1957 the Granatelli brothers cashed out of their numerus business ventures in Chicago. Vince and Joe moved to California and went to work at Paxton Products. Andy remained in Chicago with intentions of retirement.

The Paxton superchargers were selling well but installations revealed a design issue. McCulloch decided to sell Paxton Products and concentrate on his small engine production. Studebaker Packard was offering Paxton Superchargers as a performance option in several cars and wished to assure the continuation of the option. Sherwood Egbert, ultimately president of Studebaker, knew Andy Granatelli was the Midwest distributor of Paxton Products. Egbert convinced Andy Granatelli to purchase Paxton Products. Andy solved the production issues and went on to utilize the Paxton Products engineering division to build race cars.

In 1961 Studebaker purchased Paxton Products as their racing division retaining Andy as CEO. In 1962 Andy moved on to be the CEO of Studebaker’s Scientifically Treated Petroleum division starting the legacy of STP.

Andy is pictured on the left with Paxton superchargers. The right-hand photo has Andy back behind the wheel of a Paxton supercharged 1960 Chrysler 300 race car, setting a Bonneville record of 189.990 mph.

NOVI – The Novi engine was developed by brothers Ed and Bud Winfield, Leo Goosen, and Fred Offenhauser in 1940—all well-known engine designers/builders. The engine featured a V8 configuration with dual overhead cams and a supercharger. Early versions were rated at 550 horsepower. Planning a return to Indy, Andy Granatelli purchased Novi in 1961 and further developed the engine performance to 837 horsepower. The upper photo shows Andy monitoring one of the many engine development dynamometer runs. The lower photo is a Novi on loan to World of Speed by Tom Malloy, owner of Ed Pink Engines.

Andy had an engine and now he needed a car.

FERGUSON – TRACTORS TO F1 – Andy Granatelli was looking for a car design that could handle the 800+ horsepower of the Novi engine. He received an interesting suggestion from Stirling Moss, the British race car driver. Thinking that driving all four wheels could best utilize the horsepower, Stirling recommended Andy contact Harry Ferguson Engineering in England since they had built a four-wheel-drive Formula 1 car.

Harry Ferguson was an engineer who, in 1917, developed a revolutionary 3-point hitch system for farm tractors. In the 1930s, he worked with David Brown, a tractor manufacturer who later purchased Aston Martin, Ferguson tractor later became the Fordson via a complicated agreement with Henry Ford. In the early 1950s, Ferguson teamed up with Massey Tractor to form Massey Ferguson who is still manufacturing tractors today. The upper left-hand picture shows the 3-point hitch design and an early Ferguson tractor.

Harry Ferguson passed away in 1960 but Ferguson Engineering continued and started the development of four-wheel drive systems for agricultural and automotive applications. The car that Stirling Moss mentioned was the P99 Formula 1 shown in the upper right-hand photo with Graham Hill preparing to take the wheel.

Ferguson Engineering went on to produce several four-wheel-drive concepts including the Mustang conversion in the lower left-hand photo.

FERGUSON PROJECT 104 – Andy Granatelli took Stirling’s recommendation and contracted with Ferguson Engineering to design the chassis and four-wheel-drive system for a Novi powered Indy 500 car. The photos show an early concept drawing of the car next to a wooden chassis mock.

P104 AT INDY – The left-hand photo shows the completed P104 project. Bobby Unser drove the first version in 1963 followed by Al Unser, Sr. in 1964.

1967 STP/PAXTON TURBINE – When Studebaker ended production in the mid-1960s, Andy took the opportunity to buy back Paxton Products. Armed with a company that could design and build a car plus a proven four-wheel-drive system, Andy Granatelli embarked on the design of the first turbine Indy car.

The concept of turbine engine application is traced to Barnes Wallis, a British weapons designer in World War 2. Both Rover of England and Chrysler took the lead with some early automotive applications. There were earlier, unsuccessful turbine races cars at the Indianapolis 500 but Andy took the idea to a higher level.

Paxton Products designed and built the unique backbone chassis shown on the cover of Hot Rod magazine. This allowed for a balanced weight distribution to improve handling. The four-wheel-drive system was a Ferguson Engineering design.

Parnelli Jones qualified 6th on the grid for the 1967 Indy 500, led most of the race and finished 6th after experiencing a $6 bearing failure with three laps remaining.

1968 STP/LOTUS TURBINE – In 1968, the United States Auto Club (USAC) was considering a ban or restriction on turbine powered cars. While still legal, Andy returned to Indy with three new, turbine powered cars utilizing a Lotus designed monocoque, a wedge chassis with the Ferguson four-wheel-drive system (upper photo). Jimmy Clark was scheduled to drive but was replaced by Graham Hill when Clark was killed in a testing accident. Joe Leonard won the pole position and Hill was in the middle of the front row.  With Hill crashing the one car, the other turbines finished poorly with fuel pump issues.

The lower photo shows the three 1968 turbine on a demonstration lap at the 2014 Indy 500. The cars were driven by Parnelli Jones, Vince Granatelli, and Mario Andretti.

1969 1st INDY WIN – The inlet restrictions for turbine engines forced Andy Granatelli to consider a new engine for 1969. With no time for development, the decision was to use a new Lotus four-wheel chassis with Ford power in three cars with a fourth chassis adaptable to Plymouth V8 or Offenhauser power. A Gerhardt/Offenhauser was also entered.

Practice proved to be devastating. The Ford-powered Lotus entries suffered from accidents due to hub failures. Andretti suffered burns when his car failed. Art Pollard could not get any speed out of the stock block Plymouth. The result was that Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt withdrew from the event. The Art Pollard car received an engine swap from Plymouth to an Offenhauser. Mario Andretti moved to a back-up Brawner Hawk Ford. Carl Williams kept his Gerhardt Offy. Mario won the event—the first Indy win for the Granatelli team. The Andretti family never won another Indy 500 allegedly because Andy kissed Mario during the trophy presentation.

The photos hold an interesting clue to USAC restrictions. The upper photo is Andretti’s Lotus Ford; the lower photo is the winning Brawner Hawk. There is a significant difference in tire widths. USAC decided to restrict the wheel width of the four-wheel-drive to 9 inches maximum. The rear drive Brawner Hawk could use wider rims/tires.

Andy always thought that the Indianapolis 500 was a race where mechanics, builders, owners and drivers should race the most technically-advanced cars with rules that invited ingenuity. USAC was pressed by other teams to institute rules that leveled the playing field.

STP RACERS – From his early days, Andy Granatelli was a marketer. You needed races to sell speed parts so he promoted races. There was no drag strip in northern Chicago so he purchased an airfield and promoted drag racing. But he is most famous for STP. Logos appeared on uniforms, cars and just about every school book. Decals were distributed like candy at Halloween. More importantly, he provided sponsorship to race teams. The following is a small sample of that support. The examples extend from NASCAR to drag racing to sports cars and even a Formula 1 team.

PROJECT – GDO – Three [World of Speed Archive] volunteers are cataloging all of the Granatelli technical drawings collection. Among the thousands of race car drawing were electronic parts code named as “GDO” in the title block. We soon found a patent application and photos for a GARAGE DOOR OPENER.

As previously mentioned. Andy Granatelli purchased Paxton Products, the new business group owned by Robert Paxton McCulloch. In the mid-1950s this group designed one of the first remote garage door opener systems. Andy decided to market the system by offering free installtion of a unit on a one month trial basis with no obligation to purchase. This was a door-to-door sales operation that sold several systems. There was one, small problem. With no frequency regulations customers near airports complained that their door were opening/closing without their interaction. I do not know how this issue was resolved.

I know that people reading this document have an interest in cars. However, I offer a challenge to anyone who wishes to build a Paxton GDO that they should get in touch with the World of Speed Archive who are holding all 1061 detail and assembly drawings.

BRAINSTORMING – 1969 INDY 500 – Faced with USAC restrictions on turbines, Andy Granatelli looked for engine options. Cataloging the collection drawings revealed some of those options. The most interesting was the following blueprint of the 1969 Lotus four-wheel-drive chassis with an Offenhauser engine. What is more interesting was the idea of a single turbo drive turning four individual turbo compressor stages. One compressor for each cylinder. I wonder it this configuration made it to the dyno?

BRAINSTORMING – AVANTI – Working as the Paxton Products CEO at Studebaker, Andy proposed that they should set world speed records with the new Avanti. During practice runs he noticed that the rear window would blowout at speed with the driver’s window open. The following was the proposed fix for the problem.

GRANATELLI – INDIANAPOLIS 500 – The data on Granatelli racing at the Indy 500 was confusing because it spanned so many years. I produced the following chart recording entry/qualification/finish for the Granatelli team. It is obvious that the path to winning requires patience and determination.

ANDY DEMANDS RESPECT – In researching this presentation, I was intrigued by the persistence, ingenuity, engineering skill, organizational skill and personality of Andy Granatelli. Without a doubt he was a salesman but looking at his many land speed and Indy records plus the technical accomplishment I know that Andy demands respect.

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