Following the major shift in racing car design that saw engines relocated behind the cockpit, one more important revolution briefly threatened to emerge during the 1960s, that of turbine engines. Traditional manufacturers and racing companies justifiably felt threatened by the high-horsepower jet engines, and they eventually banned them outright, but not before a short run of remarkable race cars demonstrated the raw potential of the platform. Among these cars, few rank as highly as the 1968 Lotus 56, which was built specifically for the Indianapolis 500 before being briefly modified for Formula 1 use.
Four examples of the Lotus 56 were built, with three cars entered in the 1968 Indianapolis 500 and one serving as a back-up car. The Lotus team was undergoing a spate of tragedy as the race neared, as both Jim Clark and Mike Spence had recently perished behind the wheel within a month of one another. American drivers Joe Leonard and Art Pollard were recruited as late substitutes for Team Lotus, joining 1966 Indy 500 winner Graham Hill, who assumed driving duties of car number 70.
During four laps of qualifying, Hill set a new speed record, with an average speed of 171.208 mph (only to be outdone by Leonard’s average of 171.559 mph). The two Lotuses became the first-ever turbine cars to earn pole-position starts at the Indianapolis 500.
RM Sotheby's will be offering this example at their upcoming Monterey auction between the 19-20th August, the estimated value is between $900,000 – $1.2m. For more information on this and other vehicles at the sale, click on the link below. Photos by Stephen Kim ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's.