History/News/Commentary from K. Scott Teeters

The Very Rare, Non-Replica Corvette Indy 500 Pace Cars

Dateline: 2.21.12

The Forgotten Corvette Indy 500 Pace Cars

Even if you’re not “into” Indy Car racing, the Indy 500 is a uniquely American special event. Whom ever coined the expression, “The Greatest Spectacle in Motor Sports” got it spot on. In its own unique way, it is the American equivalent of Le Mans. The expression in road racing is this, “You can win at Daytona and America knows about it. But when you win at Le Mans, the whole world knows!” Even though the event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just one race in a series of races and is early on in the season, it might as well be the Super Bowl of American auto racing. When the flag comes down and the winner is declared, every city newspaper,as well as every national and local TV station reports the winner. But if you win say, the Baltimore or Los Angeles Grand Prix, very few outside the arena of motorsports will know. No, there’s only ONE Indy 500.

While pace cars have been used at the Indy 500 since 1911, the tradition of giving the pace car to the winner of the Indy 500 goes back to 1936. Tommy Milton (winner of the 1921 and 1923 races) was invited to drive the official pace car, a Packard 120, and suggested giving the pace car to the race winner. A new tradition was born. As the speeds of the Indy race cars increased, so did the demands of the pace cars. Eventually, the pace cars were specially modified versions of the street machines with enhanced engines, suspensions, and brakes. By the ‘60s, manufacturers began to sometimes offer pace car replicas to their customers. Tracking actual pace cars is a little tricky because manufacturers usually build several pace cars for the actual race and for promotional use that all pretty much look the same.

Yes, Indy 500 pace cars have become a specialty nitch all by themselves. That’s why in 1978 when it was announced by Chevrolet that a special version of the 25th Anniversary Corvette would pace the ‘78 Indy 500 and that replicas would be available, the news ignited the Corvette community, sparking a speculation mania, the likes of which Chevrolet never anticipated. Although a very nice car, for many reasons, the ‘78 Corvette Pace Car never became a hot collectible. Many can be purchased for not a lot of money.

A few years later, the Corvette was drafted back into service for the ‘86 Indy 500. But this time, Chevrolet made sure that there’d be no mania, by making ALL ‘86 Corvette convertibles “Indy 500 Replicas” and included dealer or customer add-on decals. Talk about low-key! Chevrolet didn’t really get serious about the Indy 500 Pace Cars until ‘95 when they offered a full-out pace car replica package. One interesting tidbit about the Corvette Indy Pace Cars is that unlike many of the previous “enhanced” production car-based pace cars, the stock Corvette was more than up to the challenge and only required the mandated safety equipment. A C5 Corvette paced the 500 for the ‘98 race and another pace car replica package was offered.

An optional pace car replica wouldn’t appear again until 2007, but that doesn’t mean that the Indy 500 officials didn’t press the Corvette into service in the mean time. No, no. A Corvette paced the Indy 500 again in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, but no replicas were offered. I know! “So what’s up with that?” is something that I’m sure many Corvette fans asked. As much reading and researching as I have done on the topic of Corvettes, I’ve never read or heard of any explanation as to why pace car replicas were not offered from ‘03 to ‘06. If anyone reading this knows a Chevrolet insider that can shed some light on this, I’d love to hear from them.

Graphics is a subjective thing (one person’s dream car come true can be another’s nightmare), the ‘03, ‘04, ‘05, and ‘06 Corvette Indy 500 Pace Cars “probably” would have sold well had replicas been offered. Of course, offering special editions is an easy call for outsiders to make, implementing them in a modern manufacturing facility is a whole other story. Former Corvette engineer, John Heinricy is on record stating that his idea of offering the ‘96 Grand Sport was not as easy as one might think.

Production numbers for the Corvette Pace Car replicas can be easily found in Mike Antonick’s “Corvette Black Book,” the figures for the ‘03 to ‘06 Indy 500 Pace Cars isn’t so clear. I’m sure that it’s not a “secret,” it’s just a figure that has never been widely talked about. “Usually” several working pace cars are specially prepared. Even though just one pace car is needed to pace the race, several are on hand in case there’s a problem with the lead car. Then, there is often a small supply of like-decorated versions used for promotions and as courtesy cars. After the race, the winner gets the car used to pace the race and the rest of the cars are parsed out to Chevrolet dealers, and, or V.I.P.s.

These non-replica Corvette Pace Cars usually become part of someone’s collection and pop up occasionally at the various high-end car auctions. Obviously, if a Corvette Pace Car at auction was the “actual” pace car that paced the race and was gifted to the winner, then the car will be worth a lot more than one of the courtesy cars. Since the basic Corvette drivetrain and suspension are more than enough to pace the race, from a mechanical standpoint,  the pace cars aren’t any more capable than a stock Corvette.

Regardless, it’s always a fun thing to spot one of the non-production Indy 500 Corvette Pace Cars when it goes on the auction block. Once certainly can’t argue with their exclusivity, but how much they go for at auction always depends on how many bidders are panting for one.

My only speck of angst over the Indy 500 Corvette pace cars is that either Chevrolet or the Indy 500 people didn’t start using Corvettes before 1978. Imagine what a 1970 LT1 / ZR1 package, with Indy 500 livery would be worth. Hmmm. Or a L89 427/435 ‘67 Roadster would fetch. (I’m liking this) How about a ‘63 Z06 Coupe Indy Pace Car? (getting warm yet?) Or a ‘62, or better yet, ‘a ‘57 Fuelie Indy 500 Pace Car! Yes, calabunga! My head is spinning. How about yours?  – Scott

For the 2011 Indy 500 race, Chevrolet dished up this delicious retro version of the 1969 Indy 500 Camaro Pace Car.

PS – The first Indy 500 pace car was a 1911 Stoddard-Dayton, driven by Carl G. Fisher and the 2011, 100th anniversary Indy 500 pace car was driven by Donald Trump.

Related:
From AutoWeek, “Indianapolis 500: The History of Indy 500 Pace Cars,” CLICK HERE.

For much more about all of the Indy 500 pace cars, CLICK HERE.


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The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, of by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.


The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, of by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.


The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, of by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.

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