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Blog

The Firestone Test Cars....The fastest roadsters, never raced

Posted on October 17, 2009 at 2:01 PM

This blog was much harder to research than I expected. There are "bits and pieces" of information from many different sources... much of it conflicting.

  From studying history books, media articles "from the day", old photos and talking to a few remaining guys, who were actually there, I think I, now, have it correctly sorted out .

  Another problem is that there are not many good pix of these cars. I have posted what photos, I have, in an album, titled "Firestone Test Cars" in the Photo Gallery.

  One good thing about an internet blog is that I can revise and add information as I discover it . I am also looking for more pictures of these cars for the photo album. If any of you have any further info, corrections, comments or photos, please, let me know.

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  In the summer of 1952, the AAA Contest Board came up with a new engine rule that allowed stock block engines to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 335 C.I. The "race" engine displacement was set at 274 C.I. The OFFY engine was actually 270 C.I.


Test car one-- Kurtis KK500A #355-52 - Chrysler

Chrysler installed one of their 331 C.I. "LeMans proven" Hemi engines in Roger Wolcott's new Kurtis 500A roadster chassis and Firestone sponsored a track test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Oct. of 1952. This car ran almost 1500 miles, including a simulated 500 mile race at speed almost 4 MPH faster than the official 500 mile record. After panic from the OFFY engine owners, AAA lowered the C.I. for the Chrysler engine to the same 274 C.I. limit as the OFFY, for the 1953 race. Wolcott decided to install the smaller Hemi and give it a try, but the Chrysler engine advantage was neutralized by the smaller displacement limit.


A couple of more comments on the Wolcott roadster:

* Even though this car was not a Firestone owned car or an official test car, it did set the precedent for the Firestone test cars that followed.

* Even though the Wolcott KK500A was a roadster chassis, the V8 could not be offset to the left, consequently, the driveshaft ran between the drivers legs forcing the driver to sit higher than normal. .

* With the big, heavy V8 and no left side weight distribution, I have to wonder just how valid the tire testing info was to Firestone. .... On the other hand, at the time these first tests were run, Firestone thought that this new car/engine combination was going to be the winning setup for Indy... at least, until the AAA contest board shot it down.

* This car currently belongs to Joe Freeman and is restored to its 1953 Indy livery, light blue #25. It appears at some of the larger vintage meets around the country,


Test car two-- Kurtis KK500C #379-54 - Chrysler

Firestone really liked the idea of testing at speeds beyond normal, to build additional safety margin into their tires. Since Wolcott's car, now with the smaller engine, was no longer capable of the higher speeds, Firestone bought their own test car, equipped with the outlawed 331 Hemi engine.

  Their new car was the KK500C model. It used a modified tubular space frame so that the V8 and driveline could be offset to the left of the driver in true roadster fashion. It also used the more streamlined 500C bodywork.

  The car was operated by Firestone's own test team, headed by Ray Nichels. One of its first outings, in June 1954, was at Chrysler's new Chelsea Proving Grounds where it set a new closed course record by lapping the high bank test track at over 182 MPH.

  It ran thousands of miles at Indy and, also, did tire testing duty at Monza, Italy in preparation for the 1957 "Race of Two Worlds", with speeds in excess of 168 MPH.

 This car is, currently, sitting, unrestored, in the basement of the Indianapolis Speedway Museum.


Test car three-- Kurtis SPL 3-58 - Pontiac

  For 1958, Firestone bought another new test car. This car was not a modified OFFY chassis but a specially built Kurtis roadster, just for Firestone. It was equipped with a, Ray Nichels built, 485 HP Pontiac V8.

  This car was used to test tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Monza, Italy and the new Daytona International Speedway, at over 170 MPH, in preparation for the 1959 Daytona Indy car race.

  Some of the drivers who did thousands of miles of tire test duty in this car were Pat O'Conner, Paul Goldsmith, Jim Rathmann and Roger Ward. 


But wait!........there's more!


    This car had a second life. In 1961, Bill France posted a 10,000 dollar prize for the first 180 MPH lap at his new Daytona International Speedway.

   The Firestone car, minus the Pontiac engine, had been acquired by, nascar mechanic, Bob Osiecki. He decided to go for France's money by installing a 460 C.I, supercharged version of the Chrysler "413" wedge engine.

   Remembering the 1959 fatal crash of Marshall Teague in the Sumar Streamliner, Osiecki, also, installed large inverted airfoils on either side of the cockpit to keep the thing on the ground. He finished it off with a large tail fin and called it the "Mad Dog IV".

    After a wild summer of record attempts, finally, on August 28, 1961, driver Art Malone and the "Mad Dog IV", picked Bill France's pocket of the 10 thousand dollars with a lap of 181.5.

    Some of the other drivers who drove this car for Osiecki included NASCAR stars, Buck Baker, Curtis Turner and Larry Frank.

This car is currently owned by Don Garlits, for display in the Garlits Museum, in Florida.

  I have placed what pix, I have, of these cars in a new album titled "Firestone Test Cars" in the "Photo Gallery"

  Check it out at:http:     http://indyroadsters.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=7276997


             mac miller in INDY

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2 Comments

Reply dominic giuffre
9:55 AM on September 17, 2016 
any info on the goodyear tire test cars?
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