Courtesy of Worldwide Auctioneers
  • Aerodynamic design conceived for two-time Indy 500 Winner Bill Vukovich
  • Built by legendary Indy car builder Quin Epperly for the 1955 Indy 500
  • Powered by an Offenhauser twin OHC fuel-injected engine

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1955 Quin Epperly “Fuel Injection Special” Indy 500 Streamliner
Years Produced:1955
Number Produced:One
SCM Valuation:$385,000 (this car)
Chassis Number Location:Unknown
Engine Number Location:Tag on right cam cover
Club Info:Historic Champ/Indy Car Association
Alternatives:1953–60 Indy roadsters built by various manufacturers
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 33, sold for $385,000, including buyer’s premium, at Worldwide Auctioneers’ Auburn, IN, sale on August 30, 2019.

The first rule of collecting is “buy things that you can afford to own because owning them makes you happy.” This deceptively simple adage contains a wealth of subtexts, first and foremost being that the fact you can afford it means there are no economic pressures affecting your decision to keep it for a year or a lifetime.

That your purchase should make you happy is obvious, but that adage also implies that whatever the item is, it holds some fundamental and essential value: If owning a car makes you feel good, presumably it will also make others feel the same way.

When, a year or a lifetime down the road, it comes time to part company with it, there will be another party who sees its attributes and can afford to buy it. This is the basis of enduring value — somebody else will want it.

The basic value centers for a collector car are well established: joy in driving it, beauty, rarity, history and historical importance, and something less tangible — the human stories that are attached to it. Stories are immensely important because they can provide an emotional attachment between a human owner and an inanimate object — a portal to the glory, triumph, tragedy and accomplishment that the object represents.

Strength in story

Our subject car, the Quin Epperly “Fuel Injection Special,” is an excellent example that’s strong in some areas while weak in others.

It’s unquestionably voluptuous and beautiful, but it never turned a wheel in competition and had little or no impact on Indy car development. I don’t know that it has ever moved under its own power. On the other hand, lord, is there a great story that surrounds it.

Let’s start by introducing some of the people who were involved. Howard Keck was a wealthy sportsman, heir to the California Superior Oil Company, philanthropist, horse-racing enthusiast, and racing-car sponsor. He was the money and organization behind things. Quin Epperly was a gifted fabricator and automobile-body constructor. He moved to California during the war and got involved with racing when he went to work for Frank Kurtis, building aluminum bodywork. By the mid-1950s, he had gone off on his own, working with Jim Travers and Frank Coons (later known as “Traco Engineering”) to build some of the most innovative and successful Indy racers of the decade.

Bill Vukovich was a California sprint-car driver who had become a larger-than-life legend, emerging from the Midget-car world to become a dominant force at Indianapolis by 1954. Howard Keck had brought him to Indy, and after a difficult 1951 race and a disappointing 1952 mechanical DNF, he emerged as the man to beat, driving a Kurtis-Kraft 500 named the “Fuel Injection Special.” He easily won the 1953 and 1954 Indianapolis 500 races, leading virtually the entire distance.

Keck was determined to put “Vucky” in the winner’s circle for 1955, too. He commissioned Epperly, Travers, and Coons to create the most advanced Indy racer ever built.

Svelte design, never used

As far as I can tell, the car underneath the bodywork is pretty much standard 1955 Indy Roadster. Offsetting the engine to the left with the driveshaft passing beside the driver was common practice by then, and I have no evidence that the suspension or drivetrain were unusual.

The bodywork, on the other hand, was spectacular. Epperly designed and built a full-envelope body that was intended to massively improve high-speed drag and thus give the car an “unfair advantage.” He even incorporated an adjustable elevator on the back, presumably to counteract lift at speed. It was a glorious and audacious concept. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready to race in time, so Keck arranged for Vukovich to drive a standard Kurtis 500 in the race.

The 1955 race was a catastrophe. Enjoying a 17-second lead in 1st place and dealing with lap traffic, Vukovich ran out of luck. A three-car chain-reaction crash ahead of him proved unavoidable. His car flew off the track and he was killed instantly. Keck was so distraught by Vucky’s death that he withdrew from auto racing.

Epperly finished the car anyway and delivered it to Keck, but it was put away, never to turn a wheel in competition.

Unrealized potential

There are suggestions that organizers wanted it to run in the 1956 race, but nothing ever came of it, so we will never know if this car would have been a tipping point in Indy car design or a complete failure.

It is possible that the slippery bodywork would have been an advantage, but it’s equally possible that the much higher frontal area would have negated the lower drag. Would aerodynamic lift, the bane of cars 10 years later, have made the car unstable at racing speeds? It’s all conjecture.

What we do know is that an effectively brand-new, never-raced 63-year-old Indy car with slippery bodywork and a compelling story was offered for sale and bought at auction. It had been privately offered for some time before the auction with no success, but I don’t know whether price or market exposure were factors in it not having sold.

Values for ’50s Indy cars generally range from $250,000 to $600,000 and up, with originality, sponsorship (color scheme), history, and famous drivers being the primary variables.

This car never actually ran, but it is real and has a great story to tell. Between the beauty and emotional attachments of the story, it has a real value within the admittedly small group of classic-Indy-car collectors.

I doubt that this car will ever be worth much more than now, but its uniqueness makes it likely to carry value well into the future. It sold in the middle of the value range and should make its new owner happy to have it. As such, it was fairly bought and sold. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Worldwide Auctioneers.)

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