|Number Produced:||approx. 50|
|Original List Price:||$150,000|
|Tune Up Cost:||Cost per hour to race: $5,000|
|Chassis Number Location:||inside of cockpit|
|Engine Number Location:||center top of bellhousing|
|Club Info:||Historic Sportscar Racing, 257 Dekalb Industrial Way, Decatur, GA 30030|
|Alternatives:||1987 Lola Indy race car, 1970-82 March F1 race car|
This 87C “Kraco” Indy Race Car sold for $57,200 at RM’s Amelia Island auction, held March 12, 2005
Let’s talk about what these cars are and are not. What they are is wicked fast, cheap to buy, and absolutely stunning sitting in your garage. What they are not is comfortable to drive, economical to run and maintain, or easy to sell when you’re done playing with them.
Wicked fast is a given. With a turbocharged V8 making about 750 horsepower, a sophisticated suspension, huge brakes, and serious downforce, this is as quick a race car as anything you’ll find on a historic racing grid. Cheap to buy is simple: Where else can you spend about 60 grand to go this fast? Nobody can question that the sleek, open-wheel Indy cars of the ’80s don’t look cool either-they’ll draw attention in any collection.
The downside to these cars comes on the other side of the equation. If you’ve ever hung around the pits at Long Beach or spent some time at the Brickyard during the month of May, you may recall that there are always all those little guys riding around on mopeds. Those are the drivers, and it stands to reason that if you’re much bigger than the 5’8″ Michael Andretti, you’re not going to fit in his car.
What’s more, all those little guys tend to be in incredible physical condition, and they are absolutely wrung out at the end of a race. These cars are not at all comfortable or easy to drive, and their level of performance does not allow for an instant of inattention. A bit too much throttle or a jerky line in a corner, particularly on cold tires, and you’re going for a ride, period. If you’re lucky, you won’t hit anything.
Most vintage racers are somewhere between intimidated and scared to death of actually driving a turbocharged Indy car. Though always dangerous, they are really not all that bad once you get the hang of it. As a friend of mine (an ex-professional racer with Indy credentials) told me, “They’re really not any worse to drive than a Porsche 959 or 962.” Read into that what you will.
A few recommendations if you do find yourself behind the wheel of an Indy car. First, make sure that you’re using the smaller, road racing turbochargers. For speedways they use bigger ones with lots of lag followed by a big kick, which is not what you want if you’re learning.
Second, turn down the boost. I’m told you should start at 30 inches of pressure and go up by no more than one inch per event, as you learn to deal with the power.
Third, hire an experienced shop to maintain and support the car for you. These cars were originally designed to be run for a few hours, then get stripped to a bare tub and rebuilt. If you don’t do this, they will break. Trust me when I say you don’t want to be aboard when something breaks.
Fourth, hire a professional driver with CART or F1 experience to set the car up before you drive it. You don’t want the car to bite back while you figure out how to drive it fast.
Of course, this is all going to cost a lot of money. The maxim,”The least expensive thing you’ll ever do is buy the car” applies in spades. Back in the day, the smallest racing team employed about 25 mechanics per car and they all stayed busy on a race weekend. Even if you turn down the boost and limit the revs, the engine will wear out, so expect a $30,000 refresh every 15 hours, which can be a season or a lifetime, depending on how you choose to use the car. For most it’s the latter.
After you’ve gotten tired of seeing your Indy car sitting in your garage, idle because you’ve scared yourself straight or realized that the cost per giggle is awfully high, you’ll have another dilemma in finding a buyer. The good news is that assuming you haven’t used the car up, broken it, or allowed garage rot to kill it, it should be worth what you bought it for.
However, buyers are few and far between, for all the obvious reasons, not to mention the “Where do I run it?” issue. This situation has improved somewhat since HSR and some of the Eastern vintage racing clubs have made room for these more modern Indy cars in their road course grids, plus there are some exhibition events at various ovals every year, so these Indy cars are easier to play with than in the past. But the bottom line is that virtually all of them end up spending their lives sitting static in people’s collections rather than turning hot laps.
Provenance isn’t really much of a factor with ’80s Indy cars, as the era hasn’t passed far enough into our collective memories to develop much mystique. (If you have clothes in your closet that old, you aren’t likely to remember the time with rose-colored glasses.) That the interminable, childish public feuding between IRL and the series-formerly-known-as-CART continues to drive public interest in open wheel racing to new lows doesn’t help.
It’s clear from the price paid here that Michael Andretti’s last name didn’t carry much gravitas with buyers, or at least the new owner of this car didn’t have to pay a premium for it. While that may change some day, $57,000 was market-correct today.
(Descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)