Jun 02 2011

The Marmon Wasp -Winner of the 1911 Indy 500 Race

Excellent discussion on RacingHistory@yahoogroups.com on the winner of the Inaugural Indy 500 Race in 1911 -the Marmon Wasp:

Brian, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Does anyone know the story behind the Marmon Wasp that is in the Indy Hall of Fame Museum?

Such things as...

- How much of this is the original car?

- What happened to the car after the race?

- Who restored it?

- What condition was it in prior to restoration?


Randall Cook, Indianapolis, Indiana:


The Marmon Wasp that you see in the IMS museum is among the most original of any restoration that you will ever see with nearly all original parts. After the 1911 500 Mile Race win Marmon and Harroun did take the car to some exhibition races (on dirt tracks) but after that the car was basically parked in the Marmon factory in Indianapolis. Marmon quit building cars in about 1933 (I believe) with the onset of the Depression but was soon reinvented as a military all wheel drive systems company due to the addition of British born Colonel Arthur W.S. Herrington to the company. Herrington brought financial backing as well and the name of the firm was changed to Marmon-Herrington at that point.

During all of these years the Wasp stayed with the company with the car being brought out at various times still in running condition. There are actually color films of the car at the Indianapolis 500 as early as 1937. And the car also appears in the 1946 Firestone film "Crucible of Speed" with Ray Harroun sitting in the car being interviewed. During these years there was block lettering down the sides of the car proclaiming something to the effect that it was the first Indianapolis champion.

At some point in the middle 1950s Tony Hulman approached Herrington about acquiring the Wasp for inclusion into the new IMS museum he was planning. I'm not sure whether the car was purchased or donated but it was at this point that the car became the property of the Speedway. Old racer Karl Kizer was the first curator of the new museum and he oversaw the restoration of the car. When it came to the exact shade of yellow to use Ray Harroun himself was called in and the car is still painted today in the color that Harroun remembered.

As someone here at RacingHistory previously noted the films of the Wasp being driven at the Golden Anniversary 500 in 1961 show plenty of oil being burned as the car is run. It turns out that the engine was rebuilt (somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s...I can't remember for sure) by Bill Spoerle of the IMS museum. He had driven the car himself and didn't like the oil film and smoke blowing everywhere so he added an oil control ring to the pistons to make it cleaner to run during exhibitions at the Speedway. Here's the link to an article about Spoerle where he mentions adding the oil ring.

BTW, Marmon-Herrington went through several iterations as a company over the years but does exist. Today the company still has a presence in drivetrains (among many other things) and is known as the Marmon Group. The Marmon Group is based in Chicago and is currently owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffet through his Berkshire Hathaway holding company.

Also, there was a previous four cylinder version of the "Wasp" (also a single seater) that Harroun built and raced in 1910. Harroun incorporated improvements based on what he had learned from the first car in the 1911 Wasp. Although there may have been a few parts reused these were two separate cars.

Links to related posts on VanderbiltCupRaces.com

Archives: 2011 Indy 500 Centennial Celebration

Archives: Indy 500 Races


Jun 05 2011 Arthur E. Lloyd III 7:00 PM

Seeing the Beast coming down that main straight away at Indy this year was wonderful…
Art Lloyd

Sep 05 2011 Howard Kroplick 10:17 PM

Hi Art:

It was wonderful for me too!!


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