The Ultimate Crowd Pleaser

By
Updated: October 22, 2018

Recreating one of the most famous and beautiful Indy 500 winners to become an Aussie fan favorite. Turn up to a race meeting and there are certain cars that stop you in your tracks. Some for their beauty, others their value; but occasionally you’re blown away by something so unusual and unexpected you can’t help but stare and smile. For example, who’d figure on seeing a perfect replica of the 1963 Indy 500-winning race car at a humble hill climb event in rural Queensland?

This is Lloyd Robertson’s realization of a childhood dream. He was a teenager in 1963 when American Parnelli Jones won the world’s richest race in a Watson Offy roadster – the Agajanian Willard Battery Special – affectionately known as Ol’ Calhoun. “I always loved these Indy Roadsters from when I was young, and although an original would have been good, they’re so expensive,” Lloyd said. “I looked over a few to decide which one I’d copy for a reproduction build, and this Watson car was my final choice.”

You can’t fault his decision. Some of the most evocative and brutal-looking race cars were pounding the American ovals in this era: front engined, methanol fueled and with enough grunt to nudge 300kmh on the straights. The 1963 Indy 500 winner was one of the best looking, helped by its wonderful red, white and blue colour scheme with gold lettering.

It took five years to build Lloyd’s striking reproduction version, which is regularly campaigned in sprints and hill climbs by its talented driver, who is famous for being founder and driver of the Holden Precision Driving Team for around 40 years. Lloyd’s lifetime of accurate driving – often sideways, on two wheels or jumping ramps – ensures he’s able to tame the big Indy car, despite him admitting it’s quite a handful.

“It handles quite well, and doesn’t feel too big and heavy when it gets running,” he said. “It has no power steering but the steering feels quite light at speed. It has plenty of grunt, but in being faithful to the 1960s Indy cars, it uses quite narrow tyres which restrict how much it can be pushed. I’ve no problem with that, but with wide wheels and tyres it could be very competitive.”

The reproduction Indy Roadster is as faithful to the original car as is sensible. “Most used Offenhauser four-cylinder engines back then but we couldn’t get hold of one,” Lloyd said. “In the US they sometimes use four-cylinder Alfa Romeo engines for replicas, but we thought it better to use a Chev 350 V8 as reliability and parts were key.”

Lloyd employed a sprint car builder from Rockhampton called Bruce Neville to construct the reproduction racer. Accurate to the original in terms of dimensions, a custom chrome moly chassis was created and covered in Grade 3 heavy-duty fiberglass panels for the nose and tail, with the remainder made from aluminum. These panels were liveried to perfectly mimic the Indy 500-winning original, and combined with Indy-esque Dragway wheels shod in 265/75×16 light truck radial tyres, the finished look is simply breathtaking.

Closer to his home, Lloyd employed his old friend Alan Cutts to rebuild the engine and other mechanical aspects of the car. Alan has an incredible resume both as a racer and car builder. In his long career he’s built and prepared championship-winning drag racers, rally cars, circuit racers, speedway cars and hill climbers at the highest level. He’s a man you want in your corner with the spanners on race day.

“It’s a pretty basic, nice, neat and simple thing,” Alan said of the Indy car, insisting such builds are straightforward compared to modern cars. “It was a no brainer using a Chev V8 as the Offy motors used magnesium which corrodes, plus they cost about $50,000. The 350 Chev could handle more horsepower, but that would affect its reliability.”

Alan reckons the rebuilt 5.7-liter engine (of late 1960s to early 1970s vintage)construct the reproduction racer. Accurate to the original in terms of dimensions, a custom chrome moly chassis was created and covered in Grade 3 heavy-duty fiberglass panels for the nose and tail, with the remainder made from aluminum. These panels were liveried to perfectly mimic the Indy 500-winning original, and combined with Indy-esque Dragway wheels shod in 265/75×16 light truck radial tyres, the finished look is simply breathtaking.

Closer to his home, Lloyd employed his old friend Alan Cutts to rebuild the engine and other mechanical aspects of the car. Alan has an incredible resume both as a racer and car builder. In his long career he’s built and prepared championship-winning drag racers, rally cars, circuit racers, speedway cars and hill climbers at the highest level. He’s a man you want in your corner with the spanners on race day.

“It’s like being fired out of cannon as the power-to-weight is astronomical. It’s so quick on the straights and pretty much wheel spins all the way despite the size of the tyres.”

Alan reckons the rebuilt 5.7-liter engine (of late 1960s to early 1970s vintage) realizes 330hp (246kW), which he says is ample for the car’s weight. “It’s like being fired out of a cannon as the power-to-weight is astronomical. It’s so quick on the straights and pretty much wheels pins all the way despite the size of the tyres.”

Alan’s fitted early Corvette Dart alloy heads, COMP cams, an Edelbrock intake manifold and 650 Holley carburetor. The build is clean and tidy with plenty of ceramic wrap to protect against extreme heat, including for the striking exhaust running the entire length of the body’s left hand side.

Up front is a custom three-core radiator, while behind is a Chevrolet Camaro’s T-5 gearbox that Alan’s modified to become a close-ratio four-speed; he calls it his center-shift T-5. Alan remade the bell housing, while inside is a Schaefer flywheel and 5.5-inch triple place clutch. Out back is a Winters Quick Change rear end with Wedgelock center. The brakes are all Alan’s bespoke work, using drilled rotors front and rear with custom mounts.

There’s a foam-filled fuel tank, while Lloyd goes to work in a very snug cabin, albeit comfortably lined with padded leather. Switches are close to hand on the left side of the cockpit, while VDO gauges, Schneider steering wheel and Indy gear shifter evoke the 1960s scene perfectly.

Alan said one of the reasons the original cars handled so well were torsion bars front and rear. The same setup has been employed here, with rose jointed adjustable lengths and Carrera shocks used. “It’s all pretty straightforward by modern standards,” he said.

Alan suggested the car is near bulletproof now thanks to the components used and the rebuild, helping combine with the acknowledged beautiful work of Bruce Neville’s chassis and body construct. “I do need to go over everything before each race event,” Alan said. “The engine is mounted solid on the engine plate so everything vibrates. Other than that it just needs a normal service and lubrication using Penrite oils. It’s got zip clips on it so I can get the panels off easily, as that’s the only way to work on it.”

Now in his 70s, owner Lloyd still has huge affection for his Indy Roadster, and continues to campaign it in Queensland events. “It’s such a unique car and still brings me great pleasure,” he said. “It’s a handful compared to a modern car, but drive it accordingly and it’s great fun.”

Alas Lloyd doesn’t get to enjoy the Indy Roadster as much as he’d like. As a successful rally driver in his youth he still prefers driving sideways on dirt, and for that he has a 1959 Sprint car and a BMW 130i M Sport. It means his Indy Roadster is up for sale for anyone seeking quite unique thrills.

Let’s just hope whoever next ends up with this incredible recreation continues to showcase it at race events, where those looks and wall of noise from the V8 engine thrill the crowds like nothing else.