Joe Leonard was a heck of a racer, on two wheels and four.
He not only won three motorcycle championships, the hard-nosed driver also moved up to Indy cars and won the 1971 USAC championship running virtually the same car as his teammate, Al Unser, who won the Indianapolis 500 in a sister car that year.
Replicarz honors Leonard, who died earlier this year, with its release of a 1/18-scale PJ Colt, a replica of the car Leonard drove to the USAC title decked out in its yellow and blue Samsonite-sponsored livery. Replicarz had created a limited edition 1/43-scale model of the car previously, along with Unser’s 1970 and 1971 Indy winning Johnny Lightning racers.
Leonard won three A.M.A. Grand National Championships between 1954 and 1957 and set a record with 27 wins. By 1961 though, he turned his attention to auto racing and debuted in USAC, then the top-level open-wheel racing series. In 1964 he reached its top level, racing Champ cars, those that ran in the Indianapolis 500. He won his first race, the Milwaukee 150, in 1965 aboard a Gurney Eagle.
Leonard raced for several teams and had several good results at Indy, finishing third in 1967 and sixth in 1969 when he was wheeling Smokey Yunick’s doctored Gurney Eagle. In between he put Andy Granatelli’s famous wedge turbine on the pole at Indy and was leading with 9 laps to go when a part failed.
But by 1971 he had landed a ride with the successful Vel’s Parnelli Jones Race Team. He and teammate Al Unser, the previous year’s Indy 500 champ, drove near identical PJ Colt racers. Unser scored back-to-back Indy 500 wins in his. Leonard though was a model of consistency all season, frequently finishing races in the top 4 and winning the Ontario (Calif.) 500. He locked up the 1971 title in the next to last race with a third-place finish.
Leonard was strong in 1972 also, notching a three-race win streak after the Indy 500, which carried him to a second straight title. Unfortunately 1973 was a tough year, Leonard finishing 15th in points and then a heavy crash in 1974 ended his career.
Like the smaller 1/43-scale model, this larger resin version sparkles, both in its bright yellow paint scheme and in its details.
The PJ Colt also includes delicate well-executed front and rear suspensions with their slim supports and springs, plus brake line cables. There’s a fuel insert coupler on both sides of the body and a big body piece that serves as a sort of wing for downforce. That wraps around the engine just behind the cockpit. There’s flat black exhaust pipes that run through the silver turbo at the tail and a throttle cable and brake lines in back too.
Inside is a matte black seat with black shoulder and seat belts with photo-etched metal clasps. There’s also a three-spoked race steering wheel and dash with six gauges or buttons to add realism.
Tires are wide treaded rubber properly labeled Firestone and with a thin gold stripe on the sidewall. Sponsor markings and decals are still minimal in 1971, but the big deal here is the blue Samsonite suitcase on the nose and sides with the large No. 15 in it. There are a few others, including Castrol on the winglet sides, Firestone on the windscreen and just in front of the cockpit, and Vel’s Parnelli Jones Ford on the side of the winged structure.
Leonard’s name, along with that of Chief Mechanic George Bignotti, are printed on the cars’ sides. The racer also features brushed-metal look wheels with knock-off central spinners. Another awesome Indy model that should be available by the time you read this.
Vital Stats: 1971 PJ Colt, Joe Leonard USAC champ
Stock No.: R18018