Monterey | Lot 327
1961 Ewing "Dean Van Lines Spl." Indianapolis Roadster
$500,000 USD | Sold
| Monterey, California
14 August 2021
- Second-place finisher at the 1961 Indianapolis 500 by the legendary Eddie Sachs; 3rd in 1961 championship points
- Pole position winner at the 1960 and 1961 Indianapolis 500, with numerous record lap speeds recorded at the Brickyard
- Four-year restoration to its 1961 racing configuration completed in 1983; equipped with Offenhauser racing engine
- Subject of a feature article in Auto Racing History and Bulb Horn magazines
- Accompanied by freshly serviced starter and battery cart, history file including documentation and photo prints autographed by Eddie Sachs
Claiming record-breaking speeds, a mysterious 15-year disappearance, and a more recent resurgence as a Northeastern show regular, the 1961 Ewing Dean Van Lines Special embodies a story worthy of a Hollywood film. Al Dean was a suave Los Angeles-based moving van executive and racing enthusiast who created his own team, starting in 1953 with dirt-track cars. Incrementally more successful each year, the Dean Van Lines team eventually employed future driving legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.
The team campaigned a new racecar or two almost every year, and these Offenhauser-powered roadsters were developed and tuned by team manager Clint Brawner; they were referred to as the Dean Van Lines Specials. In 1960 the Dean team retained driver Eddie Sachs, a mercurial star who had worked his way up from washing dishes at the Brickyard cafeteria, declaring his intent to one day win the Indianapolis 500. His steed was to be a brand-new roadster built by A.J. Watson metal-shaping specialist Wayne Ewing. While the new car was quite similar to the Watson roadsters that dominated Indianapolis from 1956 to 1964, there were a few differences, particularly in the shape of the cowl and windshield support.
Fitted with a new 252-cuibic-inch Offenhauser engine and meticulously prepared by Brawner, the latest Dean Van Lines Special was piloted by Sachs to an 8th-place finish at its debut at the Trenton 100 in April 1960. But the car really hit its stride a month later when qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, where Sachs set a lap speed record at 146.592 mph—earning the pole position in the process. Sachs leapt out to 1st place during the second lap of the race and led during 30 laps thereafter. Unfortunately, a magneto failure sidelined the roadster after 132 laps, and the car ultimately finished in 21st place. The roadster admirably competed over the season’s final eight races, however, including a checkered flag win at the concluding Trenton 100.
1961 proved to be the Dean Van Lines Special’s greatest year at the Indy 500, as Sachs again qualified for the pole position at an average speed of 147.481 mph. Wearing number 12, the roadster led for much of the race in a neck-and-neck dual with A.J. Foyt, and even set a race lap record at 144.505 mph. During lap 197, with less than eight miles remaining, Sachs pitted to change a failing rear tire. Foyt took advantage to claim the lead and Sachs never recovered, finishing just 8.23 seconds behind Foyt’s winning car. During the season’s remainder the Special again won at Trenton and also claimed two 3rd-place finishes, good enough for Sachs to finish as runner-up in the driver standings, and the car to finish 3rd in national championship point standings.
Once again behind the wheel of the Ewing roadster in 1962, Sachs qualified 27th for the Indianapolis 500 but impressively advanced to a third-place finish. He concluded the season 9th in championship driver points while the car placed 5th.
1963 was this Dean Van Lines Special’s final year in USAC competition, although Sachs was replaced by Chuck Hulse, who qualified 11th and finished 8th in the car’s final Brickyard appearance. Finishing the 1963 season, the Dean Van Lines Special managed to achieve one 2nd-place finish and two 3rd-place finishes, good enough to earn the car 10th place in championship points.
In 1964 Clint Brawner sold the Dean Van Lines Special to a bricklayer in Chicago named Bill Pewett, and the roadster was prepared as the Pewett Enterprises special, which only appeared in one race. During two succeeding ownerships the roadster further evolved to run super-modified races in the Cleveland area, and its identity as the 1961 Indy 500 runner-up was all but lost.
In 1978 the Ewing-built special was discovered and purchased by racing historian Ernie Holden of suburban Cleveland. Initially misidentified by its interim owners as the Watson-built Dayton Steel Wheel car, the Dean Van Lines Special’s true identity was eventually confirmed by Holden, and he set about a full restoration to the car’s 1961 configuration. Clint Brawner was retained to consult, and he rebuilt and sourced numerous parts. An Offenhauser engine was sourced and rebuilt by Andy Dunlap, the former chief mechanic for Cleveland’s Central Excavating Specials, while Del Schmidlen and Jerry Weeks reformed body panels as needed. Although this engine’s displacement is unconfirmed, it is believed to be a 270-cubic-inch example.
In 1982 health issues forced Mr. Holden to sell the car, and he found a buyer in Vic Yerardi of Weston, Massachusetts. Yerardi Racing Enterprises specialized in restoration, track-preparation, and display of vintage American oval-track racecars, and the business completed the bulk of the refurbishment, capping four years of effort. The Special was then presented at over 50 events, taking first-place awards at several local shows during the early 1980s, earning an AACA Grand National award in 1988, and winning its class at the 1994 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it also garnered the prestigious Tony Hulman Award.
Additionally, the Special regularly participated at the Annual Vintage Celebration’s Magic Mile event at the New Hampshire International Speedway, as well as events at Hershey Stadium, Star Speedway, and Lee USA Speedway. Also of note, the car was enjoyed for demonstration laps by several top-name drivers over the years, including Mario Andretti and Rick Mears.
Mr. Yerardi enjoyed an 18-year love affair with the Dean Van Lines Special before passing away in 2000. Two years later the roadster was acquired from his estate by the consignor, who soon submitted it to famed Indianapolis mechanic Walter Goodwin. A former A.J. Watson employee, Mr. Goodwin mechanically sorted the car for optimal performance and reliability. Subsequently, during the week of the 2003 Indianapolis 500, three-time winner Johnny Rutherford piloted the roadster for historic exhibition laps of the track—ably demonstrating its still-impressive capabilities to crowds of race fans.
As the owner of several Indianapolis lap records, and having claimed 2nd place at the 1961 Indy 500 along with pole positions in 1960 and 1961, the Ewing Dean Van Lines Special is one of the last of the great Offy-powered Indy 500 roadsters, as it immediately preceded the rear-engine cars ushered in by Lotus and Jimmy Clark in 1965. The roadster is furthermore bolstered by awards from the AACA and Pebble Beach. Still displaying the benefits of its meticulous four-year restoration, as well as the more recent work by Mr. Goodwin, this dynamic and powerful Special would make a superb acquisition for any American round-track aficionado or Indianapolis enthusiast.