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the NOVI roadsters

Posted on August 22, 2009 at 12:08 AM

the NOVI V8 roadsters

By the mid 50s, the late 40s era Kurtis front drive NOVI chassis were getting well beyond their useful competitive life. Top car builder of the day, Frank Kurtis, had been hounding NOVI owner, Lew Welch to buy some new rear wheel drive roadster chassis to run the NOVI engine. Welch finally made the move for the 1956 Indy 500 by ordering two new, specially built, Kurtis roadsters.

   The Kurtis 500F NOVI was handsome, wide and stout featuring a very sporty tail fin. Between 1956 and 1960, these two cars raced with little success but great excitement.

500F #389-56 made the Indy field in 1956(Russo), 1957(Russo) and 1958(Russo) but failed to qualify in 1959 and 1960.

500F #390-56 made the Indy field in 1957(Bettenhausen) and 1958(Cheesbourg) but failed to qualify in 1956, 1959 and 1960.

500F #390 was used in the special Monza, Italy race in 1957(Bettenhausen). This car holds the all qualifying record at the Monza high banks of 176.8 MPH.

In 1960, with his businesses failing, Lew Welch sold the NOVI engines and cars to Andy Granatelli for what was reported to be $10,000. The sale included three NOVI engines, the two 500F chassis and an inventory of spare parts.

 500F #389-56 failed to qualify at Indy in 1961 and 1962 but made one final appearance in the 1963 "500"(Malone), sporting the biggest tail fin ever to appear at Indy. This car is currently on display in the Talledega museum

 500F #390-56 was never used by Granatelli and seemed to disappear from the face of the earth after 1960.

Before the 1962 "500", Granatelli commissioned two new roadsters from Kurtis.

 The Kurtis 500K NOVI, based on the OFFY powered 500J, was a big brute of a car with great "lines". The 500K engines were set 7" further back and with more left side offset than the 500F for better traction and tire wear.  

  The NOVIs sounded better than ever, were being driven by the bravest drivers at the track, B. Unser & J. Hurtubise, had moments of blinding speed and generated more hype than ever before, but between 1962 and 1965, the two 500Ks scored only one top 20 finish.

 Chassis #500K-124-62 failed to qualify in 1962 but made the 500 field in '63(Hurtubise), '64(Malone) and '65(Hutubise).  This car is currently in the IMS museum basement.

 Chassis #500K-125-62 also failed to qualify in '62 but made the race in '63(B.Unser) and '64(McElreath).

This car is currently located at the Unser Museum in New Mexico .

  These cars, also, made a rare appearance, away from the Indianapolis Speedway, at Atlanta in 1965, driven by Hurtubise and Tinglestad

In 1964, Granatelli turned his attention and focus on a new chassis for the NOVI engine.

  I'm not sure if this car can be called a "roadster" because it had four wheel drive and independent suspension, but it was front engine and had an offset driver so I'm gonna include it as a NOVI roadster.

Granatelli commissioned the British Ferguson Co. to design and build the new chassis with a four wheel drive system and four wheel independent suspension called the Ferguson P104. It was to be driven by Bob Unser.

    The car was much heavier than anticipated but Unser qualified it for the '64 race. Unfortunately, the car was knocked out in the second lap crash.

 For the 1965 race, the Granatellis built a car, similar to the Ferguson, in their own California shop. This car was considerably lighter weight and faster than the "Fergie".

 Again, unfortunately, the new car was damaged in a practice crash and the '64 Ferguson had to be brought back for qualifications. Unser qualified the "Fergie" for the '65 race but retired early with mechanical failure.

     The "lightweight" Granatelli built car was repaired and brought back for the 1966 "500", as a single car entry, to be driven by Greg Weld.

  Greg crashed the car during practice on the final day of qualifying and the long NOVI history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to a final grinding halt against the North shute concrete.

   The Ferguson built car is on display at the Novi, Mich. museum, but the Granatelli built car has disappeared.

The NOVIs were a glorious technical disappointment but for 25 years these big, loud, exciting beasts brought legions of fans to the Indy 500 just to see and hear them run, so how can anyone call them a failure.

I thank my lucky stars that I had the thrill of seeing them and, especially, hearing them.

Hear the sound of the NOVI at the following quick link:

See pix of the cars discussed in this blog at the following quick link:

mac miller in INDY

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