American restorer Don Lyons has spent years rebuilding six prized Indycars.
Now they’re going under the hammer at Monterey
By Gordon Kirby
Don Lyons has enjoyed his hobby of restoring classic road and racing cars for almost half a century. A long-time Indycar fan, Lyons has personally restored a superb collection of six cars spanning the years 1909-85 and is offering them for auction to make room for his expanding classic car collection. “Between wanting to get back into classic cars and finding myself physically and emotionally not as interested in Indycars as I once was, it was time to make a change,” he says. “I still go to the [Indianapolis] 500 and the Hoosier Hundred every year, and I try to get to Springfield and make some dirt track races because, to me, dirt track racing is the best.”
Lyons lives in Dowagaic in south-eastern Michigan, about two hours from Chicago and an hour from the Indiana state line. His company manufacturers plumbing fixtures, bath tubs, showers, whirlpools and kitchen sinks. He’s the biggest supplier of plumbing fixtures to Menards, the Midwest’s largest home improvement chain owned by long-time racer John Menard. “I’m pretty well retired,” says Lyons. “My father, Dale, started the business in 1968 and my son, Lance, runs it today.”
Lyons says his biggest delight has been meeting and working with some of the great Indycar drivers and car builders from the 1950s and ’60s. “The people have been the fun part. I’ve met so many great people in this hobby. Guys like Henry Banks, Emil Andres, Duke Nalon, Lujie Lesovsky and A J Watson really took me under their wings and made me feel welcome. Lujie ended up working with us restoring his car. We made a lifelong friend because he was as sincere a fellow as you would ever want to meet. And Watson is a prince. He couldn’t be nicer.”
The six Lyons Indycars will go to Gooding & Co’s auction at Monterey on August 15/16 (see preview p75, and Auctions p113).
1909 Stoddard-Dayton Model K recreation
Driven by Jap Clemens
This is based on the car that ran in the inaugural 1909 races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The only thing that’s not authentic is the body,” says Lyons. “Everything else – the motor, transmission, rear end and chassis – is original Stoddard-Dayton. [IMS founder] Carl Fisher was the Stoddard-Dayton distributor for Indiana, and he made certain it played a lead role in the 1909 races. We didn’t have the fenders and headlights to make a touring car out of it, so we made an Indycar. It’s great to drive. I say that advisedly because it has a straight-through exhaust, but I’ve driven it 20 or 30 miles at a lick and really enjoyed it.”
1951 Blue Crown Spark Plug Special
Driven by Henry BanksBanks, 1950 AAA national champion, raced this car built by Lujie Lesovsky in ’51 and came second to Tony Bettenhausen in the AAA points that year. “Lujie’s car wasn’t ready for the Indy 500,” says Lyons. “The first race it ran was Milwaukee and it has a long history, competing without exception through 13 years. Its last year as a Champ Car was in 1963. I think this car did 95 races and it won the owners’ championship for Lindsey Hopkins in ’57 with George Amick driving. Lujie shipped 13 crates of his tools to our restoration shop. He lived with my dad for about seven weeks during the restoration, helping us get it right.” 1964 A J Watson Dean Van Lines Special
Driven by Mario Andretti
Andretti made his debut with the Dean Van Lines team in this car at Trenton in July 1964. He raced it four times that year and three times in ’65. “I finished the Blue Crown in 1988 and bought this car in 1990,” says Lyons. “I spent about five years collecting parts and doing research and it took about two years to restore it. I did most of the work myself.” Lyons was historical advisor to the Imax film about Andretti’s Indycars, and the roadster was featured. “I’d just finished the restoration but they wanted shots of the car being restored. So I had to take it apart again and put it back together for the movie. But it was a great experience.”
1966 Gerhardt turbo Offy
Driven by Jim Hurtubise
This was the first rear-engined car raced by Hurtubise, who was the fastest qualifier for the 1960 Indy 500 in his rookie year. Jim was known as ‘Hercules’, but he wasn’t able to fulfil his considerable promise after badly burning his hands and face in an accident at Milwaukee in ’64. And in ’66 the turbo Offy was too new and unreliable for him to produce results.
“I bought the Gerhardt in about ’92 and it was relatively complete,” says Lyons. “I restored it over a couple of years. It had Firestone tyres but was supposed to have Goodyears. I was online to a guy who had some Goodyears and it turned out he had a 1967 Eagle…”
1967 Eagle four-cam Ford
Driven by Denny Hulme
Hulme made the first of four Indy 500 starts in this Eagle in ’67, run by the legendary Smokey Yunick. He qualified 23rd and finished fourth, three laps behind winner A J Foyt. “I always wanted to restore a 1966 or ’67 Gurney Eagle,” says Lyons. “When this restoration project came along in late 2003 I had to have it. Like all those Eagles it had been heavily modified. I don’t think even one of those cars escaped the wrath of the remodeller. But I was able to put together a lot of good information from a couple of other Eagles from that period. I built the tooling to make the tail and engine cover and ended up with a real nice car.”
1985 Lola T900 Cosworth DFX
Driven by Mario Andretti
Andretti finished second at Indy in 1985 in this car and won at Long Beach, Milwaukee and Portland. “I had a Cosworth motor and nothing to put it in, so I was keeping an eye open for an appropriate car,” says Lyons. “The 1985 Lola that Mario drove at Indy in the ‘spin and win’ thing with Danny Sullivan became available and it needed a motor. So I picked it up. For me, a large part of the fascination with cars is the motor. I had three versions of the Offy and the four-cam Ford in the Eagle, which is an engine that really fires me up. And I had the Cosworth in Mario’s Lola, a ground-effect type of car that I felt completed my collection.”