How America Beat F1 to Weird Six-Wheeled Race Cars by Nearly 30 Years

If only Tyrrell F1 had read up on the Pat Clancy Special.

Billy Devore pat clancy special
AP Images

There used to be an interesting lack of, let's call it, obvious regulations in motorsport some half-a-century ago. Among the more extreme examples was the famous six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 Formula 1 racer, which came about in the 1970s when the team realized there was nothing in the rulebook that explicitly stated a car couldn't have more than four wheels. It was remarkable for both ruining the lives of the mechanics doing wheel alignments for it, and for being pretty useless. 

But it wasn't the first pro-level race car to go for six wheels—that honor belongs to the lesser-known Pat Clancy Special from the immediate postwar years of American Indy car racing.

Back then, the barriers to entry were much lower than today, resulting in quite a few cars that strayed from the norm as lesser-funded teams cobbled together their entries from off-the-shelf parts. This was extremely true of Pat Clancy's mad machine, which competed in the 1948-1949 open-wheel season.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The car's bare chassis

The front axle, according to Mac's Motor City Garage, is the tubular type found on mid-1930s Plymouths. It was sprung by a Ford-style single leaf and damped by two lever-action hydraulic shocks. The chassis was reportedly built by famous West Coast guru Frank Curtis, but it was heavily modified by the car's chief mechanic, A.J. Bowen. While Tyrell went for the double front axle to increase the contact patch for better braking, the dual driven rear axles on Pat Clancy's car were intended to make the car faster... somehow. The setup was not unlike a semi-truck, with a short driveshaft running between the two rear tubes to put the power down.

That chassis doesn't look too sturdy to me, but I am an amateur when it comes to 1940s race car design. There's something disconcerting about the one-inch angle iron that's welded all over it. Apparently it was used as extra support for the body and the fuel tank. This car qualified 21st at Indianapolis in 1948 at 123.967 miles per hour, something I would be hesitant to do after seeing photos of this monstrosity.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

One of the car's drivers, Billy Devore, posing for a picture in the car

I like the look on the driver's face as he's posing for this picture. I call it, "Get a load of this shit!"

The 270-cubic-inch Offenhauser four-cylinder made 275 horsepower, which was on-par with its competitors, although it had to drive an extra set of wheels. Said wheels were reportedly cast magnesium. If this is true, it would be one of the first cars at Indy to run such a setup.

The annals of history claim that Clancy's source of funding was the main reason for his car being a six-wheeled contraption, having made his small fortune running a trucking company. According to a 1975 issue of Car and Driver, he noticed that in general, the more wheels his trucks had the quicker it could navigate tight mountain lanes. 

It placed 12th in the 1948 Indianapolis 500, but that would be its crowning achievement. A string of mechanical failures and the concept's overall uselessness led Clancy's team to convert the six-wheeler into a conventional four-wheeled car, which didn't do well either. 

If only Tyrrell had read up on Clancy's attempt before dreaming up its unconventional car for the 1976 F1 season—wait, what am I saying? The more weirdos, the merrier. Let's find another six-wheel loophole once racing starts up again in earnest.

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