Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge Pace Cars

Front wheel drive pace cars (Rick Johnson)

PPG Dodge Turbo Charger pace car

Dodge PPG turbo interceptorThis car was used as a pace car for the 1981 PPG Indy Car World Series.The brilliant red exterior was totally redesigned. It included a new slanted front end with flush headlight covers, front end air dam, real wide wheel flares, rear wing (ala Lamborghini Countach), and flush mounted windows.

The interior is cleanly detailed to a racing trim featuring competition harnesses over Recaro seats, aircraft style VDO guages, black anodized aluminum door panels, an on-board fire system and a full roll cage.

Power is supplied by a blueprinted turbo-charged version of the 2.2, and the suspension is reworked with wider track front and rear, special sway bars, springs, shocks, improved braking and three piece wheels.

the wrath M4S car

Jim E. Hartman says he recently purchased the 1982 Dodge concept/PPG Pace Car from the Harrah collection; it has 1118 miles, 99.5 hours, and it runs perfectly. It's all original and it's a complete Indy Pace car. This car is special and is ready to go and make fans smile.

1982 PPG pace car

PPG Dodge Turbo Interceptor / M4S / The Wraith

    Best known for role in The Wraith, the M4S / Dodge Turbo Interceptor is in storage at the Walter P. Chrysler museum (Derek Beland). The pace car was built by Chrysler and PPG for $1.5 million, and six additional copies were made for the movie filmed in 1986 outside of Tuscon, Arizona, starring Charlie Sheen and Nick Cassavettes. The car was rear wheel drive, with the basic 2.2 block topped by a Cosworth 16 valve, dual-cam head and fed by Bosch fuel injection with twin turbochargers (John Abram Cargo). Road & Track claimed 440 horsepower, 0-60 in 4.1 seconds, and a 12.9 second quarter mile; the mid-engine design was loosely Daytona-based.

    Four still exist; one is at PPG headquarters, one is in a museum. A kit car with the same basic look was made for a while, using a different engine. It was shown at the 1986 Chicago Car Show. Reportedly, a 600 horsepower engine was installed in one copy.

1987 Chrysler Lebaron Convertible - Indy 500 Pace Car

This was red, with replicas in other colors. Three pace cars were prepared for the Indy 500 race, with three point seat belts, and an underhood halon fire-extinguisher. The heavy duty alternator and battery supplied power for the special strobe lights and communication system; they used Chrysler 5 spoke wheels and removed the air conditioner to save weight. Chrysler made "sticker" replicas of these cars with the stock Turbo I running gear and eggshell wheels. Lester Dixon has a letter from Michael J Ray, district sales manager for Chrysler Motors, dated April 6 1988, stating that 1,000 1987 pace cars were sold nationwide. There was also a commemorative jacket with the 1987 Chrysler LeBaron pace car logo.

    Jason Laffin added: "The car also used a 555 transmission, rather than the standard 525 transmission. The specs and upgrades done to the car were documented in the appendix of a early edition of Mopar's 2.2/2.5 FWD Performance Manual (not in current printings). Most of the upgrades were available as the Super 60 package from Mopar Performance, and one of the pace cars is at the Chrysler museum."

    Brian Bartelli wrote:

    For 1987 Chrysler was going to have the official pace car for the Indy 500. A Lebaron convertible body was chosen and engineers Dave Zelkowski and Dick Winkles were assigned to provide the motive power needed for 130 mph pace duties. Reaching into the Directed Connection parts bin, they selected the IMSA valve ported head and other stock components (2 piece intake and 52 mm throttle body); also used for the first time was a low restriction intercooler and turbo with larger compressor and turbine (these would be used later for the S-60 package) with the cam centerlined at 114 degrees, 400 cc injectors, no catalytic converter, and 12 psi of boost. The package made 236 hp and was good for 151 mph. (Info from thedodgegarage.com)

    I recently bought a white replica with documentation, and the Walter P. Chrysler Museum claims they have a picture of a blue one. Included in the documentation was a letter from Chrysler to their car dealers to send their Indy Pace Car kit orders in by December 31, 1987. The kit consisted of 4 Indy Pace Car posters, lapel pen, key chain, framed certificate signed by Lee Iacoca, 1987 Pace Car program, floor console placard with owner's name engraved, and vehicle decals.

Later Lebaron Convertible Pace Car?

    I don't have the date of this car but it was based on the 1988-93 Lebaron body style. The red body is heavily modified. The front end is elongated with a sloping nose, the sides are indented (ala coke bottle shape), and the car has a built in roll bar (ala Porsche Targa). The car came with a 220 horsepower Turbo II, modified high performance suspension and a 5 speed transmission.

PPG pace cars

Both PPG cars were one of a kind cars.

  • John Zeedick wrote: PPG owns the cars. I have a picture of them both sitting at PPG HQ in Pittsburgh, PA. I own a 1992 Convertible.

Rear wheel drive pace cars

We now have a separate page for the 1971 Dodge Challenger convertible pace car

Dodge Stealth pace carWe also have a section at the bottom of the page on the Ontario Motor Speedway Dodge Challenger pace cars.

Mike Sealey provided this list:

1941 Chrysler Newport Parade Phaeton
1948 Nash Ambassador
1951 Chrysler New Yorker
1954 Dodge Royal "500"
1956 DeSoto Fireflite "Pacesetter"
1963 Chrysler 300
1965 Plymouth Sport Fury
1971 Dodge Challenger

Notes about the 1956 DeSoto:

Leslie Howard tells us this was a DeSoto Fireflite Convertible, and said the Pacesetter was only available as a hardtop. Sparky added that "The Fireflite Pacesetter convertible was the pace car, with an estimated 'few hundred' replicas built. Had the standard Fireflite engine, but HD suspension. No Pacesettter hardtops were built--all convertibles. This info was cross-referenced from many sources, including The Plymouth-DeSoto Story.

Doug Dressler wrote about the DeSoto Pace Car Convertible in the November-December 2008 issue of the NCPC Journal. He noted that 1956 was the only year in which DeSoto outsold Chrysler; and confirmed that the Fireflite Pace Car was produced as a commemoration of the Indy 500 pace car, with between 300 and 500 made. Around 35 still exist; all had a gold color sweep, gold anodized wheel, and turbine wheel covers. The interior had gold vinyl with brown and black metallic seat inserts, a gold and white steering wheel, and gold threads woven into the black carpeting. Dual exhausts and a stiffer suspension came with the package.

Irv WoolsonThe actual 1956 DeSoto pace car, which ran over 100 mph when entering the pits, had a 341 cubic inch Adventurer engine (replicas got a 330 cubic inch Fireflite engine) and the Adventurer's transmission (again, Replicas made do with the Powerflite two-speed automatic); the original was driven by Irving Woolson, DeSoto president, and presented after the race to Pat Flaherty, the Indy 500 winning driver. Jared Kratz wrote that it is currently owned by the W.T. Gerard car collection, and was displayed in 2009 at the Ocean Reef Vintage weekend in Key Largo Florida.

Stéphanie Dumas added: In Collectible Automobile (December 2002), they showed a picture of "Uncle Tom" Cahill in a 1957 Plymouth pace car. It was not the pace car for Indianapolis but for the Speed Weeks events.

Indianapolis 500

Gary Quay wrote this list of Indianapolis 500 pace cars: (forwarded to us by Gene Rivers)

  • 1926 Chrysler Imperial - driven by Louis Chevrolet (who helped engineer the original Chevrolet)
  • 1933 Chrysler Imperial - Byron Foy
  • 1941 Chrysler Newport (Phaeton) - A.B. Couture (Chrysler engineer); this was the only non-production Indy pace car!

Tobe Couture in a 1941 Chrysler Newport

  • 1951 Chrysler New Yorker - Dave Wallace
  • 1954 Dodge Royal 500 - William C. Newburg (?)
    • "Moparnut" wrote: "Eldon Palmer - top dog at Palmer Dodge - and not Bill Newburg was the driver for the pace car. Worse, that ended the era of untrained/unprofessional drivers since he overshot the pits and crashed at the end of the pace lap. I was living in Indianapolis in 1954 when Dodge was the pace car for the 500. [The local papers - Indianapolis Star, News, and Times - all agree on Eldon Palmer.]"
  • Irv Woolson1956 DeSoto Adventurer - L.I. Woolson
  • [Chuck B. added: 1957 - Dodge D-500 Custom Royal Lancer Convertible]
  • 1963 Chrysler "300" - Sam Hanks
  • 1965 Plymouth Sports Fury - P.M. Buckminster
  • 1971 Dodge Challenger - Eldon Palmer
  • 1987 Chrysler LeBaron - Carroll Shelby
  • 1991 Dodge Viper - Carroll Shelby*
    • (Duncan Malloch noted that the official 1991 pace car was the Dodge Stealth - otherwise known as the Mitsubishi 3000GT; it's shown above.)
  • 1996 Dodge Viper - Robert A. Lutz
    • In 1996 Dodge Ram Indy 500 Special Pickup Used as Wreckers and Demos

Mike Kube also noted the 1987 Dakota Indy 500 trucks, and Duncan Malloch noted that the Dodge Dakota was the official pace truck in 1991 as well.

* Jake wrote that the 1991 Viper pace car was not just a modified version of the 1989 concept car; it was a running, fully operational vehicle identical to the 1992 production version but hand assembled somewhere rather than made on the "assembly line" (and I use that term loosely) at the Mack Avenue plant because the plant was not ready yet. In short, a handbuilt production-spec prototype. The 1991 Stealth was supposed to be the pace car for the Indy 500 that year but outcries over a vehicle made in Japan pacing "America's Race" prevented that from happening, and the aforementioned Viper was hastily assembled to pace in its place.

Ontario speedway pace cars of the 1970s (Trudy Schmidt)

Dodge Challenger Ontario motor speedway pace car

Richard (Dick) Schmidt has worked for Chrysler for 38 years this month (July 2003). In the 1970s he prepped and maintained the pace cars for the (at that time) brand new Ontario Motor Speedway. We didn't have any wrecks here and were very disappointed when the wrecks happened at Indy because Chrysler then shut down all operations of that sort! In fact, I wonder if Indy might have used the Challengers there because of the success and favor my husband's pace cars received here in California. The people at Ontario were very appreciative of his expertise and ability...but that is another story from a wife who is very proud of her husband!

pace car Dodge Challenger photo

The Challengers had 440 six packs under the hood. Cragar gave him SS wheels for them. The paint was even special. it was the B5 (I think that is what he said) but it had more metalflake mixed in it. They were factory sponsored, not dealer sponsored like in Indy. There were a few other things he did to set them up for the track but I am not sure what it was. Chrysler also supplied cars for the executives at the track so there were other cars, but none as fine-tuned as the two pace cars. 

Richard Schmidt with his Dodge Challenger pace car

(The 1971 Dodge Challenger car shown here is reportedly owned by a private collector in Florida; and Kelly J wrote that the second pace car is still in southern California and is soon to be restored.)

1970-71 Dodge Challenger pace car

Kelly wrote, in 2006:

I have one of the 70-71 pace cars. I purchased it in Febuary 1989 and it has been sitting for all that time waiting to get restored. Galen Govier came by and documented it for me. I have always had the windows down; Galen wanted to check the date codes on all the glass so I started rolling up the windows and found an original sticker on the passenger side quarter window that said Ontario Motor Speedway.

My car is one number off of the vin as the one in Florida. It has the same options as the one in Florida. There is still paint on it from all the different paint jobs over the years. Originaly it was dark green with a green interior, white top and a green stripe down the side. After that it was painted blue with some traces of silver and white on the door, then it was painted red then white which is on the car now.

The original motor and transmission are gone. When I purchased the car I was told that it was a pace car but I did not believe it at first. I would like to restore it.

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