1947 Midget Race Car
In the 1930s and 1940s, America was gripped by a new kind of motorsport –
midget racing. Modelled on the larger cars that raced at Indianapolis, midget racers competed across the
country on tracks in football and baseball stadia, at county fairs, on purpose built quarter-mile ovals
and even on rough tracks carved out of cornfields. For nearly two decades midget racing took place seven
nights a week and twice daily at weekends.
Most racing organisations set engine
capacity limits between 100 and 140 cubic inches, limiting the choice of passenger car engines for
constructors so that most early midgets were powered by outboard motors or motorcycle engines. In 1934,
Fred Offenhauser created a powerful four-cylinder, 98-cubic-inch midget engine based on the famous
Miller racing engine and “Offys” quickly became dominant in midget racing - though
not all could afford them. In 1937, Ford launched a 136 cubic inch, 60 horsepower V8 engine intended as
a more economical alternative to their larger flathead V8 engine. At last there was an alternative for
'cash-strapped' midget racers that could challenge the dominance of the 'Offy' and V8-60s remained
successful in competition into the 1950s.
The first midget racers were constructed at
home by enthusiastic young men, however, as the sport grew in popularity more professional constructors
were called upon. One such constructor was Joe Silnes, a Norwegian born artisan who applied his
craftsmanship to everything from midget racers to Indy cars. In 1990, a complete midget body and frame
were discovered that had been built by Silnes around the time of the Second World War. A collector in
Minnesota purchased them and commissioned Duane Nelson, Denny Wagner and Pat Mandel to construct a
finished midget racer. Constructed using only period correct parts, Rick Schell provided the V8-60
racing flathead, with an Edelbrock intake manifold and high compression cylinder heads breathing through
dual Stromberg 81 carburettors. The restoration took place over two years and the car you see today is
the result of their craftsmanship.
The aluminium bodywork was given a high quality
black paint finish with period style race lettering and the seat was finished in black leather. All
brightwork was either polished aluminium or chrome plate. The cockpit was finished with Stewart-Warner
gauges and a Bell steering wheel. Suspension is by transverse leaf springs and the brakes are Bell drums
at the rear.
This wonderful car is finished to an incredible standard and must be seen
to be appreciated. In 2009, the completed racer was sold to a prominent UK collector at the Hershey
Auction for an impressive $41,800. The current owner discovered the car 3 years ago and it has taken
pride of place in his garage since, being started up regularly and admired by all that have seen it.