7 January 2014

Andy Granatelli, 1923-2013: A supercharged life

On Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, perhaps the most versatile car owner to ever file an entry at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Anthony “Andy” Granatelli, died at age 90.

Andy was born March 18, 1923, in Dallas, Texas. He spent a large part of his adult life in Chicago, where he and his brothers Joe and Vince opened a speed shop known as Grancor. The three brothers soon had a reputation for building fast flathead V-8 Ford hot rods. Andy made most of the business decisions.

In 1946, Andy and his brothers pooled their money and entered one of the 1935 front-drive Miller-Fords at Indianapolis. By ’52, Granatelli had installed Jim Rathmann in a Grancor-owned, Offy-powered Kurtis Kraft 3000 chassis.  Jim raced hard all day, finishing in second place.

“We could’ve won this race,” Andy beamed.  “We could’ve won it — and someday, we will win it!”

In ‘54, according to Granatelli, due to some sloppy officiating by the AAA, Jim Rathmann and the Grancor roadster were bumped from the lineup. In response, he threw up both hands and left Indianapolis. His lips said he was done with Indy, but his heart knew differently.

In early spring 1961, Andy purchased what was left of the vaunted Novi racing team. For the next five years, he returned to Indy with a Novi entry. The Granatelli Novis put on some thrilling shows at the ol’ Brickyard.

In 1963, Jim Hurtubise looked like he had a shot at winning the 500.  However, he was disqualified — many felt erroneously — for leaking oil.

Off the track, Andy purchased the STP Oil Treatment from the Studebaker Corporation. He turned the thick engine additive into an overnight sensation.  Andy, the supercharged salesman, had the public thinking that their passenger cars wouldn’t run without STP. It didn’t hurt that he pulled off a deal to have NASCAR superstar Richard Petty endorse his product.

In 1967, Parnelli Jones and Granatelli’s radical turbine-powered racer —an idea Andy had considered for years — came within three laps of winning the Indy classic. With Jones well in front, a $10 ball bearing in the transmission failed.

The following year, Granatelli returned to Indy with a gaggle of turbine-powered Lotus 56 racers designed by Colin Chapman. They were blazingly fast, but failed to finish. Thereafter, for all intent and purposes, USAC ruled the turbines illegal.

In ’69, Granatelli hooked up with driver Mario Andretti and master mechanic Clint Brawner. All three men, each with his own unlucky story, were determined to win Indy. Mario drove a great race, and Brawner’s turbocharged four-cam Ford-powered Hawk performed flawlessly. No one could believe it when they pulled it off. With this victory, Andy had nothing to prove and his direct involvement in a racing team faded away, although he remained in the automotive business.

Many admired the flamboyant racer turned innovator and entrepreneur. Like anyone of his stature, he also had his detractors. Perhaps Andy summed it up best: “I can’t help who I am,” he’d say. “I was born supercharged.”

8 Reader Comments

  • 1
    1ST-RAT Scottsdale January 9, 2014 at 16:57
    I read his biography (Mr.500) in about 1968 or 70. It impressed me with a lifestyle I could only dream about. It seems all the great ones are starting to pass on. Detractors or not, He definitely was one of the great ones! I will miss him.
  • 2
    Ken Tennis Florida January 9, 2014 at 17:15
    In 1966 every starter in the Indy 500 started and ran on TRW drop forged aluminum racing pistons. I worked on every one of those pistons and a whole lot more that year!!
  • 3
    mike cenit michigan January 9, 2014 at 20:37
    Andy Granatelli ran the Paxton Division of Studebaker and was responsible for the record breaking Avanti, Super Hawk, and Super Lark runs at the Salt Flats. Studebaker fans greatly appreciate his Studebaker accomplishments.
  • 4
    pete michigan January 10, 2014 at 15:30
    I remember in Mechanics Illustrated when I was a kid a story by Tom McCahill with Andy G tweaking out a 1950 Ford with heads, pipes and multi carbs.Drive on !
  • 5
    Randy South Carolina January 10, 2014 at 07:52
    This man and his love of machines were what sparked my love of automobiles in the 1960's. It was wondrous each year to see what new and inventive machines he would bring to Indy. It is so sad that creative ingenuity has been all but lost from motor racing. His legacy will always be integral with man, machine and the love of speed. God Speed Mister Granatelli!
  • 6
    Norman Searle Devon, Alberta January 10, 2014 at 00:39
    Decent article except I believe there may be a missing part of this story. It is my recollection Andy Granatelli drove supercharged and normally aspirated Studebakers to dozens of world records on the salt flats in 1962 and 1963. When I read the headline "Supercharged life" I expected to see at least a mention of his involvement with Studebaker, but no. All that was said was he bought STP from Studebaker and made a killing with it. Please check your facts. There is more to the story than that!
  • 7
    joe c new boston NH January 11, 2014 at 18:57
    I clearly remember Andy, his teams and STP. STP is still the greatest thing to use when rebuilding an engine that you're not going to start for a while. Also, in the days when hydraulic valve lifters were still new and used to stick and click often, STP was great a freeing them up. RIP Andy. Joe C
  • 8
    Robert Mc Donald Moore, OKlamoma April 19, 2014 at 16:46
    I had no idea he was a flat's racer but is typical that it would not be something he was widely remembered for. After winning Indianapolis, everything else you have accomplished shrinks to irrelevance. Even the guys that just come close will always be know for that one thing. Ruby, Cogan (My God, Cogan, whew!) etc. I suspect Andy died a satisfied man and does indeed Rest In Peace.

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