Since the first race in 1911, the Indianapolis 500 has always been considered America’s greatest race, attracting huge crowds and media attention around the world. 200 laps around a 2.5-mile oval was a grueling test of driver and his car, a real test of endurance. From the beginning, the winning cars were designed with the engine in front with names like Miller, Offenhauser, Duesenberg and Kurtis regularly appearing in the winner’s circle.
However, in 1960, a small English racecar manufacturer and their top driver created a sensation at Indy when they appeared for practice with a tiny, mid-engine car. John Cooper (head of Cooper Cars) and Jack Brabham (a Formula One driver) brought the two liter Climax engine T-54 Cooper to see how it would perform in a two-day test. They shocked the Indy establishment by turning a lap of 135 mph on their initial run, eventually hitting 144 mph, which would have put them on the third row of the race grid. Instead of racing, they decided to build a car specifically for the Indy 500 and return the following year.
They returned the following year to race with a car only slightly different than their Formula One car but with larger 3-liter engine. After qualifying at 145 mph, which was good enough for the fifth row, Brabham ran a steady race to finish ninth, a very credible race for a car that was down on power compared to the big Offy’s. Many of the old-timers had taken notice of how well the small, lighter car handled and gave better gas mileage. The revolution had begun.