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the "Laydowns"

Posted on August 13, 2009 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (3)


  1. My next project could be a "laydown" engine roadster, so I decided that, maybe, a blog about the "laydowns" would be appropriate.


  My biggest technical issue when building a new "laydown" replica is finding an inline 4 cyl. engine that will work in the "laydown" position.

  The problem is getting the oil to drain back from the top of the cylinder head to the oil pan. A few guys have suggested existing engines that are installed as "laydowns", which I am checking out.

  The other option is to use a current DOHC 4 cyl engine, such as a Focus, Duratec, Miata or, even, Olds quad four or Alfa.

 The modifications, to be made, include plumbing of the cam covers to insure proper drain back to the oil pan. It would also require a newly designed or modified oil pan. A dry sump oil pump system is, probably, the most likely solution to the oil scavenging and pressure system. And, of course, the exhaust and intake manifolds are always tricky on an engine installation like this.

The engine would be mounted, at its relative horizontal (probably 20 degrees) angle, to the front side of the motor plate bulkhead. Its matching transmission will be mounted, straight up, on the back side of the motor plate.

  I don't think that there are any unsolvable technical problems, no matter what engine I use.


The first of the OFFY powered "laydown" roadsters was the 1957 Belond Spl. built by George Salih, Howard Gilbert and Quinn Epperly, on a shoestring budget.

   Salih worked at Meyer & Drake and built his first "laydown" engine from used and spare parts he collected around the OFFY shop.

   In 1960, Salih built his second "laydown" roadster, the Metal Cal Spl. It was a great looking car, but never as good as the original Belond.

From '58 through '61, Quinn Epperly built 6 "laydown" cars, of his own design, including the #99 Demler, #33 Jones and Maley, #1 Hoover Motor Express, #8 Bowes Seal Fast , #5 Autolite and another Hoover Motor Express #3.

The 1958 D A Lubricants Kurtis 500H and the 1959 Bowes Seal Fast Kurtis 500J were, both, Kurtis "laydown" designs. Also, there were several of the Kurtis 500G cars that were converted from "upright" to "laydown" engines.

Eddie Kuzma built three "laydowns" including the 1959 #44 Schmidt Spl, the 1960 #32 Ansted Rotary Spl. and the very nice #17 Jim Robbins Spl.

Eddie also modified a couple of his previous "upright" engine cars to "laydowns".

Lujie Lesovsky built the great looking pink #3 Racing Assoc. "laydown" which set on the Indy pole in 1959 and won at Milwaukee the very next week, and, also, the 1960 Kelso Autodynamics "laydown" that never made a race.

Lujie was involved with most of the laydown conversions of other builder's "upright" cars, especially the Kurtis 500Gs. The "Lujie" design was, also, used, in 1961, by Herb Porter to build a new #86 Racing Assoc. car for Ebb Rose.

Other builders who built a "laydown" car were Fred DeOrion for Fred Gerhardt, Denny Moore for John Zink and Floyd Trevis for Jim Robbins.


With most of the top builders involved, it is surprising that there was never an absolute consensus as to the definitive layout. There were three different layouts used by the various builders.

  Salih used the right side driver/left side engine,tilted, top to the right on the Belond but switched to a left side driver/right side engine, tilted top to the left layout on the Metal Cal car.

  Epperly used a right side driver/left side engine, tilted top to the the right on the his first four cars but switched to a radical right side driver/left side engine, tilted top to the left, much like a supermodified, for the Autolite #5 and the Hoover #54. Kuzma also used this layout on the Jim Robbins #33.

  All of the "Lujie" cars used the left side driver/right side engine, tilted top to the left and the Kurtis cars used the right side driver/left side engine tilted top to the right,

There was nothing really special about the construction of these cars. They all used a conventional tubular space frame with standard suspension and driveline component design and installation.

Their main selling points were better aerodynamics and lower center of gravity. I suspect the lower CG was far more important than the lower hood... Actually, it would be interesting to put a Watson "upright" and an Epperly "laydown" in the wind tunnel and compare numbers.

  Considering the top builders and drivers, of the day, that were involved with the laydown cars between 1957 and 1963, these cars were not all that successful, scoring only three wins.

  The cars always ran well and had a number of top finishes but, for some reason, they couldn't break through and become consistant winners.

  A lot of people believed they were star crossed with bad luck but, maybe, in the final analysis, they just weren't technically any better than the "uprights".

  Of course, of the races they won, two of them were Indy 500s, so at least the, original laydown, Belond Spl. had to be considered a great success.

I'm not sure how many of these engines existed, but records show that only eleven of them were officially built in the Meyer & Drake shop. Certainly, there were other good engine guys, like Herb Porter, who were capable of assembling their own versions of the "laydown" OFFY.

 My research indicates that there were 21 new "laydown" cars built between 1957 and 1961. I also believe that there were 3 existing "upright" cars converted to "laydowns" in 1958.

  You can check out many of the "laydown" roadsters at the following quick link:


You can also check out some preliminary design drawings of my tentative "laydown" roadster project at the top of the page.

                   mac miller in INDY

designing a new front engine roadster

Posted on June 25, 2009 at 8:38 AM Comments comments (9)

Site menber, Rocketman, has asked about what would be involved in designing a  new front engine roadster style Indy car. The following is a group of stuff that I have written on that very subject.       Read and comment!


  The new front engine roadster

Let me say that there is nothing I would like more than to bring back the front engine roadsters. I came from that era and, while Indy is a lot different, I can assure you, that it is not better.  That said, Let's move to "now".

 The biggest problem and disadvantage of the front engine, open wheel, single seat racing car is "packaging".

The current Indy and F1 designs are very efficient aerodynamically and mechanically with their most logical "driver-fuelcell-engine-transaxle" layout and their inboard packaging of the suspension units. This layout is so efficient that there is very little unoccupied, open air space inside the chassis structure for a minimum of frontal area.

By nature, the front engine car has a larger aerodynamic frontal area and there isn't much to do about it. The two major packaging problems are the drive shaft and the volume and weight of the fuel load.

Of course, with the potential modern design of a front engine car with independent suspension, the only movement of the drive shaft would be rotational rather than "rotational and vertical" as in the old straight axle roadsters, but the the drive shaft still must be given room to pass through the driver's area. It has to pass either beside the driver or below the driver (bad for cg) thus displacing the driver from the theoretical optimal location. The two possible solutions to the driveshaft issue are, obviously, front wheel drive or front and rear transfer cases to move the driveshaft outside of the chassis structure....... Neither solution appeals to me.

The fuel cell location is also a major problem for the front engine design. Minimizing the effect on handling of the ever changing weight of the current 35 gal. fuel load is possibly the greatest single advantage of the rear engine design's fuel cell location. The other advantage is the safety factor. The classic "fuel cell behind the rear axle" location would be totally unacceptable from a handling and safety standpoint. This leaves two possible solutions....... locating all fuel in a single cell on the left side of the chassis structure, which would still not solve the variable dynamic handling problems as the fuel load goes away, or locating the fuel in a number of small cells wherever you could find space for them ?????

I think a front engine car could be designed with, virtually, the same static and dynamic front to rear and side to side weight bias, so ultimate handling would not be too different from the rear engine design. The problem would be maintaining consistant handing with the changing fuel load as well as the rear engine design. Actually, in the front engine car with the driver sitting closer to the rear axle, the driver has a much better "feel" for what the car is doing than in the rear engine car. The front engine car can be driven more aggressively with confidence than the rear engine car.

I have seen the Panoz sports racing cars mentioned as examples of what can be done with the front engine design and I am truly inspired by what they have done but, there are major differences in designing a two seat, fully enclosed bodywork car than a single seat, open wheel formula car....... the sports car has much more enclosed available space within the bodywork to accommodate various design options and systems without adversly affecting the frontal area of the car.

In conclusion, I know that a very fast and fun to drive, front engine, single seat, formula car could be built using the latest thinking in design, components and materials, but, ultimately, I don't think that it would be quite as fast as the latest "state of the art" rear engine formula car. I also think that if such a front engine car were built and raced by a top team, it would NOT finish last against some of the current cars.


Front engine roadster tech

The cost involved would be a product of the specifications. As with many things, something akin to today's oswego/madera super modifieds could be done rather cheaply or something like a single seat, open wheel version of a Panoz sports car would be quite sophisticated and expensive.

To equalize the shortcomings of a FE car, a minimum frontal area spec could be set. This, however, would not address the coefficient of drag (cd) number, which would ultimately be a result of clever design. An example of cd would be comparing an 8inch diameter pizza with an 8inch diameter volleyball. They both have equal square inches of frontal area when facing the air but the vollyball would fly through the air much better (more stability and less drag) because of its spherical shape. Of course this comparison can be reversed by turning the pizza on its edge and flying it like a frissbee. By turning the pizza on edge you have reduced its frontal area so much that it now has the advantage.

The FE fuel storage problem could be minimized by locating two 17.5 gallon fuel cells on either side of the driver, draining equally to minimize handling changes.

As far as handicapping with weight penalties and/or engine equivalencies, I don't believe in that. Write the rule book and let everybody run with the same rules..... less confusion and less arguments.

There is one interesting advantage that the FE car does have and that is that the transmission can be attached either to the engine in front of the driver or attached to the rear axle behind the driver making for a great versatility in setting front to rear weight bias.

I don't think that there is much difference in the potential suspension design or the downforce generating devices such as wings and/or venturi tunnels because both types of cars could be equally equipped. As I originally said, the main difference boils down to packaging efficiency......... advantage RE.

A top team with a well done FE car would soon fiqure out how to outrun an average team with a current RE car, just as they do now!


cost control

The key here would be the rules of the new formula. If serious cost reduction is to be realized, you could not consider using the $million IRL type engines, the $40G X-trac type rear mounted gearbox or the multi jillion dollar computer and wind tunnel developed aero package.

I think a reasonably priced car could be designed using the offset roadster type layout and many available, reasonably priced pieces and systems.

Structurally, the chassis could be built using a basic light tubular space frame and bulkheads with molded carbon fiber stress panels attached for increased stiffness and energy absorbing crash protection. This type of construction has been used successfully by Riley and Scott on most of theirTransAm, WSC and GrandAm sports cars.


Chassis design and materials

I have made a living designing and building racing cars for over forty years and I have extensive experience in design and construction of various types of chassis structures including the "definitive stress path" construction of the tubular space frame and the "infinite stress path" construction of the metal and composite monocoque.       The strength and rigidity of your vehicle is dependent on the design , not on the material. The application of higher grade material will only enhance the quality of the design . It will not transform a bad design into a good design.

 I work with carbon fiber every day, I know what it is and I know what it isn't. I know what it can do and what it can't do. Carbon Fiber is "a" wonderful material, I like using it and I like the results I get with it, but,contrary to what the indy car elitists think, it is not "the" material that will replace all other materials. The two appealing qualities of carbon fiber are its light weight and its modulus strength (stiffness) but it fails catastrophically when it exceeds its stress limit.

 All those guys who think they are impervious to injury because they are encased in an "indestructable" carbon fiber tub need to take a look at the Stan Fox crash ( the purest example of luck, I have ever seen) or the Zanardi crash. The main structure of those cars snaped like matchsticks!!!!!!!!

  Contrary to what most of you guys believe, I do not think that the carbon fiber tub is designed to fail in a crash. Nothing makes me more nervous than to examine a crashed car and find that the main chassis structure surrounding the driver, rather its tubular steel or composite monocoque, has failed and/ or collapsed in towards him/her.

My main concern when deisgning a car is chassis rigidity and lightweight, not safety. Over the years, we have given the drivers roll cages, fuel cells, form fitted seats and cockpits, the finest helmets, firesuits and harnesses in the history of the world. What else do these guys expect???  If I can add structure which enhances the performance of the car and, also, adds to the driver protection., then its fine by me.

  While the tubular space frame and the metal or composite monocoque main chassis structure each has its own strong points and vulnerabilities, I doubt that there is much difference in the ultimate protective qualities and capabilities of each type of structure. In fact, a steel space frame is much more capable sustaining a secondary crash than the composite monocoque, such as when a car hits an outside wall and caroms down the track into an inside wall or when a car hits a wall and bounces back into the path of another car.


how fast would it go???

Posted on June 17, 2009 at 12:34 PM Comments comments (13)

  Site member, "50s sitcom dad", asked a question about how fast an Indy roadster would go with some of today's technical advances, such as modern tires. The answer is "I don't know".


For a little historical prospective, let's look at how fast they ran "back in the day".

1962 was the last year that the standard OFFY roadsters ran the 7"X18" rear wheels and the 6"x16" front wheels. The fastest roadster qualifier was 150.370.

1963 was the first year that a number of the OFFY roadsters switched to the 8"x15" rear wheels and the 6"x15"front wheels with the wider, lower profile tires. The fastest roadster qualifier was 151.153.

1965 was the last year that a standard OFFY roadster qualified for the INDY 500. The fastest standard roadster qualifier was155.501 compared to the pole position qualifier at 161.233

1966 was the final appearance of the classic Indy roadster with a twist. The last roadster was equipped with a turbocharged OFFY. It qualified at 158.367 compared to the pole speed of 165.849.

The early 60s 255 CI OFFY put out approx 350/375 HP at 6500 RPM.

The 1966 168 CI turbo OFFY put out approx 575/600 HP at 9000 RPM.


If I had a standard Watson roadster with a 255 OFFY and a couple of days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to see how fast it would go with modern pieces, I would work on the following three areas:

Tires- I would mount up a set of current Indy radial tires on 14"x15" rear wheels and 10"x15" front wheels. I have a feeling that the roadster would not like the current Speedway radials so I would, also, have a set of pavement "Silver Crown" style, bias ply tires on 14"x15" rear wheels and 10"x15"front wheels. I believe that current bias ply, SC tires would greatly improve the ride quality and cornering capability of the car.

Shock Absorbers- The current multi adjustable, gas pressure shocks are so far superior to the old 50s/60s Monroes, that they would probably help the handling of the car, at least, as much as the new tires.

Aero- The third thing I would do is add a small spoiler across the underside of the nose. It has been my observation that as the roadsters run down the straightaway, the front of the car lifts due to air "packing" under the curved bottom surface of the nose. The front end "lift" would, actually, cause the steering to be so vague that the drivers had to brake early to settle the front tires down to the ground. The front spoiler should divert the high pressure air from under the nose. Hopefully, the front spoiler doesn't cause a rear end lift, which would require a small "ducktail" spoiler across the rear edge of the tail.

At the end of the day, I think I would have gained, maybe, 5 to 10 MPH in average speed. Kind of disappointing, but on further analysis I think the problem would be that the improved cornering power of the new tires would be countered by the additional straightaway aero drag of the much larger frontal area of the new tires. My 350 HP engine just isn't good enough to take advantage of the new tires... faster in the corners, slower on the straights.


For my second day of running, I have installed a late 70s, 625 HP, turbocharged DGS OFFY engine. By nearly doubling the HP, I now have enough power for better acceleration and top speed on the straightaways to take advantage of my better tires, shocks and steering. I believe I would gain another 5 to 10 MPH average speed with the increased HP.

I believe we would end up in the 175 to 180 MPH range.

mac miller in INDY

The greatest Time in INDY History!

Posted on April 9, 2009 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (2)

  The greatest 10 year span at the INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY was from 1957 through 1967.

Not only was this the greatest group of drivers in history, including Jones, Clark, the real Foyt, the real andretti, the real Unsers, Gurney, nascar drivers, sports car drivers, sprint car drivers, euros etc, etc, but also the greatest and most interesting cars, including the mid 50s Kurtis Novis, the late 50s/early 60s Kurtis 500G and Watson roadsters, the Epperly "laydowns", "the Cooper", the Lotus/Fords, Lolas, anything from Mickey Thompson, the giant early 60s Kurtis Novis, the beautiful '66 Eagles, and the very clever '67 STP turbine.....


In addition to the great cars and drivers from '57 through '67,there were also more interesting car builders, mechanics, car owners and sponsors "per square inch" than any other time in history...


Car builders Kurtis, Watson, "Lugie", Meskowski, Kuzma, Salih, Trevis, Ewing, Halibrand, Gerhardt, Gurney, Chapman, Broadley, Brabham, Thompson, Epperly, etc.


Owners like Hopkins, Dean, Chapman, Bignotti, Root, Zink, Granatelli, Demler, Gerhardt, Bowes, Wilke, Watson, Agajanian, Robbins, Porter, Yunick, Thompson, Vatis, Gurney, Mecom, Van Liew, Walther, etc. etc................ sponsors like Dean Van Lines, Bowes Seal Fast, Sumar, Dayton Steel Foundry, Bardahl, D-A Lubricants, Leader Cards, Bryant Heating and Cooling, American Red Ball Van Lines, Federal Engineering, Travelon, Belond, Konstant Hot, Wynn's, STP, etc. etc.


It was the greatest technical period in INDY CAR history, OFFY vs Ford vs NOVI vs turbine, race engines vs stock blocks, turbos and superchargers vs normally aspirated, Americans vs euros, front engine vs rear engine, Firestone vs Goodyear vs Dunlop vs Sears Allstate, 2 wheel drive vs 4 wheel drive, tube frame vs monocoque, etc, etc.


   Ward, Sachs, Bryan, Hanks, the Rathmanns, Marshman, Hurtubise, Ruby, Bettenhausen, Elisian, "Caveman" Christie, Branson, O'Conner and on and on.


  They even had the best paint jobs back then with all of the pearl and candy colors, the classic scallops and the great gold and silver leaf trim from guys like Dean Jeffries and George Gruber


  But the best part of it all was that almost all of the cars were

called "Specials", because they were!


1957 through 1967 had it all!!!!!!!!

vintage Indy roadsters!

Posted on April 8, 2009 at 5:19 PM Comments comments (4)
There is, currently, an ongoing discussion among collectors, builders and historians concerning the identification and classification of vintage racing cars. This discussion sometimes has gotten rather "heated" among the "real" owners and the replica car owners & builders. 

 I am a builder of "replica" racecars, including Indy roadsters. I have, also, been involved in the restoration and maintanance of many real vintage race cars, including Indy roadsters, so I have a good knowledge of the nature of the business from both perspectives.

While this article is written in response to the dealings I have had with the Indy roadster collectors and builders, it, certainly, applies to the hundreds of sprint, midget and early "speedway" cars that run in vintage events throughout the country. 

 I am in full agreement that all vintage race cars should be correctly identified and classified.


   Reproductions and replicas are welcome at most "meets" including Milwaukee, Loudon, California, Texas and Darlington. I don't think that I would take a replica to Monterey or Pebble Beach.


 There are three distinct types of vintage race cars. Here is the way I define them for my purpose



 #1. Original Cars and "real cars"

Top of the line is the "original", unmolested car, equipped with its complete original frame, complete original bodywork and its originally installed engine, restored and  presented in its original paint in "as raced" condition and preparation. These cars are fully documented from builder to current owner.

  Also in this category are the many "real" cars that still exist. These cars are displayed, run and represented as the real car as identified by their paint job and other exclusive features of the original car. These cars range from 100% real, original cars down to real cars that were mutilated into supermodifieds in their later lives. These "supers" were identified and salvaged by collectors and restored to their original configuration. Much of these cars has been lost, destroyed and mutilated beyond repair.

 Some of these cars contain no more than 25% of the original car that they represent. Many of these "real" roadsters were salvaged supermodifieds with original frames so cut up and modified that new frames are required. Most "real" owners get the new frame builder to incorporate, at least, a few pieces of the original frame tubing to legitimize their claim to the "real" car.

 Most all of the "real" roadsters are restored with new fiberglass and/or aluminum bodywork. Much of the original bodywork is missing, hacked up, modified and/or damaged beyond repair. I have, personally, built over 40 new sets of Watson roadster bodywork over the past 15 years, some for replicas, some for the restoration of "real" cars and some for A J Watson, himself.

  Many of the "real" roadsters, especially the salvaged super modifieds, were acquired minus their OFFY engines. While virtually all of the "real" cars have OFFY engines, the origin and linage of these engines can be rather vague. Some "real" cars have their original "real" engine, some have a "real" engine and some have engines that were assembled from miscellaneous spare parts. Historian, Gordon White, has good records of which serial number OFFY engine was purchased by which car owner for installation in which car.

 Most "real" car owners have full documentation and photo presentations of the history of their cars to back up their claim to ownership of the real car.

   In my opinion, for a "real" owner to claim a "real" car, the car should, at minimum, have its original frame, original bodywork and original engine.

  These "real" cars can be some of the most misrepresented cars in the vintage business.  Most are over restored, far beyond their originally "as raced" condition. Some of these "real" cars are very close to recreations or reproductions.  I would suggest that each of these "real" cars be evaluated and assigned a "percentage of reality" rating but I doubt that many of the "real" car owners would cooperate in a "reality evaluation" of their cars.



#2. Recreations and Reproductions

  Known, newly constructed cars built, as close as possible, to represent an original existing or "no longer existing" real car. These cars feature new frames and bodywork and original period engine, driveline and suspension, steering, brakes, wheels & tires. Having some part or parts that were actually used on the "real" car adds a few "points", I suppose.  Original style paintwork and upholstery are also featured

 An odd little "continuation of production" classification is part of the "recreation and reproduction" group.  A.J. Watson is the only open wheel guy left, who could claim "continuation of production", but I've never heard him use the term. I have heard comments by some of the "real" owners that the cars A.J. has built in the last 20 years are not real Watson roadsters but I'm not gonna be the guy who tells A.J, to his face....



  #3. Replicas and "Tribute Cars"

 "Replicas" are newly constructed cars using the style, shapes and design of an original type of car, but, using non original components and systems such as suspension, brakes ,engine and drive line. The various engines, transmissions, rear axles, brakes, etc. are selected because of availability, costs and convenience. Replicas are usually painted in the owner/builder's favorite colors and schemes. Replicas can range from a rather basic assemblage of salvage parts and materials to top quality, pro built cars. At meets, where they actually run the cars on the track, replicas feature good reliability, low operational cost and fun, worry-free driving, without the constant concern of damaging incredibly expensive and/or irreplacable original old cars and engines.

"Tribute cars" is a new term, for vintage style replica cars, to describe a car that pays homage to an existing or "no longer existing" real car, by using the original paint job and as many of the unique features of the original car as is possible or practical. I guess, the recreations/ reproductions are the ultimate tribute cars but many tribute cars are replicas using only the original paint job.

    One final term, that is used frequently in vintage racing, is the word,”copy”, such as “Watson roadster copy” and “Kurtis midget copy”. I have heard the word, “copy” used, at some point, to describe almost all recreation vintage cars and, even, many replicas.

    For my purpose, the definition of the word,“copy” is a race car that was built, in the same time period as the original car, by a builder, other than the original designer/builder, using the exact design, shapes and features of the original car, with the intent of competing against the original car in actual competition.

    Probably the best examples of the word,“copy”, are “Trevis built Watson roadster copies” and “Ewing built Watson roadster copies. There were also many Kurtis midget copies competing with the original Kurtis cars throughout the midget era.

   While I understand the common use of the word,”copy”, in vintage racing , I prefer the words, recreation and replica. 


A couple of comments in conclusion.

* A rule, that I observe in my shop, is that I never use any real vintage parts when building a replica. Any real vintage parts should be reserved for real restoration.

* I also never represent any cars or parts as anything more than they are.

  I thank my lucky stars, everyday, for the guys, who go far beyond reason to rescue these incredibly valuble historic cars and, at great personal expense, put them on the track for all of us to enjoy.  I also thank my lucky stars for the wonderful artisans and craftsmen who help to rebuild and restore the original cars and, can, also take a pile of tubing and a roll of fiberglass and build a brand new piece of vintage style, automotive art. 


 mac miller in Indy