It’s always great to be able to bring a car to the Festival – or indeed to the Revival – which will come as a complete surprise to most of our events’ attendees. When most enthusiasts think back to Jim Clark days they will picture him in Lotus cars of almost every description; Formula 1, 2, Junior, sports, GT – and a few might go beyond that to Border Reivers team Lister-Jaguar, or Jaguar D-Type, or Ecurie Ecosse Tojeiro-Jaguar. There will, of course, be those who picture him – before all else it seems – in a works Lotus-Cortina or a Ford Galaxie but they are tin-top fans so they have other problems with which to cope – but not many conjure up a vision of Jimmy in the metallic mid-blue 4-wheel drive Felday-BRM sportscar, and even fewer in the lemon-yellow ‘Bryant Heating & Cooling Special’ Vollstedt-Offenhauser.
Canadian-born Rolla Vollstedt had been a youthful street racer in Oregon in 1937 when he worked for a local speed shop. After wartime military service he bought his first ‘race car’ in 1947, and as early as 1963 he built his first rear-engined Indy car following closely in the style of the trend-settingly rear-engined 1961 Cooper-Climax. He had, in fact, reacted very quickly to the advent of rear-engined European-style single-seaters in USAC National Championship racing.
Ten years later the Indianapolis media guide would pay tribute to Rolla Vollstedt as follows: “It was felt by many that this gave the rear-engined Offy a much-needed vote of confidence and had a lot to do with the large number of rear-engined Offy-powered cars in the 1964 race..”.
He then progressed this theme further for 1965, when he completed a new car with which I subsequently became involved when it was offered for sale by Brooks USA (now Bonhams of course) at Quail Lodge, California, in the Pebble Beach Concours and Monterey Historics weekend of 2008. That car had been intended initially for veteran driver Len Sutton to run in the Indy ‘500’, no less. Combining multi-tubular spaceframe chassis construction with one of the new breed of methanol-burning 255 cubic inch – 4.2-litre – 4-cam Ford V8 engines, that Vollstedt-Ford qualified well – and finished 12th after a 20-minute stop to clear its system of contaminated fuel. Meanwhile, Canadian rookie driver Billy Foster had qualified a sister Vollstedt-Offy sixth-fastest at a new record speed for the Offy engine – which confirmed the essential class of these Vollstedt chassis…
For 1966, Rolla the Racer returned to the Indy ‘500’ with an entry including two brand-new monocoque-chassised Vollstedt-Fords. His drivers that season during the complete USAC race series included not only southern stock car ace Cale Yarborough and Billy Foster, but also two future Indy winners – Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti – while for the Japanese USAC race at Mt Fuji, international Formula 1 star Chris Amon – destined to lead the Ferrari factory team in the coming year – also took the wheel of a Vollstedt product.
By 1973, Rolla Vollstedt’s ‘Champcars’ were heavily influenced – as were all American construction for the year’s National Championship and Indy ‘500’ race cars, by the proven pace and success of the wedge-shaped McLaren M16s and the 1972 Eagles – all of which employed similar turbocharged 2.65-litre Offenhauser 4-cylinder engines.