by Michael Ferner
The Coleman Motors Corp. of Littleton, a suburb of Denver (CO), was a manufacturer of trucks with aspirations in the passenger car market. Being attuned to front-drive and 4WD technology through their core products, it was decided to test the waters with a front-drive racing car at the nearby Pikes Peak hill climb, and the company approached the local team of the Unser brothers for their enterprise – Louis, Joe and Jerry. The former may be legendary today for a 50-year-plus career in racing, and the latter may have “fathered” more Indy 500 wins than any two other men in the world combined, but in 1929 it was Joe Unser who appeared destined for greatness, after finishing second to Glen Schultz in the famous climb three years in a row.
The outlook was good, too, for Schultz had decided to forego the overall win in 1929 and compete in the stock car class instead, leaving his racing car to an unknown, Ed Phillips. Unfortunately, for the Unsers and Coleman, Phillips and the Schultz/Stutz were still good enough to beat the somewhat grotesque looking front-drive machine (http://www.littletongov.org/history/photos2/coleman-3045.jpg), and Joe Unser was second for the fourth year running, with Louis and Jerry finishing 5th and 6th out of seven starters. Undeterred, Coleman went ahead building a couple of front-drive cars for the 1930 Indy 500, and even succeeded in attracting the experienced Californian Lou Moore to lead the team effort. Actual construction of the cars is likely to have been in the hands of the Unsers, Moore and/or Floyd Sparks.
Sadly, Joe Unser was to die in February in an accident that is often, somewhat euphemistically, described as a testing accident. In truth, he was using his Pikes Peak car as an everyday drive, and simply crashed on his way home after work, incidentally not far from the location of the later Continental Divide Raceway. He was destined never to see the finished Indy Car. His place was taken by the veteran Red Shafer, who finished 7th at the Speedway, and apparently had his interest in the Pikes Peak hill climb triggered by this encounter. Joe’s older brother Louis would drive the Indy Car at the “climb to the clouds” in 1930, only to finish second behind… a returning Glen Schultz!
That was the high point of Coleman’s career in racing, as the efforts of the little firm grew progressively desperate. For 1931, they coupled both engines in a single chassis, which prompted Moore to jump ship and sign with Mike Boyle instead, with substitute driver Pete Kreis qualifying to slow to start the race. To harness the power, the car was equipped with 4wd in 1932, but local Sprint Car star Fred Merzney crashed in practice. The other car appeared one year later in the hands of future racing car builder Harry Lewis, but the world had moved on and no qualifying attempt was made. By then, the passenger car adventure had fizzled out as well, and henceforth the company again concentrated on trucks, tractors and trailers.
Coleman 'FD', chassis '1'
- 1930 #14 Coleman Front Drive, white, Miller M183, Coleman Motors Corp., Lou Moore (ret Indy)
- 1931 #22 Coleman Motors, ?, 2 Miller M183, Coleman Motors Corp., Lou Moore/Pete Kreis (dns Indy)
- 1932 #63 Coleman FWD, black?, 2 Miller M183, Coleman Motors Corp., Fred Merzney (dnq Indy)
Coleman 'FD', chassis '2'
- 1930 #15 Coleman Front Drive, black, Miller M183, Coleman Motors Corp., Red Shafer (7th Indy), Lou Unser (2nd Pikes Peak)
- 1933 #44 Bud’s Auto Parts, black?, Miller, E. M. Cauble, Harry Lewis (dnq Indy)
N.B. individual chassis histories slightly suspect, chassis '1' modified considerably throughout service "life".
Last updated by Michael Ferner on 14 Dec 2009.
All text is copyright Michael Ferner 2009 - 2023.