Friday, September 5, 2008

Liquid Suspension: Joe Huffaker’s 2 Cars Intrigue Speedway Fans

(Paul Johnson Photo)

Liquid Suspension

Joe Huffaker’s 2 Cars Intrigue Speedway Fans

By Rick Johnson-Indianapolis Star, May 26, 1964

Car builder Joe Huffaker of San Francisco, Calif., looks more like a clerk in a drugstore than he does a red hot racing car builder and mechanic.

In the words of one veteran speedway mechanic, “that Huffaker is really something. He came here with two cars and a has-been and a never-was for drivers and really stood this place on its ear.”

It is questionable if drivers Bob Veith and Walter Hansgen will ever fit the has-been and never-was category, but Joe has given the Speedway something to talk about with his two MG Liquid Suspension Specials.

Bob Veith (Photo Courtesy

Walt Hansgen (Photo Courtesy

Huffaker has been building and racing sports cars since 1946, and is now working in connection with the British motor car company as a car builder in San Francisco.

Last year was Joe’s first trip to the Indianapolis track, and in his words, “we came here with an old box that didn’t have what it took and missed the race.”

Joe brought Pedro Rodriguez to the Speedway in 1963, along with a Cooper chassis with a six-cylinder Aston-Martin engine mounted in the rear. Pedro passed his drivers test in the machine, but could not get the car up to qualifying speeds.

Pedro Rodriguez at Indy, 1963 (Rick Johnson Photo)

Huffaker quickly saw what had to be done, and with the backing of the British company and Kjell Qvale, he went to work. Within seven months, Joe had created a prototype car which employed liquid suspension, and then built two more when tests by national driving champion A.J. Foyt at Phoenix and here at Indianapolis proved the car would go.

Joe built a new car for Foyt, and took the other two to run under the MG colors. But Pedro Rodriguez crashed in one of them, demolishing the machine, and then Foyt decided he would rather drive his old reliable Watson-built roadster, and Huffaker took the rear engine machine back.

Rodriguez Indy practice crash, 1964 (Rick Johnson Photo)

Rodriguez Indy practice crash, 1964 (Rick Johnson Photo)

It looked like Joe had all the trouble he could handle for a day or two until he teamed up with Veith and got him in the seat of car No. 54.

Bob Veith, 1964 (IMS Photo)

“I gave Bob his first ride in a race car,” Joe said. “And that was way back in 1946. We weren’t strangers, and he got the car going real well.”

Huffaker’s other driver is also no stranger to racing. He is Hansgen, a veteran sportscar driver who has piloted cars for Briggs Cunningham and Alfred Momo. Hansgen is a native of Bedminster, Md.

Walt Hansgen, 1964 (IMS Photo)

When Huffaker was asked how he happened to learn about Hansgen, he said, “That was easy…Hansgen was beating the hell out of our cars and I wanted to give him a try.”

“This place is really something,” Huffaker said, “but I really hate to stay away from home a whole month. I wish we could just stay home and get ready, and then come here and run.”

And if things go right race day, there’ll be a whole lot of people in the garage area that will just plainly wish Joe would stay home period.

1 comment:

  1. "Pedro passed his drivers test in the machine, but could not get the car up to qualifying speeds."

    Au contraire, Pedro QUALIFIED the car (the very same driven by Jack Brabham in 1961) but was bumped from the field on the last day of qualifying. The reason? Joe Huffaker wanted an Offy in the formerly Coventry-Climax powered machine, but owner Kjell Kvale imposed the heavy and powerless Aston lump. A BIG mistake as the Cooper was still faster than the twist-O-flex Lotus 29 chassis in the corners that year, and an Offy would have certainly made the Cooper a potential winner.


Feel free to comment away with your bad-ass selves.

Cursing and foul language is fine...even encouraged here. In fact, I think cussing is fucking wonderful.

Just remember...this is MY house, and I will not be insulted or maliciously messed with here.

Good-natured ribbing is cool, but if you and I don't have some kind of previous relationship, you had best mind your fucking manners or I will relegate you to the intardnets dustbin for being a cunt.

To know me is to love me.

Or something.