As many people know, I am always buying books about all sorts of cars, both old and new. Recently I purchased a book about the legendary Novi Indy cars to add to my library. The book is entitled “Novi V-8 Indy Cars 1941 – 1965” written by Karl Ludvigsen in 2001. The Novi cars were always among the fastest cars at the Indianapolis, but they had a well deserved reputation for being hard to drive as the engine’s horsepower seemed to exceed the limitations of tire adhesion. In addition, the Novi cars seemed to have had well more than their share of bad luck.
Karl Ludvigsen’s Book About The Novi Cars
One of the problems with the Novi cars was that when the drivers really put their foot on the gas pedal, then they would spin the tires. Remember that tires in the 1950s and early 1960s did not have the grip of later tires. In 1963, the Novi brain trust led by Andy Granatelli, at the suggestion of Stirling Moss, thought that having a four-wheel drive car would be appropriate for the Novi, as the power could be dispersed over four tires instead of two. To test this theory, they brought a Ferguson P99 Grand Prix car to the Indianapolis Speedway for testing in August 1963. This car is shown below.
The Four-Wheel Drive Ferguson P99 Grand Prix Car Was A Model For Novi
Ferguson had built the four-wheel drive Grand Prix car in 1960 and entered it is several Grand Prix races. The Ferguson P99 was raced during 1961 season in non-championship Formula 1 races. The car only won one of these races, the 1961 International Gold Cup at Oulton Park with Stirling Moss as the driver. The car raced only once in the World Championship at the British Grand Prix.
At Indianapolis, despite its engine having only about 220 horsepower, the Ferguson lapped at about 140 miles per hour at a time when the top Indy cars were lapping at just about 150 miles per hour. The Ferguson P99 handled well in the corners, so the Novi people thought that if they could add the power of the Novi engine to a four-wheel drive set up, then they would be successful.
In 1964 the Novi engine was a 161 cubic inch V8 engine with dual overhead camshafts and a huge Paxton supercharger. At that time the Novi V8 engine was the most powerful road racing engine in the world producing 742 horsepower at 8,200 rpm.
The Paxton Supercharger Deliver 65 psi Of Boost To The Novi V-8 Engine!
The 65 psi of boost produced by the Paxton supercharger is almost beyond comprehension. I have raced/rallied in cars with over 20 psi of boost from turbochargers and I thought that these values were high, but 65 psi is huge boost! This is delivering a very large amount of the air/fuel mixture into the engine from which it can extract the power. No wonder the horsepower produced was large.
The 1964 Novi-Ferguson Indy Car
In 1964 Bobby Unser qualified the Novi-Ferguson fifth fastest on the grid at almost 155 miles per hour. Unfortunately the Novi’s bad luck continued as Unser was involved in a second lap crash, which resulted in a 31st place finish.
I have just extracted a few photos and stories from this book and I look forward to finish reading the whole book. It looks great! One story I want to find out more about is the story of the Novi team bringing five-time World Driving Champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, to Indianapolis in 1958 to see if he could drive the Novi.