1960 Watson Indy Roadster
255 cu. in. dual overhead camshaft Offenhauser
four-cylinder engine with fuel-injection, Meyer-Drake two-speed transmission with reverse, tubular steel chassis with solid axles and torsion bar suspension, and Halibrand four-wheel disc brakes.
The Watson roadster played a major role in the golden period of American racing known as “the Roadster Era". Characterized by lower, wider, offset driveline race cars that began after World War II with the Cummins Diesel Special built by Frank Kurtis in 1952, the roadster was tremendously influential and defined a unique era. The races were exciting and very dangerous with drivers earning their rides at Indy by exhibiting skill, tenacity and bravery driving midgets and sprint cars on rough and tumble tracks from coast to coast. Although the unique chassis and body designs varied from builder to builder, nearly all of these powerful brutes had Offenhauser engines.
As for the Watson Roadster, there were just 23 examples built between 1956 and 1963. All were built in Glendale, California by A.J. Watson.
A.J. began his career by building a track roadster in 1947. He intended to drive the car in CRA Hot Rod races but ultimately became disinterested with driving. His first taste of Indianapolis came in 1948 as a mechanic for an unsuccessful car driven by Manuel Ayulo. For 1950, he entered the “City of Glendale" or "Pots and Pans Special". Driver Dick Rathman made the race but fell out on the 25th lap with engine trouble. Then, after a brief stint on the assembly line at Lockheed Aircraft, Watson returned to racing full time and caught a lucky break when he was hired by John Zink Jr. as chief mechanic in 1954. Success came quickly as Zink's Kurtis KK500C roadster, with Watson modifications, won the 1955 Indianapolis 500, driven by Bob Swiekert.
A.J. built the first true Watson roadster for John Zink in 1956. Recognizing that saving weight would translate into higher speeds, he departed from the basic Kurtis design in Zink's previous car and narrowed the chassis slightly, removing any steel or bracing he considered unnecessary. Instead of placing the Offy powerplant 36 degrees to the right, he mounted it upright for increased left-side weight bias and easier maintenance.
Watson also used lightweight 4130 chromoly tubing wherever practical, magnesium driveline parts and introduced sheet magnesium as a material for body panels. At 1,640 pounds it was 220 pounds lighter than the Kurtis from the previous year. When driver Pat Flaherty handily won the Indy 500, the storied history of the Watson Roadster began.
A total of 22 more roadsters followed. Larry Shinoda of Corvette fame did some design work and some slight refinements were made, but the basic layout remained true to the original design, right through to the last car built in 1963. In fact, Watson roadsters won the Indianapolis 500 six times in just nine years.
The Watson roadster offered here was built in 1960 for Pete Salemi and Nick Rini, business partners from Cleveland, Ohio. For the 1960 Indy 500, veteran Len Sutton drove the S-R Special #9. Pole day found Sutton qualifying a strong fifth although engine trouble forced him out of the race on lap 47. The team ran four other races that year, scoring a win at the Milwaukee 200. Len Sutton was back and posted strong qualifying times prior to the 1961 500. Now sponsored as the “Bryant Heating and Cooling Special" #8, Sutton qualified eighth and ran with the leaders early in the race. Unfortunately, a clutch failure ended his race on lap 110, resulting in a 19th place finish. Nevertheless, Sutton went on to score a second place finish at the 1961 Milwaukee 200.
For the 1962 Indy 500 the Watson returned as the S & R Racing Special #83, with rookie Allen Crowe replacing Len Sutton behind the wheel. Qualifying in 22nd place, Crowe bumped another car while attempting to pass a car in turn four on the 17th lap, sending him into the front straightaway wall and damaging the car. In fact, the wreck ended the racing season for Salemi and Rini and was the last time this particular Watson Roadster ran in competition.
Virtually identical to their old car, Salemi and Rini had Floyd Trevis build them a new car for the following year's Indy 500. Essentially a Watson copy, it is highly likely that the Offy engine, running gear and other usable components from the wrecked 1960 Watson roadster were reused in the new Trevis roadster.
The S & R Watson, however, then faded into oblivion until the summer of 1981 when Mike Fulper found it by chance in Wauseon, Ohio. Stopping at a Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone, he casually asked employees if there were “any old race cars around here". He was startled to find out that the Dairy Queen's owner had one sitting right next door! As the garage door opened, Fulper could not believe his eyes. It was the S-R Special, showing the scars of Allen Crowe's crash and looking much like it did when it left Trevis' shop with much of its 1962 race-day paint intact. A deal was quickly made for its purchase, as several gentlemen from Michigan were also interested in the car, intending to turn it into a Supermodified.
Bud Miller and Bill Chapin subsequently purchased the Watson from Fulper and took the car to the Youngstown Ohio race car shop of Floyd Trevis for restoration. Floyd was a well-respected craftsman whose car building resume included six Indy roadsters of his own. Working with his son Ron, Floyd spent two years on the restoration. Originality was paramount and was guided by Floyd's knowledge and craftsmanship and supplemented by careful examination of period photos of the car. The 1961 Bryant Heating and Cooling Special livery was chosen for its striking blue color. Chapin ultimately became the car's sole owner as he bought out Bud Miller's interest.
In 1992 the Indianapolis Speedway invited seven privately owned Indy roadsters, including Chapin's newly restored Watson, to join four roadsters from the Speedway Museum in taking a few parade laps just prior to that year's 500. Fittingly, Chapin asked Len Sutton to drive his old mount for a sentimental trip around the track. Thereafter, Joe MacPherson acquired the car and, prior to the completion of Joe's Garage, loaned the Watson to the N.H.R.A. Museum for display.
As offered today, the car remains in wonderful condition and is extremely period correct - a testament to the restorers' attention to detail and perfectionism. Complementing its rarity, the fact that it was never converted into a Supermodified adds greatly to its stature among other restored Watson roadsters and contributes to its remarkable history.
Please note that this lot is being sold on a Bill of Sale Only.