Front-engined roadsters were a feature of the Indianapolis 500 from 1921 to 1963. Especially constructed for the 150-plus mph oval track, they attracted the best racing engineers that America had to offer, including Harry Miller, Fred Offenhauser, Frank Kurtis and A. J. Watson. Few Indy 500 roadsters survive in unmodified form, mainly because of the nature of racing, as cars are altered and upgraded over the course of many seasons—or simply irreparably damaged. As such, an unmodified car, with full history and celebrity ownership, seldom comes to market.

The preeminent automotive journalist Brock Yates researched this car in detail. It is one of two built in 1960–61 by Edgar Elder in El Monte, CA. The car was commissioned by Ray Crawford, a Pasadena supermarket owner. For 1961, Elder built two new cars, with Offenhauser/Meyer Drake engines and considerable use of titanium, including front spindles, front axle, front and rear hubs, torsion arms, Watts linkage, and knockoff hubs. With Offy engine #212, this car was delivered to Crawford in 1961, painted in yellow and black for McCullough chain saw sponsorship and sent to Indy as number 94. But driver Cliff Griffith could not qualify. It reappeared at Milwaukee on June 4, 1961 at a 100-mile USAC race, where it was driven by Bill Cheesbourg, finished 13th and then won the 20-lap consolation event. Owner Crawford drove it at the Phoenix one-mile dirt oval on November 19, but he crashed.

For 1962, the car was repainted red as the number 96 “Meguiar’s Mirror-Glaze Special” and returned to Indy. Crawford failed to qualify, so Bob Veith took over the car and started in 19th place. But a cam drive failed on lap 14 and the car was retired. Entered in 1963 as the number 47 McCullough Special, it qualified at 147.62 mph but was bumped from the field. This was the car’s last appearance at Indy.

Back at Milwaukee on June 9, Michigan veteran Al Miller qualified 11th and brushed the wall. The car went back to Elder’s shop for repairs, then Bill Cantrell drove it in the Sacramento 100-mile dirt race, finishing 14th. Crawford made one last attempt at Phoenix in November.

At this point the car spent about six years in a glass case outside of one of Crawford’s supermarkets, minus its engine. Offered for sale in a classified ad for $6,500,it passed through several collectors until 1977, when it wound up with Mel Barlow. Barlow had bought Offy #174 and the engine was installed in the restored Elder-Crawford car.

In the summer of 1981, Barlow’s friend Bill Cox fired it up for a blast down an airstrip. It was then parked for 23 years in Barlow’s collection until Brock Yates bought it in 2004. The Elder-Crawford roadster was turned over to noted restorer Joe Fiore of Southbury, CT, and re-commissioned in its number 96 red Meguiar’s livery.

All told, the Mirror Glaze Special was driven by nine Indy 500 drivers, has complete provenance and retains its unique titanium parts and a correct Offy motor. Best of all, it was never butchered or modified and can claim genuine Indy history for three consecutive years.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1961 Elder-Crawford Indy Roadster
Years Produced:1961
Number Produced:2
Original List Price:unknown
SCM Valuation:150,000-400,000
Chassis Number Location:N/A
Engine Number Location:N/A
Club Info:Historic Champ/Indy Association
Alternatives:Indianapolis 500 Roadsters from the 1950s and early 1960s, such as Kurtis 500s, Watson Indy Cars and Epperly Specials

This car, Lot 183, sold for $181,500, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Amelia Island auction, March 12, 2011.

Somewhere in their time in the hobby, all serious vintage racing car enthusiasts need to spend some time with a classic Indy Roadster. Roadsters are a curious combination of almost agricultural concepts and extremely sophisticated execution.

The basic design of the late cars is longer and lower, but past that Indy Roadsters were almost unchanged from what Wilbur Shaw drove before the great war: A tubular box frame with a beam front axle and a spool live rear axle with a monster 4-cylinder Offenhauser engine driving through a two-speed gearbox.

The offset engine came along in the 1950s, and it moved the engine to the left side of the chassis to counter the centrifugal weight shift in a car that always turns the same way. Streamlining moved the driver down out of the wind, but in a racing world that by 1960 had mid-engined Grand Prix cars, these things appear mind-numbingly simple. The devil is in the details, though, and if you look carefully there is some very careful engineering to optimize the cars to do one thing well: drive very fast around a smooth, banked 2.5-mile oval for 500 miles once a year.

Shake, quake and bake

In all of vintage and historic racing I don’t think that there is a more intimidating experience than driving a classic Indy Roadster at speed. The seating position is generally terrible; you are folded into the right side of the cockpit with a transmission and drive shaft at your left side, a truck steering wheel in your lap and immense rear wheels looming behind your shoulders. The engine is a fearful thing, 255 cubic inches of thundering, methanol-drinking, heat-generating horsepower about four inches from your ankles.

And these things shake—not vibrate—shake. The technically minded among you know that in-line 4- cylinder engines have an inherent vibration component, and that two liters is pretty much as big as you can get without modern balance shafts to make them smooth, two and a half even with them. The Offy is a 4.2-liter four without anything, and it is hard-mounted into the chassis to boot. It’s hard to even focus your eyes when an Offy is on song; it shakes that bad.

Lets sum it up: You’re uncomfortable, you’ve got over 400 horsepower in a maybe 1,500-pound car, the noise is deafening, the heat overwhelming, the steering heavy and the suspension almost nonexistent. Now try driving a 145 mph lap (or 200 of them) at Indy. Oh, yeah, they also sometimes drove these things on one-mile dirt ovals as well; we’re talking serious masculinity here.

Iconic monsters from another age

Indy Roadsters are dinosaurs from a time when real men drove all-American racing cars and drank a slug of milk when they won—none of this sissy spraying champagne stuff. They are a reflection of America in the 1950s: big, brash, self-confident, and insular, muscular rather than sophisticated—and perfectly happy to stay with what worked rather than question the assumptions. They’re about as iconic as it’s possible to get, and they’re nostalgic symbols of that heady, simple time after we’d almost singlehandedly won the big war and before the complexities of a globalized world ruined the buzz.

As such, classic Indy Roadsters are extremely collectible cars. They appeal equally to Walter Mitty dentists from Fort Wayne and big-time collectors.

The problem is that, as you’ve probably figured out from what I’ve already said, they are very difficult and demanding to actually drive. There is an association and a number of events every year where the Roadsters can go and run moderately sedate laps, but in the real world almost none of them ever get driven.

They are owned and traded as static displays, glittering artifacts to complement a collection. The lack of effective usability limits the value of cars like this, with the primary determinants being name, history, and completeness. All Indy Roadsters were built by tiny shops in limited numbers, but names like Watson and Kurtis carry more cachet than one- or two-off specials. Similarly, big-name drivers and podium histories make cars much more valuable than ones that filled out the grids.

Our subject car sold at the bottom of the normal range for Indy Roadsters, and I would suggest it was for all the right reasons. It is certainly handsome and beautifully presented (looking at the photographs, I’d guess it was never even started, much less driven, since the restoration), but the constructor is an unknown and it never had any success in its day, so there’s no history or particular iconography involved.

The Elder-Crawford is sort of your base-model Indy Roadster; it had all the essentials but none of the extras that might excite the bidding. I’d say it was appropriately bought and sold, and is an excellent component of a good collection.

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