Hooniverse Weekend Edition: Indy Pace Cars from 1970 – 1979

In observance of the annual Indianapolis 500 Race that took place over the weekend (and was historically run on Memorial Day) I thought I would dive into a pictorial history of the cars that paced this once great race. We have already discovered the Pace Cars of the 50s and the 60s, so its onto the OPEC Era of the 70s.

It was a decade since the last Oldsmobile was selected to pace the Indianapolis 500, so in 1970, Oldsmobile was selected, and they provided a 4-4-2 Convertible. There was a 455 CID V-8 under the hood, with 365 HP at the ready.

For 1971, the local Indianapolis Dodge Dealers supplied a Dodge Challenger Convertible, powered by a 383 CID V-8 which had on tap 300 HP. This particular car was involved in the only Pace Car mishap, with the local Indianapolis Car Dealer, Eldon Palmer losing control, and crashing into the photographer stand, and injuring 20 people, including Astronaut John Glenn, and Indy Car Driver Troy Hulman.

Oldsmobile, with the help of Hurst, fielded a 1972 Hurst Oldsmobile Cutlass Convertible. Again, this was unusual, since Oldsmobile produced a Pace Car only 2 years prior. This car was equipped with a 455 CID V-8, and produced 300 HP.

Cadillac was selected to pace the Indianapolis field for 1973, and they brought a number of white Cadillac Eldorado Convertibles. One was modified to produce 500 HP from the 500 CID Cadillac V-8! The only other modification to this Front Wheel Drive behemoth was speed rated radials.

For 1974, Oldsmobile was once again selected to pace the Memorial Day event. With the help of Hurst, Oldsmobile modified the Colonnade Coupe into an open top pace car, one of the first such modifications that will be performed on future pace cars. This car was equipped with the 455 CID Oldsmobile V-8, only this time producing 230 HP.

Oldsmobiles corporate cousin, Buick, fielded a 1975 Buick Century for the next Indianapolis 500. No modifications to the body were necessary as a T-Top version of the Century Hardtop was selected. The engine chosen was a modified Buick 350 CID V-8 producing 325 HP. There was also 30 replicas made.

In a first for Indianapolis, Buick was once again chosen to field a Pace Car, 2 years in a row. However, there was a twist this time. Buick chose the Century again, only this time powered by a Turbocharged Buick V-6, displacing only 231 CID. The engine was massaged to produce over 300 HP. Buick then went on to create 1,290 replicas for sale to the general public.

Oldsmobile made a return appearance for 1977, only instead of a Cutlass, they decided to field their brand new, down-sized Delta 88 models. This car was modified by removing the top, so that it had an appearance of a Targa-Top referring to the stylish Porsche Open Top Models. It was powered by the Oldsmobile 403 CID V-8 and driven by actor James Garner at the track.

1978 was a milestone year for the Pace Car program because this was the very first time the Corvette was chosen to pace the field. It was the 25th anniversary of the Corvette, and it was fitting to have the car pace at Indianapolis. It came equipped with the Chevy 350 CID V-8 producing 220 HP. Over 6000 replicas were built.

Breaking the all GM Monopoly at Indianapolis, the all new 1979 Mustang Cobra was selected to be the lead car of the pack. A T-top Hatchback Model was chosen, with a highly modified 302 CID V-8 that produced 280 HP. Ford built over 11,000 replicas for sale to the general public.

That closes out the 1970’s, and what an era it was for pace cars. There were four Oldsmobiles selected for duty, two Buicks (One with a Turbo V-6!), a front wheel drive Eldorado, the first Fox Bodied Mustang, The first of many Corvette Pace Cars, and a Challenger that was involved in an infamous crash. What would be your favorites? Tune in for more Indy Pace Car History later.

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7 responses to “Hooniverse Weekend Edition: Indy Pace Cars from 1970 – 1979”

  1. buzzboy7 Avatar

    A guy I know has that exact cadillac(minus the engine massaging). That color combo is strange in person. Just so gaudy. Cool car though. Nothing beats cruising in a real cadillac with the top down.

  2. ptschett Avatar

    I've loved the '78 Vette pace car since I was a little kid, and I have no idea why. Logically a '78 of practically anything is undesirable, but that car just gets me.

    1. soo΄pәr-bādd75 Avatar

      Now I get it, you were being punny! Good one!

  3. soo΄pәr-bādd75 Avatar

    That '70 4-4-2 is a bad ass ride. I had a friend in high school that had one similar to the one above, only his was white and gold with a white top and interior. I drooled over those cars years ago, and I still do. The Rocket division sure built some memorable cars, it's sad that GM did them wrong in the '80s.

  4. surveys for money Avatar

    My cousin suggested this website, and she is absolutely right in every way, Keep up all the great work.

  5. Tom Avatar

    The 75 Buick pace car(2 were produced) had 455 cubic inch V8s not 350s. The replicas had the 350 cubic inch.