Lot #30: 1948 Bob Estes Special Indy Racing Car (Not Available)
The Championship Race Car That Launched The Bob Estes Racing Adventure At The Indianapolis Motor Speedway - It's All Got To Start Somewhere!
- Striking piece of Indianapolis '500' and California racing history
- Stock-block Mercury-powered Indianapolis '500' challenger
- Driven at the Speedway in 1948/1950/1951 qualifying attempts
- The first Championship car campaigned at Indy by Bob Estes
- The car that launched the Indy careers of A.J. Watson and Jud Phillips
- Accompanied by the first-ever 'four-cam' Ford engine to run at Indy (1951)
- Impeccable provenance; beautifully restored and offered by the Estes family
- Photographed in period with Hollywood icon Clark Gable at the wheel
|Engine Number:||Ardun 003 on Heads|
|True Mileage:||TMU (Racing car)|
The striking Bob Estes Special Indianapolis '500' car with Mercury Flathead V-8 power and Ardun OHV cylinder heads. Freshly and beautifully restored and offered from the family of its original sponsor, Bob Estes, the well-known Mercury dealer, businessman, and highly successful racing-team owner from Inglewood, California. Wonderful history includes three Indianapolis '500' qualifying attempts and a back story including Hollywood icon Clark Gable.
Specifications: Mercury 'Flathead' V-8 engine, Ardun OHV hemispherical cylinder heads, three-speed manual transmission, Cyclone two-speed differential, solid front and live rear axle, and hydraulic brakes.
Among the many builders of Indianapolis '500' cars during the post-WW II American motorsports renaissance, the names Quinn Epperly, Frank Kurtis, A.J. Watson, and many others stand out, primarily for their work during the glorious era of the late 1940s through the 1960s. However, many other highly talented and resourceful chassis builders and team owners turned their hands and fertile minds to the craft and practice of racing at Indianapolis. One of those colorful men who rose to prominence during this wonderful era was the well-liked Inglewood, California Mercury dealer, Robert S. "Bob" Estes.
Born on September 21, 1913 in Los Angeles, Bob Estes' love of automobiles and racing was ignited at age 10 when he visited the shop of legendary racing engineer Harry A. Miller with Clifford, his dad. By the time he was in high school, Bob "hopped up" a Model T Ford roadster and set a speed record at 111 mph in 1930 at Muroc Dry Lake. A true visionary and self-driven leader whose organizational genius would soon become abundantly clear, Bob threw himself into racing at SoCal dirt tracks but withdrew due to the expense and instead went on to study engineering at UCLA for two years until his father passed away.
Highly motivated, Bob worked at a filling station and soon operated several locations. One evening, as he was closing up at the corner of Pico and Sepulveda, in drove screen icon Clark Gable in his black Packard, who soon found himself in a drag race with Estes and five dollars the wager, resulting in Estes and his Model T beating Gable on Santa Monica Boulevard. Following wartime service, Estes purchased a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Inglewood, where his commitment to quality products and racing involvement quickly combined with his winning personality for a highly successful business in burgeoning 1950s California.
While steadily guiding his business, Bob rekindled his racing involvement in a wide variety of arenas, including sponsorship of a hot rod in the newly formed California Roadster Association (CRA) driven by eventual 1952 Indy '500' winner Troy Ruttman. Estes' other racing ventures would soon include midgets, sprint cars, stock cars, and Pikes Peak hill climbs, all the way up to the "big" USAC championship cars of Indy fame. As the Roadster Era dawned at Indianapolis, Estes sponsored the first A.J. Watson-built roadster in 1954, which finished a creditable 7th at the Speedway that year. In all, the Bob Estes team had 9 starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including a third-place podium in 1956 with Don Freeland driving, and a fourth in 1960 with Don Branson. Bob even conquered Bonneville, with the Bob Estes Streamliner setting the Bonneville C-Class record and taking back the title from the Germans with a speed of 229.9 mph with driver George Hill on September 13, 1952. The Streamliner also had a 'Flathead' Ford engine block with Adams Moeller rocker-arm conversion cylinder heads. However, racing is not without its share of danger. The 1954 and 1955 racing seasons were particularly deadly, including the shocking Le Mans and Mille Miglia tragedies in Europe and a string of accidents that took the lives of many American drivers, prompting the American Automobile Association's Contest Board to terminate its association with the sanctioning of motor racing. Again, Bob Estes demonstrated his able leadership, joining with Tony Hulman, Arthur Harrington, and Gordon Betz to form the United States Auto Club (USAC) to continue the sanctioning of the Indianapolis '500' and National Championship competition.
As if all of these activities weren't enough, Bob Estes started Precision Motor Cars during 1955 in Beverly Hills, California and he was later joined by Otto Zipper to form Estes-Zipper Porsche-Audi. Many Porsche RSK, RS 61, and Carrera 6 sports car racing victories were scored under the Precision Motor Cars banner with such top-echelon drivers as Ken Miles, Richie Ginther, Linda Scott, and "Scooter" Patrick. In 1966, Bob was appointed the Western United States distributor for Lamborghini and then in 1969, he formed Beverly Hills Porsche-Audi with Ralph Cutrite and Bill Karges.
However, it all had to start somewhere, and the 1948 Bob Estes Special was Estes' first championship car, appropriately motivated by a stock-block Mercury V-8 racing engine. Built and raced in partnership with Conrad "Connie" Weidel, this car was driven by California driver Manuel "Manny" Ayulo. This Indianapolis qualifying attempt also marked crew member and soon-to-be Indianapolis '500' winning constructor and crew chief A.J. Watson's first time at Indy. While the car and team failed to qualify for the 1948 Indianapolis '500' race, they would return, given Estes' problem-solving acumen and his belief that a semi-stock V-8 engine could be competitive at Indy against the many exotic four-cylinder "Offy" powered cars.
Returning to Indianapolis in 1950, the Bob Estes Special was re-equipped with an all-out 268 cubic-inch Mercury V-8 engine topped with exotic Ardun overhead-valve "hemi" cylinder heads. This qualifying attempt also marked the first appearance of Jud Phillips, who would go on to become one of the toughest and most legendary chief mechanics at the Speedway, with 32 consecutive starts at the Indianapolis '500' including Bobby Unser's 1968 victory. Driven by Californian Joe James, the Bob Estes Special was one of 99 entries vying for a starting position. The team and car performed very well, with James even setting two world stock-block records on May 27th and he initially qualified to start the race, only to be bumped out of the field on the last day of qualifying. Nonetheless, the team made a strong showing at Indy that year, garnering recognition from Benson Ford, given the large proportion of factory-stock Ford Motor Company Parts used so effectively by the Bob Estes Special and its inventive crew.
The Bob Estes team had another interesting encounter at Indianapolis in 1950 with screen legend Clark Gable, who happened to be at the Speedway while filming the Indianapolis-themed racing drama, To Please a Lady. He posed for a photograph behind the wheel of the Bob Estes Special, including Estes team members Jack Doulin, Joe James, Jud Phillips, and Dick Ford, with Henry Banks, the AAA National Champion, sitting atop the wall in the background. Bob Estes then asked Gable if he recalled a certain young man who won a few bucks from him in a black Model T back in the 1930s. Gable replied, "I sure as hell do!" When Bob identified himself as that young man, Gable asked "Where's the nearest bar? We'll have a drink; we have a lot to talk about." Next, Bob took Gable to Mates' White Front Tavern, the local bar favored by the racers, for a drink and quite likely a fascinating discussion about racing and life!
In 1951, the Bob Estes team returned to Indianapolis with a two-car team, including his original Bob Estes Special, the car offered here, which was now powered by the very first 4-cam stock-block Ford/Mercury engine ever to run at Indy, engineered by Joe Davies. Bob Scott drove the Bob Estes Special well during qualifications and was lapping solidly in the field until a blown head gasket took it out of contention. In addition to its three Indy qualifying attempts, the Bob Estes Special ran at Pikes Peak during 1950 and 1951. That first time in 1950, Russ Snowberger drove it to 23rd place, with car and driver pictured taking checkered flag in the January 1951 edition of Speed Age magazine. This drive was Snowberger's last in his long and successful driving career, after which he focused on his business and racing sponsorships. Interestingly, Snowberger and the Bob Estes Special shared a page in that article with eventual Le Mans and Formula 1 World champion Phil Hill, who competed at the wheel of a Mercury-powered Allard roadster.
Following its retirement from racing, the Bob Estes Special remained with the Estes family and as now offered, it benefits handsomely from a freshly completed, long-term restoration performed over many years involving the services of many of the greatest names in California racing and hot-rod circles. The dry-sump, Ardun-head engine was completely rebuilt at Valley Head Service in Northridge, California, with the car pictured and discussed on their company website. Ed Donovan made the valves shortly before he passed away and Ed "The Camfather" Iskenderian was responsible for the cam work and valve springs. All the aluminum body panels are original with the exception of the belly pan underneath the exhaust pipes and the nose cone is original to the car, but modified near the end of its racing days, with the design influencing the dirt-track cars of Jud Phillips and A.J. Watson. As stated by Bob Estes' son Dale, the restored Bob Estes Special "...really runs beautifully and it barks!"
Already a wonderful and historic offering, the Bob Estes Special is accompanied at auction by the Joe James - Pat O'Connor Memorial Trophy, an integral part of the Bob Estes racing legacy and a poignant reminder of the severe human toll all too often exacted by racing. Awarded as part of the AAA race at Salem, Indiana, the trophy was first named after Joe James, who drove this very car, the Bob Estes Special, at Indianapolis in 1950 and tragically died in the team's Championship dirt car at San Jose in 1952. Subsequent winners of the Trophy during the 1950s included Larry Crockett (1953), Pat O'Connor (1954), Bob Sweikert (1955), Eddie Sachs (1956), and Pat O'Connor (1957). Following O'Connor's horrific crash at Indianapolis during 1958, the Joe James Trophy was renamed the Joe James - Pat O'Connor Memorial Trophy. This race at Salem continues today and some of history's greatest racing divers have won there, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti , Bobby Unser, Duane "Pancho" Carter, and Tony Stewart, to name only a few. While the car offered here did not ever win this trophy or run at Salem, the trophy commemorates the memory of Joe James with this beautiful Indy car that he first drove at the Speedway in 1950, plus the memory of Estes team driver Pat O'Connor.
Beautifully restored and handsomely presented, the original Bob Estes Special is further accompanied at auction by the exotic four-cam engine that powered it during the final 1951 qualifying attempt at Indianapolis. Assembly is required, but the experts at Valley Head Service are able to handle the job for the next owner upon request. Carrying exceptionally rich provenance and now offered on behalf of the Estes family, the Bob Estes Special is a wonderful part of California and Indianapolis motorsports history and a thrilling find at Monterey!