13-15 August 2015

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Lot 323

1963 Watson Indianapolis “Diet-Rite Cola Special”

  • Chassis no. 022-7
  • Engine no. 238

$250,000 - $350,000

168 cu. in. DOHC Offenhauser four-cylinder engine with fuel injection, tubular steel chassis with solid axles and torsion bar suspension, dual shock absorbers, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 96 in.

  • Formerly of the Bob McConnell Collection
  • Originally built for Robert Wilke’s famous Leader Card team
  • Extensive early 1960s racing career with Len Sutton, Chuck Stevenson, and Bobby Grim
  • Incorporates the majority of its original Watson components
  • Beautifully restored in its 1964 Indianapolis livery

By 1963, legendary fabricator A.J. Watson had built 23 Indianapolis roadsters, including cars that won the 500 in 1959, 1960, 1962, and 1963. The most famous Watson Roadsters were part of the Leader Card team, owned by Robert Wilke, of Wisconsin, with Rodger Ward doing the driving. By this time, however, the crew had grown to the point where it had effectively become three separate teams running under Watson’s general supervision. The car offered here was driven by Len Sutton, working with chief mechanic Sonny Meyer.

Problems plagued Sutton and Meyer throughout the month-long qualification process, and for the first time, a new Watson was bumped from the Indianapolis starting field. Speedway problems, whatever they may have been, did not continue at the Milwaukee 100 in June, where Sutton was the 6th fastest qualifier; he would finish in the same position overall. In his last race for Leader Card, Sutton finished 12th in the Tony Bettenhausen 200 in Milwaukee that August.

The Watson Roadster was then refurbished for 1964 and entered as Rodger Ward’s back-up car at that year’s Indy 500. With Ward safely qualifying in the starting field in his new, rear-engined Watson-Ford, Chuck Stevenson put the older Watson Roadster, now #95 and liveried as the Diet-Rite Cola Special, in the 29th starting position for the race. Stevenson was caught up in the famous second-lap accident on race day and finished in 28th place.

Bobby Grim took over the repaired car for the 1965 season, including qualifying 9th and finishing 8th at the Milwaukee 200 and qualifying 6th and finishing 3rd at Trenton. The car then added a few more championship races for 1966, including 7th place at Trenton with Grim and 8th at Atlanta with Arnie Knepper.

The car was sold in 1966 to Jack Conley, of Michigan, later passing to Kenny Andrews, of Burlington, Ontario. Andrews modified the car with a Chevrolet V-8, roll cage, and new color scheme, and he raced it on short tracks in Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. He was a regular at Oswego, New York, where he won five features and became the track’s first Canadian champion in 1969.

It was taken apart following the car’s retirement at the end of the 1970 season, but eventually its original frame was reunited with most of the original suspension, running gear, gasoline tank, and intact Watson roadster body panels by foremost Indianapolis racing car collector and restorer Bob McConnell. McConnell subjected the roadster to a complete restoration, wearing the Diet-Rite Cola Special livery from its 1964 Indy appearance, which was performed by Steve Miller and Classic Craft Motorsport.

Featured at the 2007 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, this immaculately restored Watson Roadster has attended several concours events, even winning its class. It is now fitted with the convenience of a self-starter and participated in the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2009. After being acquired by the current owner in 2010, the Offenhauser engine was rebuilt by VanDyne Engineering, of Huntington Beach, California, in 2012. The Watson was then driven at the California Speedway with the Vintage Auto Racing Association in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, the owner was even clocked at 147 mph, which was only 3 mph short of its qualification speed for the 1964 Indy 500. Included with the car are numerous historical records and photographs from throughout its extensive racing career. This Watson presents a unique opportunity for the racing enthusiast who wants to experience the thrill of not just showing but also driving a period Indy car from the glory days in organized track events.

Please note that a collection of additional spare parts and related memorabilia will be made available to the winning bidder under separate agreement. For additional information, please consult an RM Sotheby’s representative.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

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Cameron Smyth joined RM Sotheby’s as a Car Specialist in 2015, working out of our corporate office and providing assistance on c... read more

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David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

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Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

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Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

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Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more