Making the Register: The Marmon Wasp

The long and storied history of the Indianapolis 500 is positively brimming with  iconic cars and drivers. Of these, none hold the distinction of the latest addition to the National Historic Vehicle Register—the Marmon Wasp. Check out this breakdown on why this legendary Indy racecar qualifies as being one of the nation’s most historically significant cars.

Ray Harroun piloted the original Marmon Wasp to victory at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. But that’s not the only thing that makes this historic racecar worthy of recognition in the National Historic Vehicle Register.  From it’s then revolutionary design to it’s impact on the future of modern racing, the Wasp meets a number of the criteria established by the National Park Service (which administers the Heritage Documentation Programs) and the HVA.

Associative Value – Person (A vehicle associated with the lives of significant persons in automotive or American history)

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While he would never truly consider himself a racer, Ray Harroun made a name for himself at the dawn of competitive driving. A proud yet humble engineer for the Marmon Motor Car Company, Harroun helped design the Marmon Wasp—the car that would eventually see him cementing his name in the history books as the winner of the very first Indianapolis 500.

Associative Value – Event (A vehicle associated with an event or events that are important in automotive or American history)

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Under Harroun’s skilled guidance, the Marmon Wasp managed to defeat the field with an average speed of just under 75 mph to take the checkered flag at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Of the 40 cars that started the race, only 12 were recorded as having finished. With a time of 6:42:08, the Marmon Wasp bested the field, taking home some $14,250 in prize money.

Design or Construction Value (A vehicle that is distinctive based on design, engineering, craftsmanship or aesthetic value)

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Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

While very similar in design to other race cars of the period, the Marmon Wasp is a historical standout for one simple modification implemented by Harroun.  For what is believed to be the first time in automotive history, a rearview mirror was affixed to the Wasp. This not only allowed Harroun to better see his competition, it also negated the need for a riding mechanic whose job it was to keep an eye out for the rest of the field. Since then, the rearview mirror has become an essential feature in nearly every automobile produced.

Informational Value (A vehicle of a particular type that was the first or last produced, has an element of rarity as a survivor of its type or is among the most well-preserved or thoughtfully restored surviving examples)

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Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Still in its original configuration, the Marmon Wasp is an impressive example of early automotive racing technology and design. As was shown at this year’s Indianapolis 500, the Wasp still manages to whip around the track under its own power—something many of its peers are no longer capable of accomplishing.

To learn more about the National Historic Vehicle Register and the other vehicles currently on the Register, please visit our website at www.historicvehicle.org/national-historic-vehicle-register.

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THIS CAR MATTERS: The Marmon Wasp, Winner of the First Indianapolis 500

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