1. 1948 Bob Estes Special Indianapolis Racing Car

  2. 1948 Bob Estes Special Indianapolis Racing Car

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  55. 1948 Bob Estes Special Indianapolis Racing Car

Lot Number
6
1948 Bob Estes Special Indianapolis Racing Car
The Pacific Grove Auction

ESTIMATE: $325,000 - $375,000
CHASSIS NO: TBA
• Impeccable provenance; beautifully restored and offered by the Estes family
• The first Championship car campaigned at Indy by Bob Estes
• Wonderful piece of Indianapolis 500 and California racing history
• Stock-block Mercury-powered Indianapolis 500 challenger
• Driven at the Speedway in 1948/1950/1951; twice at Pikes Peak
• The car that launched the Indy careers of A.J. Watson and Jud Phillips
• Accompanied by the first ‘four-cam’ Ford engine to run at Indy (1951)
• Photographed in 1950 with Hollywood icon Clark Gable at the wheel

Mercury ‘Flathead’ V-8 engine, Ardun OHV hemispherical cylinder heads, triple Stromberg ‘97’ carburetors, Ford three-speed manual transmission, Cyclone two-speed differential, solid front and live rear axles, hydraulic brakes; wheelbase: 96”


Among the many builders of Indianapolis 500 cars during America’s post-WW II motorsports renaissance, Quinn Epperly, Frank Kurtis, A.J. Watson, and many others stand out. 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 was successful Inglewood, California Lincoln-Mercury dealer, Robert S. “Bob” Estes, whose life and exploits could easily fill several volumes.

Bob was a very hard worker with racing experience and a speed record to his credit at Muroc Dry Lake with his hot Model T. Following wartime service, he purchased a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Inglewood, where his commitment to quality and winning personality helped him build a highly successful business in burgeoning 1950s California.
Soon, Bob returned to racing 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 sponsored the first A.J. Watson-built roadster in 1954, which finished 7th. In all, the Bob Estes team had nine starts at Indianapolis, including third in 1956 with Don Freeland, and fourth in 1960 with Don Branson. Bob even conquered Bonneville, with the Bob Estes Streamliner setting the C-Class record at 229.9 mph.

However, the 1954 and 1955 racing seasons were deadly, prompting the American Automobile Association's Contest Board to terminate its sanctioning of motor racing. Again, Bob Estes demonstrated his leadership, joining with Tony Hulman, Arthur Harrington, and Gordon Betz to form the United States Auto Club (USAC) to continue running the Indianapolis ‘500’ and National Championship competition. As if all these activities weren’t enough, Bob Estes started Precision Motor Cars in 1955 in Beverly Hills, California and he was later joined by Otto Zipper to form Estes-Zipper Porsche-Audi. Many victories were scored under the Precision Motor Cars banner with drivers including Ken Miles, Richie Ginther, Linda Scott, and “Scooter” Patrick. In 1966, Bob was appointed the Western U.S distributor for Lamborghini and then in 1969, he formed Beverly Hills Porsche-Audi.

It all had to start somewhere, and the 1948 Bob Estes Special was Estes’ first “big” championship car, appropriately with stock-block Mercury V-8 power. With the birth of Estes’ son Dale, a wonderful caricature of him graced the hood of the car, along with the ‘Dale Boy’ legend underneath. Built and raced in partnership with Conrad “Connie” Weidel, this car was first driven by Californian Manuel “Manny” Ayulo. The 1948 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 for 1950, given Estes’ acumen and firm belief that a semi-stock V-8 engine could compete against the “Offy” dominated field.

Returning to Indianapolis in 1950, the Bob Estes Special was re-equipped with a 268-cid Mercury V-8 equipped with exotic Ardun OHV “hemi” cylinder heads. This qualifying attempt was the first appearance there of Jud Phillips, who would become one of the toughest chief mechanics at the Speedway, with 32 consecutive starts at Indy including Bobby Unser’s 1968 win. 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, only to be bumped on the last day of qualifying. Nonetheless, the team made a strong showing at Indy that year and garnered from Benson Ford, thanks to the many factory-stock Ford/Mercury 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 racing drama, To Please a Lady. He posed behind the wheel of the Bob Estes Special for a photo, including Estes team members Jack Doulin, Joe James, Jud Phillips, and Dick Ford, with Henry Banks, the AAA National Champion, seen atop the wall in the background. Bob Estes then asked Gable if he recalled losing a few bucks to a brash young man in a black Model T in a late-night drag race on Santa Monica Boulevard 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.”

In 1951, the Bob Estes team returned to Indianapolis with two cars, including his original Bob Estes Special, the car offered here, now powered by the very first four-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 until a blown head gasket forced retirement. In addition to its three Indy qualifying attempts, the original 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 at the finish for the January 1951 edition of Speed Age. 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 Pikes Peak with a Mercury-powered Allard.

Following its retirement, the Bob Estes Special remained with the Estes family and, as offered, it benefits handsomely from a recently completed long-term restoration with virtually no possible expense spared and contributions from many of the greatest names in California racing and hot rodding. The dry-sump, Ardun-head Mercury 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 provided the cam work and valve springs. All aluminum body panels are original with the exception of the belly pan underneath the exhaust pipes. The nose cone is original to the car but modified to the present configuration near the end of its racing days, with the design influencing the later dirt-track cars of Jud Phillips and A.J. Watson. A new, high-dollar competition fuel cell was installed and resides inside the car’s sleek tail cone.

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 toll 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 at Indianapolis in 1950 and tragically died in the team’s Championship dirt car at San Jose in 1952. 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 in 1958, the Trophy was renamed the Joe James – Pat O’Connor Memorial Trophy. While the car offered here did not ever run at Salem, the trophy commemorates Joe James, who drove at Indy for the first time with this beautiful car, plus the memory of Estes team driver Pat O’Connor.

Beautifully restored and handsomely presented, the original Bob Estes Special is offered with the exotic four-cam engine that powered it on its final 1951 qualifying attempt at Indianapolis. Assembly is required, but the experts at Valley Head Service can handle the job for the next owner upon request. Carrying exceptionally rich provenance, and now offered on behalf of the Estes family, the original Bob Estes Special is a wonderful part of California and Indianapolis motorsports history and a thrilling find.

1948 Bob Estes Special Indianapolis Racing Car
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