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1954 Indy 500: Bear Alignment of an Offy-Powered Racing Car

The Bear Manufacturing Co. of Rock Island, Illinois, for over four decades set up its state of the art wheel alignment equipment near the car garages in Gasoline Alley and offered wheel alignments to all car owners and crew chiefs.

Today’s pair of staged images, taken on May 4, 1954, contains a Bear Manufacturing Co. wheel alignment rack and company mechanics checking the front end settings on an unidentified four-cylinder d.o.h.c Offenhauser-powered racing car. Unlike today’s plush garages you will notice that Bear’s operation was in a lean-to with tarps used on the sides and probably the front for protection against wind, rain, and cold weather that can be experienced at the track in Indianapolis the spring.

A third image below shows Jim Rathman’s Kurtis Kraft roadster and crew in their garage in Gasoline Alley. It is followed by an action-packed and interesting video of the 1954 Indy 500 race.

Tell us if you can identify the car on the Bear wheel alignment rack and what else you may find of interest in the images courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

  • Close up view of one of the two front alignment tables set up for checking the camber angle of a front wheel. 

Jim Rathman’s Kurtis Kraft roadster above in its garage located in Gasoline Alley at the speedway. The car powered by a four-cylinder d.o.h.c Offy went out on lap 110 after an accident. The crew from Bear is stacking up all of the Firestone tires mounted on Hailbrand magnesium rims needed during practice and qualifying laps and possibly the 500 mile the race.

  • View the fast-paced action on the track at the 1954 Indianapolis 500 mile race.

17 responses to “1954 Indy 500: Bear Alignment of an Offy-Powered Racing Car

  1. That is a really substantial starter drive attach area on the front of that car in the 2nd photo ! Had no idea what was behind “the hole” in the front…must have been a really torque’y remote starter they attached to it !

  2. Excuse my ignorance, some one educate me please.
    Is the driving position in this car very high up?.
    Are the exhaust pipes blocked with some protective rags?
    Why does the Offy have short exhaust pipes when same year european F1 cars used long pipes?
    Thanks for the patience

    • Championship cars where built this way from the late 1910s until the early to mid-1950s when lower “Roadsters” like the #38 in the lower photo began the change over.

      Those are the intakes that feed the Hilborn fuel injectors on each cylinder. Rubber radiator hose was used because if it got hit by something chances are it would return to its original shape and keep functioning. A exhaust header and a long exhaust pipe was used on the other side.

  3. I think it’s the #27 Chapman Special, a 1952 Myron Stevens chassis, driven by then rookie Ed Elisian (relieved by Bob Scott), started 31st and finished 18th.

  4. A very SoCal race. We get a glimpse of Jim Travers, soon to found TRACO, at the end, Billy, a midget driver on the West coast from Fresno, Hillborn injectors from Stu a high school buddy of Jim, Kurtis body and the Offy itself, born from the Miller in SoCal. A lot of hot rodding in that flic. Lack of effective rollbars, useless helmets, street clothes are from a far different era.

  5. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the Halibrand wheels, straight from Culver City nearby TRACO Engineering. A hot bed of aircraft engineering, after the war business turned to civilian life and hot rodding really took off in the that area, even though there was a lot of pre-war activity as well. Shelby later moved near there in Venice, taking over the Lance Reventlow factory, another user of TRACO engines.

  6. I was checking out the tools on the back wall. I assume the long device was used for setting the wheelbase side to side. Those are a couple of very interesting looking wrenches, as well as the “Bear Wheel Aligner” and other specialized arcana from the roadster era.

    Anyone in the Midwest who is interested in racing cars of the roadster era and earlier should check out the Millers At Milwaukee event in early summer.

  7. It always entertains me to see the older wheel alignment technique (s) , I retain: Plumb Bob & Trammel Rod for such occasions ! It also entertains me that: huge chunks of that car are made in Southern California. The Curtis Chassis Company was in our neighborhood. The “Rags in the head- pipes” are to prevent warping of Exhaust Valves from rapid exposure to cold air — after the engine has been running at high speed . The rags can be removed after the engine is cold again. The short pipes may be just the right length for (resonant) scavenging” at , (or near) Horsepower Peak RPM. Conversely, the cost of the weight of a long, tuned exhaust system — might have an un-wanted ” detrimental issue “. Many decades of Meyer- Drake -Offenhauser experience are witnessed at the Checkered Flag.

    • As I commented earlier: These pipes are the intakes that feed the Hilborn fuel injectors on each cylinder. Rubber radiator hose was used because if steel was and it got hit by something it might close up and cut off the air supply to the fuel injector. By using rubber chances are it would return to its original shape and keep functioning. A exhaust header and a long exhaust pipe was used on the other side.

      If you look closely the fuel injection unit can be seen behind the rubber tubing. The rags are used for keeping dirt out.

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