The 1946 Indinapolis 500 Pace Car
by Samuel Landers
Originally published in the Summer 1975 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 121). Reprinted in the March/April 2001 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 239).
Editor’s Introduction: In recent years I have been photographing Pace Car Yellow Lincoln Continentals at our National Meets. In this issue we are including several of them. The story on the original Pace Car Yellow Lincoln Continental, printed in Continental Comments 26 years ago, is reprinted here:
“The Pace Car which was used in the Indianapolis 500 race on May 30, 1946 was a Lincoln Continental Cabriolet. Henry Ford II drove the car at 100 mph on the pace lap with Wilbur Shaw, Speedway President, at his side. The car’s appearance at the Memorial Day race was one of the first public showings of the 1946 Continentals.
The Continental Pace Car was an experimental prototype car and had a special cream colored exterior paint. (This color later became a standard color for the 1947, ‘48 Continentals known as ‘Pace Car Yellow”. The interior had a contrasting (maroon) colored dash with special white or ivory colored plastic knobs and steering wheel. The white plastic hardware was not the original equipment as manufactured, but was added to the car before the day of the race. The seats were also special order. They were a combination of dark (red) leather with tan whipcord. The door panels were also (red) leather. The car came equipped with chrome bands, amber fog lights and probably overdrive. It did not have a radio. In the days before the race the car was dressed up with white sidewall tires and both doors were lettered to commemorate the race day.
The winner of the Indianapolis race was George Robson, a 37-year-old driver from a suburb of Los Angeles, California. The winner received many prizes, but the experimental Continental Pace Car was not one of them. Instead, he received another Ford Motor product.
The Continental Pace Car was returned to Dearborn after the race. On Saturday, June 1, the car was to be in the historic Automotive Golden Jubilee parade. It is then believed that the car was used for a short time by someone in the Ford family. The history of the car after this time is unknown.
The exact identity of this car is not known for certain, but there were only a very few of the 1946 Continental Cabriolets produced in time to make the race. Of these, the one which most closely matches the description of the Pace Car is Cabriolet body #8, serial #139428. This car was painted cream and had tan leather and whipcord upholstery and trim. The tan colored leather seat trim is the only apparent discrepancy that this car had with the available photos of the pace car. It is possible that the upholstery could have been changed as was the plastic hardware.
Body #8 originally had a factory identification number of 6E-1 on its first production card instead of the normal serial number. This number is probably the identification number of a 1946 experimental prototype. The date of assembly for this car cannot be found on any one of the three production cards associated with the car. The two extra production cards were probably early development or prototype changes.
On April 9, 1946, an invoice was written to deliver the car to the Ford Transportation and Equipment Department for use at the Dearborn Lab in Michigan. This was probably in preparation for the Indianapolis race.
The shipping date on the last production was July 3, 1946. It was then shipped to the Long Beach branch in California. On the back of one of the cards is a notation which reads “Tag 20th Century Fox Films Corporation. Sold November, 1947”. This is the last information on the car. (Below is the 1946 press release:)
‘ Detroit, Michigan – Henry Ford II, grandson of the founder of the Ford Motor Company, will be carrying on an established family tradition when he slips behind the wheel of a 1946 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet to set the pace for the Memorial Day race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 30.
Both his famous grandfather, Henry Ford, and the late Edsel Ford, father of the 28-year-old President of the Ford Company, have served as officials of previous races. Edsel Ford led the roaring pack across the starting line as official pacemaker in 1932. And Henry Ford served as referee of the 1924 race.
Riding beside “Young Henry” this year in the sleek, low-slung pace-making Continental, will be Wilbur Shaw, Speedway President. Traveling at 100 miles an hour, the car will set the pace for the first renewal of the 500-mile automobile race classic since the war.
Old-timers, familiar with the fact that the Ford name has been associated with the Speedway since 1911, when the first 500-mile race was held, are looking for history to repeat itself this year. They expect a new speed record will be set by one of the 33 qualifiers whom Mr. Ford will lead across the starting line.
They point out that when Henry Ford acted as referee in the 1924 race, L. L. Corun and Joe Boyer, riding the winning car, set a new record of 98.23 m.p.h.
In 1932, when Edsel Ford served as referee as well as pacemaker, Fred Fram averaged 104.144 m.p.h. to set a new record.
Back in Detroit, the master craftsmen who built this year’s pace-making Continental Cabriolet are watching with pride the attention being given the car. They know its appearance at the Memorial Day races will be one of the first public showings of this new Lincoln Continental model. And on Saturday following the Memorial Day race in Indianapolis, the pace-making Cabriolet will be driven in the historic Automotive Golden Jubilee parade in Detroit which will also mark the 50th anniversary of the operation of the first Ford car by Henry Ford on the streets of Detroit.
Delayed by reconversion and the steel shortage, only a few of these postwar luxury automobiles have been completed at the Lincoln plant so far this year. However, the company is doing everything possible to increase production.
Built to custom standards, the Cabriolet has been planned for beauty, convenience and comfort. Its exceptionally low lines add to its distinctive appearance. The top operates hydraulically by pushbutton, and the windows raise and lower by means of hydraulic window lifts. The car has pushbutton door controls, long soft-acting springs, triple-cushioned rubber installation, and a wheelbase of 125 inches.
Seats are broad and deep, full-cushioned with foamex rubber padding and upholstered in soft top-grain leather. Wide doors and curb-level entrance make it easy to enter and leave the car. Under the rear deck the Continental Cabriolet has a weather-sealed luggage compartment with plenty of room.
As rapidly as possible, the Lincoln Division is distributing its new Continentals to branches throughout the country for spring showings. But due to the fact that all Continentals are custom built by skilled Lincoln craftsmen, production is very limited. The Lincoln Division already has a substantial backlog of orders for the Continentals on hand despite the fact that the 1946 model has just begun to have public showings.
The Continental Coupe sells for $3,445.00 list price and the Cabriolet for $3,511. These prices do not include state, federal and local taxes or company charges for distribution and delivery.’ “