Imagine if you walked into your neighbor's basement and stumbled on a scene like this. Almost 30 years ago, Bob Akin bought his first old Indy race car, the '61 Autolite Dealer's Association Special. He paid $850 for it, which seems like an absolute steal now. It was this car that set Bill on a path to resurrect old Indy race cars and reignite that special time when Offy-powered roadsters dominated the Brickyard during the '50s and '60s. But, Bill is into way more things automotive than just Indy roadsters with handbuilt aluminum bodies. "My first new car was a '65 Dodge Dart with a 273, four-barrel, and a four-speed...you could call it a mini–muscle car. Then, 10 years ago, I found a '65 Dodge Dart at Pomona, and I built a clone with a 273, four-barrel, and four-speed." He's also built a somewhat eclectic '64 Valiant two-door post with, as Bill calls it, the largest small-block he could build: a 426ci small-block with a 340 Six-Pak intake. Bill says, "It's kinda like a rat rod."
Bill has been reading the magazines and especially Hot Rod since 1958, so he has a tremendous performance background from which to choose. He also has built a channeled '32 roadster and a '40 Ford that have both appeared in Hot Rod, as well as a '29 Model A with a four-cam, Indy-car engine and a Champ quick-change rearend. "If it has a V8 and a four-speed, I'm into it." But, it is the Indy cars that really have our undivided attention. Three of his cars will be at Indy this year for several events before the race on Sunday. The bucket-list opportunity is driving these beasts on the track. A couple years ago, he drove the Bowes car down the back straight at 152 mph. Bill admitted that "Turn 3 came up pretty quick!"
I entered the 2008 Pebble Beach show and got 100 points— and got Second Place. That's a tough joint. —Bill Akin
If it sounds odd that a guy would be into Pebble Beach Concours-winning Indy cars and small-block A-body Mopars, welcome to Bill Akin's world. Frankly, it makes perfect sense to us.
If you would like to see these cars in person, Akin takes them to the Brickyard every year for pre-race events. In three separate events at the track, Bill will fire up his roadsters and put them back on the track, including Legends Day on Saturday before Sunday's race.
Bill owns two more Indy roadsters that were in a different location when this photo was taken. The first car he bought is the No. 5 Autolite Dealer's Association car that finished Eighth in 1961, driven by Lloyd Ruby and originally built by Quinn Epperly. The fourth car is currently under construction and ran in 1962 as the #54 Bryant Heating and Cooling Special, driven by Bobby Marshman, who finished Fifth.
1. In addition to this shop, Bill told us he has a 40x80 shop full of cars and parts. "I'm into old cars."
2. The No. 15 Bardahl Special is a Kurtis 500B, powered by an Offy four-cylinder. The car was originally built for automotive entrepreneur Andy Granatelli and raced in the '53 Indy 500, driven by Freddie Agabashian. This same car finished Third in 1955, driven by Jimmy Davies.
3. All of Akin's roasters are Offy-powered. The famous Offy race engine won every Indy 500 from 1947 to 1964. The most unique aspect of the Offy is that the head and block are cast as one piece. This avoided problems with head gaskets but certainly makes valve seat work difficult. Note the Sparks-Goossen-Drake casting on the cylinder head of the far-right engine. This was one of the later engines developed as a partnership between Art Sparks, Leo Goossen, and Dale Drake. Fred Offenhauser and Leo Goossen worked for Miller in the '20s. Offenhauser purchased the machinery and tooling when Miller went bankrupt during the Great Depression. Later, Drake and partner Lou Meyer purchased the tooling and rights to build the engine from Offenhauser. There is a fantastic history of this racing engine that is worth reading if you are interested. The Offy chalked up Brickyard wins from 1935 through 1976.
4. Sadly, our photo doesn't show much of the No. 33 Bowes Seal Fast roadster, his favorite. The car was originally built by Quinn Epperly for car owner Bob Bowes. It was built in 1959 and finished Sixth in that year's Indy 500. George Bignotti was its crew chief. Bill will proudly tell you that when Bignotti saw the restored car again, his comment was "That's a fast S.O.B."