by Michael Ferner
The Alden Sampson Manufacturing Co. in Pittsfield (MA) built a car for the 1904 Gordon-Bennett Cup trials, but failed to show up at the event. The car, rated at 40 hp, apparently had a 4-cylinder engine of two blocks, and may have been a copy of the French Rochet-Schneider. Whatever, the company soon disappeared in the vortex created by the United States Motor Corp.
According to the legend, Alden L. (II) Sampson got involved with Indy Car racing as a hanger-on in Gasoline Alley in 1928. Apparently, he was helping rookie driver Lou Meyer finish a Duesenberg racer, and when Meyer failed to land the drive he offered to buy a car for the young Californian. It so happened that Red Shafer had to sell his Miller 91 because of sponsorship problems (nothing’s new), Sampson closed the deal and Meyer won the 500 – life can be so simple. Sampson subsequently bought two more Miller 91, and for the following two years the Sampson stable was the best equipped in the country and won the National Championship both years.
Due to the formula change in 1930, Sampson reluctantly became a manufacturer. Luckily, he had an experienced chief mechanic in Riley Brett, whose resumé included the well built if unsuccessful Richards and Junior Indy Cars of the early twenties. Brett andSampson decided to attack the new regulations head on, and build a monster of a racing car, with two slightly bored-out Miller 91 engines (minus superchargers) side by side, coupled to a tubular shaft running the length of the engines and connecting to a conventional flywheel/clutch assembly. To make the arrangement work, Brett had to cast new cylinder blocks with downdraft inlet ports, perhaps a first in racing. The rest of the car was standard racing parts cobbled together, except for the rear axle which was enclosed in an aluminum differential housing and steel tubes attached to it.
Unfortunately, the heavy weight of the car (945 kg) offset much of the power advantage the car may have had from its 3304 cc of total engine capacity, and it wasn’t particularly successful, even when the 16-cylinder was pulled and replaced by a 4-cylinder Miller 220 unit of 3611 cc. Eventually, Sampson sold the car to Billy Winn who put a 4184 cc Miller 255 in it for the 1937 Indy 500, where Billy Devore brought it home 7th to close its front line competition history.
Nota bene: please don’t forget that outside of the Indy 500, which is fairly well documented, the thirties in US racing are still the “dark ages”, and the content of this or any of the following tables may change without prior notice! Witness the recent threads Tripoli Mystery and Syracuse Surprise!
- Year # Car name, colour, Engine make & type, team/owner, driver (results at races)
- 1930 #1 Sampson, white, 2 Miller 91-101, A. L. Sampson, Louis Meyer (4th Indy)
- 1931 #7 Sampson, white, 2 Miller 91-101, A. L. Sampson, Louis Meyer (ret Indy)
- 1932 #16 Sampson, white/black, 2 Miller 91-101, A. L. Sampson, Louis Meyer (ret Indy)
- 1933 #21 Sampson Radio, white/black, 2 Miller 91-101, A. L. Sampson, Chet Gardner (4th Indy)
- 1934 #4 Sampson Radio, white/black, 2 Miller 91-101, A. L. Sampson, Chet Gardner (ret Indy, 5th Mines Field*)
- 1935 #18 Sampson Radio, white/black, Miller 220, A. L. Sampson, Chet Gardner (7th Indy)
- 1936 #28 Sampson Radio, white, Miller 220, A. L. Sampson, Harry McQuinn (13th Indy)
- 1937 #28 Miller, white/black, Miller 255, J. M. Winn, B. Devore/Fred Frame (7th Indy)
* presumably the car was already fitted with the Miller 220 engine at Mines Field
After an absence of almost three years, during which Sampson and Riley dabbled in Midgets, the team was back at Indy with a bang: Riley Brett had exhumed the engine from Lockhart’s LSR “beach car”, which he had purchased from Frank’s widdow back in 1928. He had already considered using it in 1930, but the peculiarities of this engine made it practical to start from scratch – now with a new chassis built to more modern ideas, partly due to European (i.e. mostly German) influence thanks to the recent Vanderbilt Cup races, the old engine offered a viable route again.
In Lockhart’s beach car, the two Miller 91 engines had been geared together in a common crankcase, and with the central gear located below the plane of the crankshafts, which permitted the prop-shaft to run extra low. To make use of this, Brett and Leo Goossen designed an underslung aluminum box-section frame with parallel quarter-elliptic leaf springs at the front, and a parallel torsion bar-sprung de Dion rear axle. Brett also modified a few aspects of the old engine, which at 2956 cc was, of course, allowed to retain its superchargers, and dropped the whole thing into the nice, very modern looking car, built by Gordon Schroeder and Owen Chapman.
Unfortunately, the car never lived up to its looks, and it was eventually sold to Mike Boyle, who ran it with an old 8-cylinder Miller engine in his last year of Indianapolis competition. It ended up as one of the earliest star exhibits of the IMS museum.
- 1939 #32 SMI 16, cream/blue, Sampson 180 sc, A. L. Sampson, Bob Swanson (ret Indy)
- 1940 #32 Sampson 16, yellow/blue, Sampson 180 sc, A. L. Sampson, Bob Swanson (6th Indy)
- 1941 #32 Sampson 16, cream/blue, Sampson 180 sc, A. L. Sampson, Deacon Litz (ret Indy)
- 1946 #32 Spike Jones, cream/blue, Sampson 180 sc, Gordon Schroeder, Sam Hanks (ret Indy)
- 1948 #9 Bennett Bros., black/gold, Miller 230-268, M. J. Boyle, George Connor (ret Indy)
Sampson came back for one more try in 1950. The car was a fairly conventional machine, apparently built by Johnny Rae although one gathers that Gordon Schroeder must’ve been involved as well. The only interesting feature was its new, Meyer-Drake built and supercharged Offenhauser engine of 2899 cc. It was a failure, and running it on the dirt tracks did not bring any success, either. Towing it to the Speedway in 1951, Alden Sampson crashed in New Mexico and was killed; the car ran a few more times for Pete Wales and that was that.
- 1950 #27 Sampson, white/black, Offenhauser 177 sc, A. L. Sampson, Walt Ader (22nd Indy, dns Milwaukee, dns Langhorne, dns Springfield), Eddie Johnson (14th Milwaukee, dnq Syracuse, dnq Springfield), Cliff Griffith (12th Darlington)
- 1951 #84 Samspon, ?, Offenhauser 177 sc, A. L. Sampson, dna Indy
- 1952 #58 Wales Trucking, ?, Offenhauser 233-267, M. P. Wales, Buzz Barton (dnq Indy), Carl Scarborough (dns Milwaukee), Ottis Stine (dns Williams Grove, dns Springfield), Vic Carter (dns Milwaukee, ret Detroit), Ottis Stine (dns Syracuse)
Last updated by Michael Ferner on 14 Dec 2009.
All text is copyright Michael Ferner 2009 - 2021.