It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that it’s SEMA this week. The Las Vegas show specialises in all things modifying, which means we can expect a multitude of muscle cars and large pick-ups with improbable amounts of power and paint thrown at them.
But something altogether classier opened up the show. Meet the Marmon Wasp. And yes, that is its name. Its utterly wonderful name, at that.
The Wasp isn’t an escapee from Wacky Races, rather the very yellow winner of the first ever Indy 500 race, way back in 1911. Quite important in American motorsport history then, and a worthy opener to SEMA on its first ever trip to Vegas. Well, it’s hardly a town in keeping with this car’s classy stature.
It belongs to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and this year was inducted into a special hall of fame as the Indy 500 marked its 100th race (they missed a few years, obviously). It entered the National Historic Vehicle Register of the Historic Vehicle Association, joining the esteemed company of ten other cars, Mercedes 300SL gullwing and Willys Jeep included.
Want some Marmon Wasp facts? Of course you do. It’s the world’s first single-seater, open-wheeled racer. It used a 9.8-litre straight-six engine. Yep, nine point eight. Its driver – Ray Harroun – retired immediately after Indy 500 victory, going out on a thoroughly excellent high, his place in history assured.
And, pub quiz addicts, it helped pioneer the rear-view mirror, negating the need for a mechanic to sit on board looking for other cars, saving vital kilos. That Harroun later divulged the mirror shook so much during the race as to be useless is besides the point.