CENTER HARBOR — Bob Valpey owns a bit of Indy 500 history in the form of a 1931 Studebaker, originally known as the Hunt-Jenkins Special, which was briefly in first place in the 1931 race and would later go on to set a record that same year in the Pike's Peak Hill Climb
It is one of many rare vintage cars owned by Valpey and occupies a special place in his collection, as he says one the first cars he ever owned was a 1955 Studebaker.
He recalls that when he was 14 years old his grandmother sent him a picture of the car which had appeared in a Popular Mechanic magazine and wrote him a note which said that he would look great in that car.
''I never had any idea I'd own it. But in the late 1960s, I saw it a Studebaker Meet in South Bend, Indiana, and asked the owner to put me on the list of people interested in buying it.''
It took about 15 years before the owner, who had completely restored the historic #37 Studebaker Indy racer, decided to sell it and Valpey bought it and added it to his collection in 1983.
''It was a prototype race car built for the 1931 race race by George Hunt and Ab Jenkins. The Indy 500 had changed the rules on engine size which opened it up the race to production engines so that manufacturers could enter cars,'' says Valpey.
The eight-cylinder engine with dual carburetors measured 336 cubic inches an produced 205 horsepower, enabling it to qualify with an average speed of better than 111 miles per hour.
Valpey said the chassis was constructed by the Herman Rigling shop in Indianapolis, and the body was made by "Pops" Dreyer for the Rigling shop. Hunt was an engineer at Studebaker and Jenkins was a race driver who set many speed records in long distance races with Studebaker cars, though he never drove at Indianapolis.
Car #37 was driven in the 1931 Indy 500 race by Tony Gulotta, who on the 120th lap was given the signal to run flat out. Gulotta passed 18 cars in the next 46 laps and was running in first place when the car hit a patch of oil from Billy Arnold's crash and went into the wall.
''It lead for about three-quarters of a lap,'' says Valpey, who says the car was repaired and entered the 1931 Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It was the last car to run that day on a badly chewed up race course. The car, driven by Chuck Myers, won the hill climb and set a new overall record for the mountain.
He says that in 1932 Studebaker entered five cars in the Indianapolis 500 and #37 finished in 6th place. The same team was entered in the 1933 race. All five cars finished and were among the first 12 cars to finish, with #37 finishing 12th. Valpey says that no other automobile manufacturer ever enjoyed the same success at the Indy 500 as Studebaker, whose race cars were built from engines, chassis and drive trains taken from the production line with very little modification.
Since he has owned the car, Valpey has driven it in Vintage Car events at N.H. Motor Speedway in Loudon and driven it the top of Mt. Washington several times since the Climb to the Clouds was revived in 1990.
''The event hadn't been run for 29 years and when they revived it I was contacted and asked to take part. I wanted to see what he car could do So I drove up with my wife Alice in the passenger seat and we actually made two trips up the mountain that day,'' says Valpey.
He says that owning the historic race car has given him a lot of pleasure and that he's had the opportunity to meet a lot of nice people because of it.''
He owns other Studebakers, including a 1936 Studebaker truck which he uses to haul another of his cars, a vintage Stutz Bearcat, to vintage auto shows throughout New England.
CAPTION: pix slugged Valpey
Bob Valpey of Center Harbor stands next to his 1931 Studebaker, which raced in the Indy 500 in 1931 and was leading when it crashed into the wall on the 167th lap. (Roger Amsden/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)
Caption pix slugged Valpey 2.
The eight-cylinder engine of Bob Valpey's 1931 Studebaker Indy 500 racer produced 205 horsepower, (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
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