Amelia Island | Lot 183
1961 Chenowth San Diego Steel Products Indianapolis
$175,000 - $225,000 USD
| Amelia Island, Florida
22 May 2021
- The first Chevrolet V-8-powered car to attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500
- Beautifully restored to 1961 Indianapolis 500 appearance and configuration under the ownership of Dave Schleppi
- 255 cu. in. V-8 with Hillborn fuel injection; two-speed Offenhauser gearbox with reverse
- A well-known and highly regarded Indy roadster with a lengthy competition history
- Honors include AACA certification and Senior and Grand National Firsts
Conceived by Chuck Chenowth, proprietor of California-based header manufacturer San Diego Steel Products, this roadster would be the first Chevrolet V-8-powered car to attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Given the dominance of the Offenhauser racing engine at the Brickyard in this era, this was an intimidating prospect.
Chenowth met the challenge with an expertly executed car. A model of mid-century Indianapolis roadster design, it featured a 255 cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8 topped with Hillborn fuel injection and fitted with a Lehhman front-drive unit; this was paired with a two-speed Offenhauser gearbox (with reverse) with an Offenhauser bell housing. Halibrand supplied the steering box, rear end, brake calipers, and wheels. The firewall, made of lightweight magnesium, is said to have been acid-dipped by Navy personnel to achieve the proper thickness. All of this was wrapped in stunning, low bodywork shaped by Eddie Kuzma and Don Brown.
Unfortunately, this effort did not translate to success in Indianapolis, with the car arriving too late to qualify in 1960 and failing to make the grid in 1961 due to engine trouble. It did, however, enjoy a brilliant second life on the short track, racing from 1973 through 1983 in USAC, Tri-SAC and outlaw races as the Roberts Steel Erection Roadster—and, according to some, helping spark the “roadster revolution” in sprint car racing in the process. Notably, it won the 1977 Little 500 at Anderson, Indiana’s Anderson Speedway with Jeff Bloom at the wheel, and counts Mike Magill, Greg Weld, Bob Hurt, Bob Pratt, Al Smith, Cy Fairchild, Tom Sneva, Ray Wright, Duke Cook, Johnny Logan, and Marv Carman as former drivers.
In 1986, the car was acquired by Dave Schleppi of Batavia, Ohio, who restored the car to its 1961 Indianapolis 500 glory; as part of the process, the chassis, which is believed to be original, was fitted with new hand-formed metal body panels and a fiberglass rear tail.
Six decades after its debut, the roadster continues to make an impression—whether parked or running at speed on-track—and the exceptional quality of its restoration has been recognized with AACA Senior and Grand National First awards. A crowd-pleasing part of both Indianapolis 500 and sprint car history, the San Diego Steel Products roadster is offered with historic photos, spare and extra parts including two additional engine blocks (including the 1961 Indianapolis block), the original fuel cell, seat cover, and some sheet metal, body panel bucks, as well as a remote starter.
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