Friday, December 16, 2016

The forgotten ‘500’ winner- L.L. Corum
Part one

Lora L Corum in 1923
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

In the Fall 2016 issue of The Classic Car, the magazine of the Classic Car Club of America, there was an excellent article by Carl Jensen that discussed the second iteration of the Stutz Bearcat. Introduced in 1931 the Bearcat was powered by the Stutz DV-32 double overhead camshaft (DOHC) four valves per cylinder eight-cylinder engine.

To prove its advertised performance, each Bearcat came from the Stutz factory with a notarized affidavit that attested that the car had been tested at 100 miles per hour (MPH).  The Classic Car article featured a reproduction of a period advertisement that featured a copy of one of the affidavits signed by L.L. Corum, the co-winner of the 1924 International 500-mile Sweepstakes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

While not regarded with contempt by historians, Lora Lawrence ‘L.L’ or ‘Slim’ Corum certainly never received the respect and attention that he deserved. Years after his shared victory, Corum was often identified as "the driver that started the car that the late Joe Boyer drove to victory in 1924."

Born in the tiny south central Indiana village of Jonesville on January 8 1899, as young man Lora worked as a mechanic for the Chevrolet brothers – Louis, Gaston, and Arthur – when he first visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

By 1921 though short on race driving experience “Slim” was entered in the ‘500’ as one of the drivers for the 6-car Frontenac Racing team. Corum had been entered for the fourth annual ‘Autumn Classic’ the previous year at the 1-1/8 mile Uniontown Pennsylvania board track, but did not start the race after he spun out during practice.

Corum’s lack of high-speed experience caught him on May 25 1921 during a practice run with his riding mechanic Marcel Treyvoux. Corum’s car spun at the south end of the big brick Speedway, looped three times, and crashed into the outer retaining wall. The pair scrambled out shaken but uninjured.    

Marcel Edmond Treyvoux born in France in October 1896, immigrated in 1908 after his family came to the United States in 1904, but sadly his father passed away a few months after arrival. His older sister, Suzanne, married racer Louis Chevrolet in 1905, and Louis served as a mentor to Marcel who trained as a mechanic. During World War I, Treyvoux served with the American armed forces overseas, and he met 17-year old Madeline Germaine in Paris in 1918.

Treyvoux returned home to Indianapolis, saved his money while he worked at Frontenac and eventually sent for Madeline. They were married before Judge Walter Pritchard in Indianapolis City Court on March 27 1920 and lived on Indianapolis’ near east side.  Marcel is listed as an entrant in several Hoosier dirt track races in the early nineteen twenties but he is primarily remembered as a Frontenac riding mechanic. Marcel died under unknown circumstances in Nazi-occupied Vichy France in October 1941, while his widow Madeline passed away in Florida in 1990. 

While Corum’s #27 Frontenac racer was repaired, solid steel disk wheels replaced the original wire wheels and after some extra driver coaching from AAA Chief Steward W D ‘Eddie’ Edenburn Lora was the first driver to qualify on Saturday May 28, 1921.  Corum and Treyvoux posted four qualifying laps with his lap speeds recorded at 80.25 MPH, 79.75 MPH, and 78.6 MPH with the final lap the fastest at 83.2 MPH for a four-lap average of 80.5 MPH to become the 18th starter on the outside of the sixth row.

Despite his apparently solid qualifying results, AAA officials remained concerned about rookie Corum’s driving abilities and lack of experience. Bloor Schleppy reported in the May 28th edition of the Indianapolis Star that during his time trial run “Corum showed a lack of control even on the straightway and it is scarcely probable that he can stick with the big league grinders for many laps.”
Tom Alley and Marcel Treyvoux in the #27 Frontenac
after Alley replaced Corum as the driver
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

The exact nature of events remain unclear, but for the 1921 ‘500,’ Corum was replaced as the driver of the #27 Frontenac by veteran driver Tom Alley. Alley and Treyvoux were eliminated while in they ran in second place on lap 133 when one of the connecting rods inside the Frontenac single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) four-cylinder engine broke and the car caught fire.  

“Slim” gained additional experience and poise during the summer of 1921 by racing on the Hoosier dirt track circuit, and at Indianapolis in 1922, Corum was back with the Frontenac team. Corum was assigned to the same four-cylinder Frontenac as in 1921 which for 1922 carried sponsorship from the local Monroe Automobile Company. This was a revival of Monroe’s sponsorship from 1920 when the William Small Company then the Monroe manufacturer successfully teamed with the Chevrolet brothers to win the ‘500.’

The 4-cylinder Monroe cars were entered along with the six 8-cylinder Frontenac team cars which were considerably faster; the Monroe team cars driven by Alley and Wilbur D’Alene, all qualified midfield and Corum qualified his #27 Monroe at 89.65 MPH on May 26.

Corum started his maiden ‘500’ from the fifteenth position on the outside of the fifth row, but Corum and riding mechanic Steve Nemesh were eliminated by a broken piston after 422 ½ miles or 169 laps were completed in the only Monroe entry that failed to finish the race. Overall though May 30 1922 was a disappointing day for the Chevrolet brothers, as five of the six Frontenacs also failed to finish.
LL Corum in the Barber-Warnock Special
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

L.L Corum was entered for the 1923 Indianapolis 500-mile race as the driver of the “Barber-Warnock Ford Special” a Model T-based race car built by the Chevrolet brothers in their shop at 410 West Tenth Street in Indianapolis with the support of the Ford Motor Company engineering department. The tiny machine was powered by a 122-cubic inch four-cylinder Model T engine fitted with a Chevrolet-developed Frontenac SR (special racing) head fed through a Frontenac intake fitted with two carburetors.  

Sponsorship was provided by Barber-Warnock Ford agency, the oldest Ford dealer in Indianapolis. Clarence O. Warnock claimed that he built racing cars for Ray Harroun before he joined the Ford Motor Company as a traveling supervisor of service in 1914.  In 1917 Warnock and his partner former Ford salesman Hale C. Barber opened their Barber-Warnock Ford agency located at 819 East Washington Street.   

L.L Corum started the “Barber-Warnock Ford Special” in the 1923 Indianapolis ‘500’ from seventh starting position after posting a qualifying time of 86.65 miles per hour (MPH) during time trials.  Corum and the Barber-Warnock Model T finished the 11th annual International 500-mile Sweepstakes on Decoration Day 1923 in fifth place with an average speed of 82.58 MPH.
Later in1923, Lora and his wife Marie who had married on March 4 welcomed their son, Robert to their home at 33 North Kealing Avenue in the Tuxedo Park neighborhood on the west side of Indianapolis.

The dealership then entered three Model T-based race cars in the 1924 Indianapolis race and all finished, but the Barber-Warnock Ford agency business partnership dissolved during 1925. Barber moved south to Martinsville Indiana and invested in real estate until he passed away in 1948 at age 69. The C.O. Warnock Ford agency continued to operate until Warnock passed away from a heart attack in 1943, after which the dealership was sold to C.T. Foxworthy who operated his eponymous Ford dealership that “just can’t be beat,” according to their radio jingle until his passing in 1958.

A unique photo opportunity arose several years ago at Marian College
The 1923 '500' winner is in the foreground
with Corum's Barber-Warnock Special alongside
author's collection

Four spots ahead of Corum 1923 Indianapolis ‘500’ was the race’s first two-time winner Tommy Milton in his white and red trimmed ‘HCS Special.’ The initials “HCS” in this case stood for automotive pioneer Harold Clayton Stutz and the HCS Motor Car Company with its four-story reinforced concrete factory building located at 1402 North Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis.

Harry Stutz entered a hastily-built car in the first Indianapolis 500-mile race in 1911 for driver Gil Andersen and the car’s remarkable eleventh place finish led to the Stutz advertising slogan “the car that made good in a day.” Between 1911 and 1915, the three-car “Stutz White Squadron” racing team racked up numerous wins on race tracks across the country with drivers that included Andersen, Barney Oldfield, Len Zengel, Charles Merz, and the 1913 and 1915 American Automobile Association (AAA) champion Earl Cooper. 

A 1912 Stutz Series A roadster served as the ‘Pace Setter’ for the second running of the International 500-mile Sweepstakes at Indianapolis which also featured thee Stutz race entries. In 1913 Stutz released the stripped-down Stutz Bearcat that is considered by many as the first American-built sports car. 

Harry Stutz left the Presidency of his eponymous car company in 1919 after a disagreement with investors and founded HCS in partnership with financier Harry F. Campbell.  In January 1920, in the lobby of the Hotel Astor in New York, HSC unveiled their new car, with a lineup of six body styles, all powered by a Weidley 185-cubic inch four-cylinder valve-in-head engine. The lowest price HCS, the roadster, had a fairly high starting price of $2725.00.  

For 1921 the HCS 4-cylinder offerings were cut to four types – roadster, coupe, touring car, and sedan, and HCS introduced a larger car powered by a Harry Stutz-designed six-cylinder engine. Built by the Midwest Engine Company the 30-horsepower engine drove the rear wheels via a driveshaft that featured a universal joint on both ends, claimed to be a first in the industry. A yellow HCS 4-cylinder Series II roadster driven by Harry Stutz himself served as the ‘Pace Setter’ for the 1921 Indianapolis 500-mile race. 

The 122-cubic inch ‘HCS Special’ race winner bore no resemblance to the passenger car; as it was built by Harry A. Miller Engineering in Los Angeles to Milton’s specifications. The narrow 18-inch wide lightweight 1350-pound chassis was powered by straight-eight, twin-camshaft engine with hemispherical cylinder heads that developed 120 horsepower.

The HCS Motor Car Company failed to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the Indianapolis 500-mile race win just as Monroe failed in 1920. By late 1924 or early 1925, HCS had produced just 1600 cars and it ceased the manufacture of passenger cars and reorganized as the HCS Cab Manufacturing Company which failed in 1927. Harry Stutz himself moved onto the aircraft industry but passed away in June 1930 at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis after an operation to remove his appendix.

Harry Miller’s new 122-cubic inch creations swept to victory in all eight of the 1923 AAA championship races, but the following year were supplanted as the Duesenberg race team debuted new cars fitted with superchargers. There were three supercharged factory Duesenberg racers entered in the 1924 500-mile race with a driver lineup that featured Corum, veteran Joe Boyer, and rookie Ernie Ansterburg while the factory entered an unsupercharged entry for Peter DePaolo.   

This rare pre-race photograph shows LL Corum in the #15
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

Joe Boyer started the 1924 ‘500’ from fourth positon in the #9 Duesenberg and led the first lap, before the Millers driven by Jimmy Murphy and Earl Cooper took over the lead of the race. On lap 95 Boyer turned the #9 car over to relief driver Ernie Ansterburg (whose own car had crashed out), and then Boyer took over from third-place Corum on lap 111. Boyer then pushed the #15 Duesenberg to the front of the field from fourth place and made what proved to be the winning pass on Earl Cooper with 23 laps to go.

This undated photo shows the Krauss crown on display
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

Consider these odd facts about the 1924 Indianapolis ‘500’: Boyer led the first lap and the final lap of the 1924 ‘500’ but in two different cars and L.L. Corum who won the ‘500’ despite never leading a single lap drove the same two cars in the race. At the drop of the checkered flag, Corum was a forgotten man; Boyer was celebrated as the victor, photographed in Victory Lane as he received the jewel-encrusted gold-and-silver Krauss Crown one of the forerunners of the Borg-Warner Trophy created by Indianapolis jeweler Leo Krauss.  

There was post-race controversy after Chief Steward W D ‘Eddie’ Edenburn declared that under AAA rules, the pair shared the credit for the victory but that Corum earned the points and the $20,000 race purse.  Despite what the rules read, the public perception was that Corum contributed little to the pair’s “co-victory” and that their success was due to Boyer’s superior skills as a race driver.

14 years later, Corum told Associated Press writer Harold Harrison that he bore no ill will towards Boyer who died three months later in a crash at Altoona Pennsylvania, but that he felt that he could have taken the #15 Duesenberg to victory that day. “I’d taken the car from ninth place up to third after nursing it in the early part of the race,” said Corum “It had been a hard race and they probably figured I could stand relief. At any rate I got out, they sent Joe in and Joe got the checkered flag.”     

After his surprise shared victory in 1924 Lora Lawrence Corum’s results in the 500-mile races at Indianapolis over the next five years were nothing short of disappointing.  “Slim” qualified for the 1925 ‘500’ starting field in Ralph DePalma’s Miller but crashed in practice the day before the race. Corum reportedly escaped without injury but Corum was replaced in the repaired machine for the race by Phil ‘Red’ Shafer, which was just one act in a flurry of ride-switching activity among four other drivers. Corum wound up driving 29 laps of the 1925 ‘500’ in relief for Ralph DePalma and then drove the last 28 laps of the race for Earl Devore while Corum’s original entry was driven to a fourth place finish by Shafer.  

In 1926 Corum was entered in the ‘500’ as a member of a three-car team entered by Continental Motors president Albert Schmidt who had entered partner Ralph DePalma’s former Mercedes car in the 1923 and 1924 500-mile races. Corum’s 1926 teammates were Frenchman Albert Guyot with four previous Indianapolis starts and Hungarian-born rookie driver Steve Nemesh who was Corum’s 1922 ‘500’ riding mechanic.  

A cross section diagram of the Argyll engine
Click to enlarge

The trio was set to race in 8-foot wheelbase cars fitted with 29-inch wheels powered by a supercharged 6-cylinder Scottish-built Argyll (frequently misspelled Argyle) Burt-McCollum single sleeve valve engine. The exotic 122-cubic inch displacement Argyll engine, which used an Alpax silicon-aluminum alloy engine block with steel cylinder liners and magnesium pistons, developed 100 horsepower when force-fed by the Roots supercharger.

The Argyll engine photograph

Earlier versions of the cars, built in Guyot’s French shop with Cozette chain-driven superchargers, were entered in the 1925 running of the ‘500,’ but construction delays forced Guyot to formally withdraw his team on May 12 1925. In the fall of 1925, Continental purchased the worldwide patent rights for the Argyll engine and Schmidt saw the entry of the uniquely powered cars in the famous 500-mile race as a great way to publicize Continental’s new engine offering.   

Unfortunately the 1926 500-mile race was disaster for the Schmidt/Agryll team, though not due any defect with the sleeve valve engines. The three light blue cars started from 19th, 22nd and 24th in the 28-car field but trouble soon started when the steering linkage on Guyot’s car broke on lap eight. The transmission in Nemesh’s car failed on lap 41 and three laps later Corum’s #23 entry retired with a broken shock absorber.

Continental continued to develop sleeve valve powerplants and even produced some prototype aircraft engines for the U.S. Navy before returning to conventional poppet valves for their successful A-70 seven-cylinder radial aircraft engine used in the Stearman YPT10 basic training aircraft.    

In our next installment of the Lora L Corum story, we’ll examine his foray into stock car racing with the Stutz Motor Company in 1927 and 1928.

No comments:

Post a Comment