A turbocharged roar and a puff of smoke signaled that an important piece of Cummins Inc.’s racing history had returned to life.
With about 20 people eagerly watching, the diesel engine of the yellow and red 1952 Cummins Special fired up Monday morning for the first time in 17 years.
The car, which won the pole position for the ’52 Indianapolis 500 with Freddie Agabashian at the wheel, spent much of its time in the lobby of the Cummins Corporate Office Building in downtown Columbus during the past 30 years. However, a group of Cummins volunteers have been restoring the car for about the past two years.
After about four seconds of the engine straining to turn over, its long-dormant growl was met by cheers, clapping and a sense of relief in front of a company warehouse. The engine was running for about 10 minutes.
“The sound and feel of it was pretty incredible and solid. It felt really pure and solid,” said Bruce Watson, who had the honor of serving as the driver during the firing of the engine.
It was a special moment for Watson, who retired as the company’s curator of historical artifacts at the beginning of the year.
Although the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, the restoration project was really geared to Cummins’ 100th anniversary in 2019, Watson said.
Volunteers have been restoring old engines and artifacts in preparation of the celebration.
“We had decided that we should either know that it runs, is capable of running, or at least know why it isn’t or can’t, and get prepared to deal with it,” Watson said of the No. 28 car.
Before it could be restarted, the project’s volunteers had to make sure conditions were safe to do so.
“Engines don’t like to sit for 15 years without running,” said Steve Wilson, one of the project’s volunteers.
The restoration included a long checklist of repairs, Wilson said. For example, new brake lines, brake pads, coolant hoses and fuel lines were installed, and new caliper pistons made and installed, he added.
What made the restoration and engine restarting challenging is that some of the car’s pieces are unique and irreplaceable, such as hand-built aluminum and magnesium parts, Wilson said.
“I couldn’t have been happier,” Wilson said of the engine successfully restarting. “Because, 2019 will be a really important year for Cummins’ history. You don’t get another 100-year anniversary.”
The car still needs a little work, such as a new clutch and new tires. After that, the car could appear at a couple events for some customers, but the main goal is to get it back on display at the Corporate Office Building, said Dave Groggin, marketing and communications director for Cummins.
Wilson said the plan is to “exercise” the car from time to time, so that the engine doesn’t remain idle until the 100th anniversary.
Watson said he has a wish for where the No. 28 Cummins Special and the company’s four other Indy 500 entries — three of which are fully restored — will be in 2019.
“My wish is that all five Cummins cars should make a lap around the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway for the 100th anniversary,” Watson said.