Bob's Resource Website (2007)
Studebaker Indianapolis 500 Novi Race car
Bob's Resource Website (2007)
The Novi was called the greatest car never to win the Indianapolis 500 mile race, yet it became an Indy icon without ever entering the winner's circle.
In 1937, Indy ended its "Junk Formula" that allowed engines up to 6.0 litres. It was instituted in 1930 to permit cheaper stock block engines, and it was superseded in 1938 by international Grand Prix rules permitting displacements of 4.5L naturally aspirated or 3.0L supercharged.
Brothers Ed and Bud Winfield, makers of racing carburetors, wanted to build an Indy car for the new formula. They landed sponsorship from Lewis Welch of Novi, Mich., who made Ford parts and rebuilt Ford engines.
Welch wanted a V8, and asked that it be named after his home town of Novi. The Novi engine would be installed in a Harry Miller-designed Ford front-drive chassis that raced at Indy in 1935.
Work on a 3.0L supercharged Novi began in 1940 in the shop of legendary racing engine builder Fred Offenhauser, with design by Leo Goosen, America's only full-time racing engine designer.
It was a 90-degree, oversquare (bigger bore than stroke), 16-valve V8 with gear-driven double overhead camshafts and hemispherical combustion chambers. A large front-mounted, intercooled centrifugal supercharger was spun by a horizontal shaft from the rear of the engine. It breathed through three Winfield carburetors, and, at 8,000 rpm, the blower was turning at 42,000, producing up to 30 psi of boost.
Almost miraculously, the Novi engine was ready for the 1941 race. It was rated at 450 horsepower when a typical Offenhauser had 300. The front-drive Novi was always heavy, thirsty and hard on tires, and it qualified in 28th place at 194 kilometres an hour. Ralph Hepburn finished the race in a trouble-free fourth position.
In 1945, following the Second World War interruption in racing, Welch had Goosen design a new front transaxle that allowed lower engine mounting. Emerging racecar builder Frank Kurtis produced a new chassis and a low, sleek body, and the car, not just the engine, was now called the Novi.
In the Novi Governor Special, Hepburn did the four-lap qualifying at 216 km/h for the 1946 Indy. No car had ever done more than 211, and although late qualifying placed it 19th on the grid, the Novi was touted as a shoo-in winner. By Lap 12, Hepburn was leading, but brake woes on Lap 56 and a long pit stop dropped him to 13th. He climbed to fourth by Lap 122 when a broken valve finished him.
In 1947, the two Novi Governor Mobile Specials qualified. One broke a piston on Lap 62, and the other finished fourth.
Tragedy struck in 1948, when one of the Novi Grooved Piston Specials hit the wall in qualifying, killing Hepburn and launching a jinxed reputation for the Novi. Dennis (Duke) Nalon took over and qualified fastest at 212 km/h. Nalon drove well, but he came in third due to a refuelling glitch. It would be the Novi's best finish. In spite of Nalon and Rex Mays qualifying first and second in 1949, the jinx struck again during the race when Nalon hit the wall and Mays' engine failed.
The 1953 race would be the last Indy for a front-drive car; the Novi front drivers failed to qualify in 1954 and '55. For 1956, the Novi engines were fitted to Kurtis rear- drive chassis. New rules reduced displacement to 2.7L in 1957. Modifications were tried, but in
1961, after 20 years of attempting to win at Indy, Lou Welch sold the Novi assets to Andy Granatelli of Studebaker's Paxton supercharger and STP additive divisions. Granatelli and crew coaxed the Novi to more than 700 hp, without a win. In 1964, Granatelli applied its power to four-wheel drive. It proved inconclusive. In any event, four-wheel drive was made unnecessary by new, stickier tires and the change to rear-engined cars. Novis didn't finish in 1964 or '65, and they failed to qualify in '66. Thus ended the exciting but ill-fated Novi's odyssey, one that had promised so much but delivered so little.
The Novi engine was a Dual Overhead Cam Supercharged V8 engine used in the Indianapolis 500 designed by Bud Winfield and built by Fred Offenhauser. It was first used in 1941 under the "Winfield" name and produced over 450 hp, an amazing output for the time, but it was very difficult to handle.
After World War II, the Novi returned in 1946 with 510 horsepower (fitted in a more advanced Kurtis Kraft front-wheel-drive chassis) and performed beautifully, setting the track record and leading 44 laps in a car driven by Ralph Hepburn. Drivers such as Paul Russo and Duke Nalon later drove the engine at notable speeds, but were unable to win. In 1949, Nalon's Novi figured in a memorable crash, in which leaking gasoline created a 'wall of fire' across one of the Speedway's banked turns.
The engine's crowd-pleasing 'shriek' of its supercharger unit became as legendary as its dangerous reputation, particularly after veterans Hepburn (in 1948) and Chet Miller (in 1953) both died in practice trying to control the overpowering vehicle. In addition, the engine's own power often caused it to break down prematurely, ending several promising victory chances.
After not being entered at the Indianpolis 500 in the last years of the 1950's, the Novi received its 'last hurrah' when colorful car owner Andy Granatelli purchased the rights to it. Granatelli's team put the crowd-attracting shrieking legend back into the race from 1961 to 1965, developing a 4-wheel-drive version in 1964 in an attempt to effectively harness the extreme power. Its notable drivers during this period were Jin Hurtubise, Art Malone, and Bobby Unser. The engine was last used at the race in 1966, when a qualifying crash finished its career.
Despite never powering a Championship Car race winner, few engines have become as much of a 'celebrity' in automobile racing as the Novi.
During the 1960s, the Novis were piloted by several "young lions": Jim Hurtubise, Jim McElreath, Art Malone and Bobby Unser. They challenged stars such as A.J. Foyt, Jimmy Clark, Parnelli Jones and Rodger Ward. Many considered the Novis as "jinxed" cars, yet during their long history (1941-1966), they captured the racing public's fancy as they established an enviable number of records at Indianapolis, the Bonneville Salt Flats and at the Monza, Italy track. In 1963 and 1964, three Novis were in the starting field. In 1963, a Novi started from a front row position after being one of only four cars to break the magical 150 m.p.h. qualifying mark. Yet, the glory and glamour were rapidly fading as the dream of an Indianapolis victory went unfulfilled. The study also includes details of the Ganatellis' early years in racing prior to their acquisition of the Novis; the founding and early years of STP (a strong Novi benefactor) and Studebaker's long term involvement with auto racing that culminated with the purchase of STP. The Novi has become a part of the rich racing lore that has enraptured fans for years. As long as the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race continues, it is inevitable that the Novi history will be studied and discussed with considerable fervor.
One significant early product that Paxton Products developed was the supercharger used on the Novi cars raced at Indianapolis. These were engine oil cooled conventionally mounted superchargers which were gear driven at a ratio of 5 ľ to 1 and had impellor speeds of up to 40,000 rpm. The supercharged Novi V8 engines were capable of producing up to 650 hp from 180 cubic inches, however power is not everything and they were generally unsuccessful in racing, although this was not attributable to the supercharger. The Novi name, and itís connection with Paxton, still lives on today as Paxton Automotive currently produced high output gear driven Novi superchargers.