Jun 03 2010

“Babe” Stapp: Driver of the Topping-Miller Special and Maserati V8Ri

Elbert "Babe" Stapp (1904-1980) was an American driver active in racing from 1923 to 1940. He drove in 12 Indy 500s and both the 1936 and 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Races. Babe Stapp was inducted in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1994.

Photographer John Drennan captured Babe Stapp preparing for the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Races as seen in the following images recently converted from their original glass negatives. (Courtesy of the Drennan Collection from the Cradle of Aviation.)


Stapp's Topping-Miller Special was owned by steel heir Henry "Bob" J. Topping, Jr. In 1948, Topping proposed to Lana Turner by dropping a diamond ring into her martini. Although worth millions when they married, Topping suffered heavy financial losses due to poor investments and excessive gambling. Turner finally divorced Topping when she realized she could no longer afford to keep them in the lavish lifestyle to which they had grown accustomed.


The Topping -Miller had a 233-cubic inch supercharged engine. The car was believed to have been built in South America.


On press day, Babe Stapp knew how to attract the media.


During the race, Stapp's fuel tank broke after the 48th lap and he finished 35th of the 45 starters.


Babe returned the next year and competed in the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Race. Driving Topping's Maserati V8Ri , he left the race after 8 laps due to engine failure.


Stapp's Maserati V8Ri (chassis #4503) has been restored and currently owned and driven by a German collector.

June 10, 2010 Update: This film documented Wilbur Shaw's 1939 Indy 500 Race victory in the MaseratiV8Ri.

Links to information on the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Race:

-The grid and results for this race can be found on The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing website.

-This newsreel captured highlights of the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup Race.

Links to information on the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Race:

-The grid and results for this race can be found on The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing website.

-Newsreel "1937 Vanderbilt Cup Race, Roosevelt Raceway, New York"

-Film "“Rosemeyer’s Victory in the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Race"

-The revival of the Vanderbilt Cup Races in 1936 and 1937


Jun 04 2010 Howard Kroplick 4:42 PM

From Michael Lynch:

There were four Maserati V-8Ri (the “i” stands for independent suspension) made. All came to America. Topping’s car was serial # 4503. It had been brought to America for the 1936 Vanderbilt Cup by Frenchman Phillipe Etancelin who finished 9th in that race. Topping bought if from him after the race. Topping entered Stapp in the car at the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup where he qualified 11th and retired after 8 laps. They then went to Indianapolis where the qualified 31st and finished 31st. Car has a supercharged 90 degreeV-8 with 320 horsepower. Later spent time on dirt ovals in the Northwest. Now restored to the specification it ran in Europe (French blue paint), it appeared at this year’s Monte Carlo Historique with German collector Josef Otto Rettenmaier. I am not aware of any other Topping entries with the car.

The 1936 Stapp Vanderbilt entry is listed in different sources as a Shaw FWD chassis with an Offy or a Miller Special. I will forward a picture to you personally. Qualified 27th and retired. Race #21.

Jun 05 2010 mark dill 12:09 PM

Hi Howard.

You should definitely call Donald Davidson, Howard. He’ll answer virtually any question you have about Stapp. Also, Stapp’s family lives in Indianapolis.

Jun 10 2010 Howard Kroplick 8:16 AM

From Dave Belden, Woodstock, CT:
“I believe that this particular V8-Ri is the one that was in the hands of Phil Cade of the Boston area from the fifties or earlier until maybe ten years ago. It ran with a Chrysler hemi engine during all of this time; I’m told that the original engine had gone to George Weaver as a spare for his V8-Ri. Cade primarily road raced the car though I was present at a dirt track drag race in R.I. in the early ‘50s when he showed up with the car. He was towing it with a Duesenberg or something similarly impressive that day and got quite a bit of attention among the pre-war Ford hot rods.

While in Cade’s hands the body of the car was always rough; the proverbial bag of walnuts. I was lucky enough to be at Monaco this year and the car is nice with straight panels and an original appearing engine.”

Jun 10 2010 Howard Kroplick 8:18 AM

From Fred Puhn, National City, CA:
“The V8-RI that Phil Caded owned was #4501. It had been wrecked and rebodied in 1935. When I visited him about 15 years ago his original engine was present out of the car. I have no idea what happened to it.

The spare engine that George Weaver had was the one out of my car #4502. It last ran when Tommy Hinnershitz had it fail during practice for the 1946 Indy 500. The car with its bad engine was sold by owner Milt Marion to Andy Granatelli. Andy sold the engine to George Weaver and they put an Offy in the Maserati. I managed to buy my original engine back after the Weaver car was restored.”

Nov 27 2018 John Pappas 7:44 PM

Wilbur Shaw drove a brand new 8ctf in 1939 .... not a V8Ri
Video link you posted for Wilbur is deleted none-the-less.

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