I have an unhealthy obsession with pace cars from the Indianapolis 500 race.
No seriously, as long as I can remember I have loved some of those pace cars and the production cars made to replicate them.
Now for the last 20 years every pace car has been a General Motors product (the 1996 Dodge Viper was the last non GM car), and it’s been a Chevrolet the last 15 years and a Corvette or Camaro the last 12 years.
Now I am a GM owner, have two in the driveway, so no bias there.
And I’ve been to Indianapolis numerous times with two trips to the Speedway, once for time trials for the 500 in 2005 and got a close up with the Corvette pace car that year.
And again in 2013 for a full tour of the track (on a speeding 35 mph bus), and kissed the bricks to the shock and amusement of the other people on the tour.
But its about the pace cars and some of those are questionable but I love them anyway and really wish to own one.
I told you this was unhealthy, it’s a full on crush.
The first new pace car I remember is the 1978 Chevrolet Corvette C3, it was black and silver and is a gorgeous car.
Yes for a ‘Vette its slow, the L82 engine is not a powerhouse but the bestselling year for Corvettes was the very next year in 1979, so I’m not alone in loving that car.
The 1981 pace car is intriguing, it’s the early incarnation of the Buick Turbo Regal (later to be known as the Grand National), even I the turbo Buick aficionado didn’t know it was a pace car. But this was the start of one of the most beloved Buicks ever.
I also didn’t know about the 1987 Chrysler LeBaron’s history as a pace car. The model had a turbo that was as fast as it was luxurious (it had leather seats), and was part of that great group of Chrysler turbos (including the Shelby and GLH), that have a rabid following. That lead into the rare and quickest sedan of 1991 & 1992 the Dodge Spirit R/T.
One of my personal favorites is the 1988 pace car, the Oldsmobile Cutlass, this was the first year of the front wheel drive V6 Cutlass, new body style and all. It was a drastic change from the previous Cutlass Supremes but at least in 1988 it was innovative but doesn't have the collectors cache as its predecessor.
I also at the time liked the 1990 pace car the Chevrolet Beretta, I later owned its sedan counterpart the Corsica (1992), and you have to remember the lack of power that existed then, so the 3.1 engine was mid-level then. I can tell you personally it had decent pickup but not a sports engine. But at the time, there wasn’t much else.
The 1993 pace car was a return to power, the Chevrolet Camaro Z28, with the LT1 engine V8 making 275 horsepower. That thing was lethal and after years of slow cars it flew, the colors on the pace car are great too, reminiscent of the 1978 Corvette.
1994 was a rebirth of the Ford Mustang, though a 4.6 V8 engine replaced the previous generation (Fox body), legendary 5.0 liter, this was still a nice car, the new design was welcome and really popular, car still holds its value today.
Dodge Vipers paced the Indy 500 in both 1991 & 1996 and they are just raw power, the later versions were more refined but these first generations were track cars with plates.
The Oldsmobile Aurora was an interesting pick, a personal favorite of mine (i've driven the first generation), and extremely innovative when it came out in 1995, it paced the Brickyard twice in 1997 (first generation), & 2000 (second generation), and had the modified Northstar 4.6 V8 to lead. Great car both times but not a sports car and came too late to save Oldsmobile.
I saw the 2005 pace car with my own eyes at the Brickyard, it was the new C5 Corvette and it was beautiful, though not as bright as the great 1998 C4 Vette or another of my favorites the 50th anniversary 2002 Vette that paced the race. Still this was an important car, first Vette without flip up headlights in almost 50 years.
Since then Corvettes have dominated as pace cars with a few years exceptions for the Camaro.
I miss the variety of the different pace cars, even the cars that might have not been the best pick were still fun.
But next year the Cadillac CTS or ATS would be a good pick, same with a Buick Cascada, Ford Mustang, or Dodge Challenger, I need a new pace car to fall in love with.
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Filed under: Cars