While the early years of Porsche cars attracted some flamboyant characters, none outmatched Cleveland, Ohio resident Lou Fageol in sheer spectacular sensation. Though not long on the scene, Fageol built some of the most radical Porsche racers ever conceived which, in the words of an observer in the 1950s, “intimidated the SCCA guys.” The comet that was Lou Fageol well deserves our remembrance.
Fageol’s father, Frank, was a co-founder of the Fageol Motors Company. Among Frank’s work was a twin-engined bus that he sold under the Twin Coach Company name. Like his dad, Lou also liked twin-mill layouts.
In 1946, Lou entered a race car at Indianapolis that was a remarkable interpretation of the Twin Coach twin-engined philosophy. He obtained two Ford-powered front-drive cars designed and built by Harry Miller for entry at Indy in 1935. Building a new frame, Fageol’s engineers installed the transaxle and suspension assemblies from both cars, fitting one unit at the front and the other at the rear to achieve four-wheel drive. Though it looked bulbous, albeit with a racy tail fin, Fageol’s Twin Coach Special performed extremely well.
Driven by Paul Russo in his third time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Twin Coach Special qualified in the middle of the front row for the 1946 race at 128.183 mph, handling with apparent ease. Running comfortably in fourth place in the early going, Russo crashed in the third turn on the 17th lap as a result of an unavoidable accident unrelated to the car’s design.
Although the radical machine never raced again, its concept was dear to the heart of Lou Fageol. It took him a few years to return to four-wheeled speed because he had revived his pre-war career as a driver of racing boats—in spades. Starting with his own boats, he moved up to more powerful craft and competed for the Gold Cup and Harmsworth Trophy in unlimited hydroplanes. Aptly described as “thunderboats”, these used Allison or Rolls-Royce V-12 engine to compete in successive heats on ovals set out on water.
Lou’s first great success was winning the international Harmsworth Trophy race in 1950, during which he set the first-ever speed in a heat of better than 100 mph.
“Leadfoot Louie we called him,” said an observer. “He was almost as good as he thought he was, which was very good. He was cold as ice and always knew what he was doing or about to do. To the end of our days I don’t think any of us will forget Lou going way down under the bridge at Seattle and then winding up on the way back, headed dead for the starting line. Heaven help anyone who got in his way.”