1949 Rounds Rocket
Offered by RM Auctions, Boca Raton, Florida, February 25, 2012
This beastly mid-engined Indy car was built by Indy car-building legends Lujie Lesovsky & Emil Diedt for a man named Nathan Rounds, who provided the funding and the original drawing of the car that he modeled after the brilliant pre-war Auto Unions.
Because both Diedt and Lesovsky were busy building their own successful race cars, this car was barely ready for the 1949 Indy 500 where it as entered with Bill Taylor as the driver. He did not qualify. In 1950 both Sam Hanks and Bill Vukovich gave the car a run and failed to make the show. Bill Vukovich was a man among men at Indianapolis and – even though 1950 was his rookie year – if he couldn’t get the car in, there was scarcely hope.
Intrigue: Nathan Rounds was close friends with Howard Hughes and it is suspected that Hughes money was behind the project. After failing to make Indy in 1950 the car was shipped to Beverly Hills where it sat in storage, although it did appear in a Mickey Rooney film in 1949.
Bill Harrah (of course) discovered the car in 1969 and bought it. When his collection was parted out the car was purchased and restored and eventually purchased by the Milhous Collection in 1998.
Here is your chance to purchase a car that was extremely ahead of its time. Indy cars would be front-engined for at least another 10 years and here was this brilliant car that had come along and said “the way of the future” (that’s a Howard Hughes quote from The Aviator).
It features an Meyer-Drake Offenhauser straight-four engine (naturally), making about 350 horsepower. It’s fast too – it was tested at Bonneville after it was completed and was clocked at 140 mph. The no reserve pre-sale estimate is $250,000-$350,000. For the complete catalog description, click here and for the rest of the collection click here.
Update: Sold $275,000.
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The Rounds Rocket was not discovered by Bill Harrah. There is more to the story. Prior to Harrah purchasing the car was acquired by a business associate of mine in 1967, when he purchased a warehouse and the car was abandoned in it. It was hauled out and was destined for the scrap yard, when I found out about it and took it to my Northridge CA shop. The brother of the finder of the car then found someone who had said that he had a 270 Offy engine and was willing to put it in the car and could get it running and we could then put it up for sale. About 4 months went by and I inquired about the car. We could not contact the person that took the car so we went to see him and both he and the car had vanished. About a year went by and the car showed up in Hemmings for sale and I inquired to the selling party. I asked how he acquired the Rounds car and he said that a person that owed him money gave it to him for payment. He said that he had sold it to Barret (now Barret Jackson) in Arizona for $3500.00, I called Mr Barret and informed him that he had purchased a stolen vehicle. He got all excited and offered it back to me for $3500.00. I went back to my partners that were involved and I wanted to legally try to get it back. After conferring with our lawyer who said that it would be a difficult case, it was decided that the car would be better off in the hands of a collector like Barret. So we dropped the whole issue. I assume that Harrah must of acquired the car from Barret. All these years I had wondered where the car had ended up and was delighted to see it all restored as it should have been. I still have original sketches receipts, cancelled checks to Sam Hanks and Bill Taylor and other historical documents including photos of the car as we found it that may be of interest to the new owners of the Rounds Rocket. They can contact me by the listed email if they have any interest
Wow! I guess that proves there is always more to the story. That is seriously interesting and the original sketches (and cancelled checks to Sam Hanks) sound fascinating. Thanks for sharing.
Does anyone know who the new owner of the Rounds Rocket is and how to contact them?