14 June 2008
1960 Meskowski Bowes Seal Fast Special
To be auctioned on Saturday, June 14, 2008
Sold for $462,000
- Chassis no. 270109
255 cu. in. Offenhauser double overhead cam inline four-cylinder engine, two-speed transmission with reverse, tubular front axle, Halibrand Championship rear end with three-inch open tube axle, front and rear cross-torsion bar suspension, and Halibrand four-wheel disc brakes.
The Ex-A.J. Foyt, Championship-Winning
The late Wally Meskowski remains a true legend of USAC Sprint and Indy car racing. A colorful and formidable competitor, Meskowski is best remembered as a constructor, mechanic and car owner with the ability to extract the highest levels of performance from car and driver alike. Despite a reputation for volatility that was not entirely deserved, Meskowski consistently attracted the most competitive drivers, and was instrumental in their development, among them A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, and Bill Vukovich, Jr.
In late 1959, Meskowski was engaged to build a new dirt Champ car for the Bowes Seal Fast team of legendary chief mechanic George Bignotti and co-owner Bob Bowes II, for the 1960 USAC season. Completed in early 1960, the new car was a masterful blend of art and engineering, with a beautiful, streamlined body that was strongly reminiscent of the dual-purpose cars of the early 1950s, which competed on both dirt ovals and the venerable “Brickyard”, prior to the rise of the specialized Indy roadster.
A proven, 255 cubic inch Offenhauser inline four-cylinder engine provided the power, and was the standard engine choice for USAC race cars for many years. Originally designed for powerboat applications, the “Offy” boasted advanced engineering features that included fuel injection, dual overhead camshafts, and deep-breathing cylinder heads with four valves per cylinder. Utilizing a “bulletproof” short-block, and nearly square bore and stroke dimensions, the Offenhauser was capable of delivering a staggering 1.77 horsepower per cubic inch, and in turbocharged form powered Indianapolis cars well into the 1980s. This venerable power plant was mated to a Meyer-Drake two-speed transmission, and a proven Halibrand Championship rear end assembly.
The final ingredient required was a driver. The long-running Bowes team endured several major accidents in the late 1950s, including serious burns suffered by Johnny Boyd, and the death of George Amick at Daytona. A young A.J. Foyt, in search of a ride after a disagreement with a former car owner, proved to be a wise choice. Foyt, who won his first USAC Midget race in 1957 and competed in his first Indianapolis 500 in 1958, was recognized as a fierce competitor with the strength of character and versatility to become a champion.
The Bowes team overcame early growing pains and campaigned both the Meskowski-built sprinter and a Watson-Trevis Indy roadster. Success came during the 100-mile event at DuQuoin, Illinois, on Labor Day of 1960. Foyt scored the first of an eventual 67 USAC National Championship wins by grabbing the lead at lap 77 and holding on to take the checkered flag over Tony Bettenhausen. From there, Foyt and the Bowes team scored three more victories and two more podium finishes. Foyt displayed his signature aggressive driving style, prevailing over the legendary Rodger Ward for his first of an eventual seven USAC National Championships.
Interestingly, the Meskowski sprinter was refinished by a rising star of the growing L.A. car culture, Dean Jeffries. Between the 1960 and 1961 seasons, Jeffries applied a white, red and black finish to the Meskowski car, matching the team’s brand-new Watson-Trevis Indy roadster. Jeffries, a friend and contemporary of Von Dutch, further adorned the Meskowski with his signature pinstripe accents. In fact, in association with Mobil, the self-taught Jeffries reportedly pinstriped 21 Indianapolis contenders at this time.
The Bowes team continued their winning ways in 1961. Foyt drove the team’s Watson Indianapolis roadster to victory in the Indianapolis 500, and followed up with three victories in the Meskowski dirt car in three 100-mile dirt track events. In the process, Foyt bested such drivers as Parnelli Jones, Shorty Templeman, and Bobby Marshman en route to a second USAC National Championship.
However, a growing rift between Foyt and George Bignotti caused Bowes to end his involvement with racing, leaving Bignotti in search of new sponsors. Although Foyt briefly joined the competition, he returned to his original team late in the season, but was unable to prevent Rodger Ward from taking the 1962 USAC Championship. With new sponsorship from Sheraton Hotels and Thompson Industries, the 1960 Meskowski became the first of a series of Sheraton-Thompson Specials. Foyt continued winning in the Meskowski, capturing three events and reclaiming the USAC Championship in 1963. However, at the close of the 1963 season, the car offered here was retired after winning 13 of 26 races entered.
The Meskowski continued in competition, passing through a series of owners, and gained a rollcage along the way. Despite its glorious past, further victories proved elusive for the old warrior. Nonetheless, in the hands of Darrell Harrison, the aging racecar placed third behind Mario Andretti at Sedalia, Missouri in the mid-1970s.
When Harrison offered the Meskowski for sale in the late 1970s, Bob Benchoff, guided by Buster Warke, purchased it for Lynn Paxton to drive in USAC Championship Division events. Campaigned for one season with Chevrolet V8 power, the Meskowski was unsuccessful. Realizing that serious structural modifications were required, a decision was made to restore the historic car instead and Paxton, an accomplished racecar driver, purchased a half interest from Benchoff, and began the restoration process.
Returning the car to its 1960/1961 glory, the roll cage was removed, and Warke located and installed a correct 255 cubic inch Offenhauser engine. Bodywork was performed by Frank Murray, while Jim Reeser and Leroy Shaeffer returned the car to its Bowes Seal Fast livery, with the handsome Dean Jeffries paint scheme and pin striping. Completed in 1981 and used sparingly, the Meskowski was eventually sold to Joe MacPherson in 1998.
This remarkable car, one of less than two dozen Championship dirt cars constructed by the great Wally Meskowski, has been carefully maintained since its acquisition by Joe MacPherson and remains in excellent, period-correct condition throughout. Outstandingly successful, it provides a link to A.J. Foyt’s stellar USAC career and is well suited for the growing number of vintage oval track events.
AddendumPlease note that this lot is being sold on a Bill of Sale Only.
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