As you’ve probably guessed, I enjoy searching for old photos of early cars. During Monterey Classic Car Week, this means a stop at Automobilia Monterey, and it was there that I found this image of a uniquely bodied duPont Series G Special Sport Sedan.
Illustrating the pride of Dayton, Ohio, this picture shows a Stoddard-Dayton Model 9K posed in London. The building in the background appears to be Britain’s House of Commons or Parliament Building, and the picture might have been taken from the embankment across the Thames River.
The Stoddard name was already well-established and respected within Dayton. It was John Stoddard’s farm-implements business that put Dayton on the map as a center for industrial production. Together with his son Charles, the two would turn to automobile manufacturing with the Dayton Motor Car Company in 1905. Continue reading
I came across this postcard in Monterey last year and couldn’t resist. As it states, the card illustrates the Richard-Basier stand at the Paris Salon in 1905. The star-car of the French show, the 1905 Gordon-Bennett winning racer is seen front and center.
The French firm of Richard-Brasier has a confusing history with many name changes, but the story starts with brothers Georges and Maxine Richards. They entered the bicycle business in 1893 and a few years later started manufacturing vehicles resembling the Benz Velo. In 1901, they enticed Henri Brasier, the chief designer for Mors, to join the team. His impact was immediate and by 1902, Brasier’s name was added to the marque. Continue reading
In 1938, Ernesto Maserati developed the Maserati 8CTF to compete with the likes of Mercedes and Auto Union on the European GP circuit. Although not particularly successful on the Continent, the car gained fame stateside with a historic victory at the Indianapolis 500. Continue reading
The Automobile Trade Journal of July 1, 1920, wrote, “The Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Corp. has bought a factory site in Indianapolis and plans 2,400 cars the first year of operation. In addition to a special Duesenberg engine, the car will be equipped with four-wheel brakes and an axle designed by Fred S. Duesenberg. The new car is stated to be 400 lbs lighter than those of similar power and will obtain from 18 to 22 miles on a gallon of gasoline.”
And so it was that the Duesenberg brothers of motor racing notoriety would introduce the first production car of their own design. Fred and August were German immigrants whose family had settled in Iowa. From an early age, the brother’s were involved with racing and engine building.
After an earlier failed attempt to produce an automobile called the Mason, they moved to Minnesota and opened Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company in 1913. In 1919, they sold their existing facilities to John Willys and move to Indianapolis, where they would produce their most notable achievements.
The Duesenberg Straight Eight (later termed the Model A) would be shown in November 1920 at the New York Automobile Salon and would be the first American production car to employ a straight-eight-cylinder engine and four-wheel brakes.
The car pictured here wears coachwork by Charles Schutte, a somewhat obscure body company from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Charles Schutte Body Company was primarily a commercial coachbuilder (buses) until they had the opportunity to build bodies for the short-lived Argonne car. This provided them the exposure needed to sign an agreement with Duesenberg to build a small run of production bodies for the Straight Eight (closed cars only).
The Straight Eight would be sold between 1921 and 1926 with roughly 650 produced – well short of original estimates. In this same time span, the brothers would win the French Grand Prix (the first American car to do so) and two Indianapolis 500s (in 1927 they would be the first to win three Indy 500s). Regardless of their racing success and the quality of their production cars, sales were slim and the company was losing money.
However, they did inspire one individual with the resources to save the company. E. L. Cord would purchase the Duesenberg Company out of receivership in 1926 and re-organized it as part of his growing empire of automobile companies, where the brother’s were put to work creating one of the greatest cars of the classic era – the Model J Duesenberg.
Tragically, Fred would die as a result of injuries after crashing a Model J at high speed in 1932. August would see E. L. Cord go bankrupt and the Duesenberg Company come to an end. He passed away in 1955.
In the early years of the 20th Century, few new cars included a top – or a windshield for that matter. Typically, a top would have been an extra cost and we can tell from the picture that this Locomobile was sold without a top. The give-away is the lack of “irons” – the metal brackets that attach the top to the car.
What I love about this period photo is that the two gentlemen have fashioned an umbrella to provide relief from the sun.
Locomobile Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, introduced a new line of four-cylinder cars in 1905; the Model E shown here was the smallest of the lineup. With a 15/20 horsepower engine, this five-passenger side-entrance tonneau was offered at $2,800. Locomobile produced 199 of the Model E in 1905, in addition to the Model D (20/25 hp priced at $3,700), the Model H (30/35 hp priced at $5,000), and the Model F (40/45 hp priced at $7,500). Locomobiles were expensive and well-engineered cars – one of the finest American-made cars of the day.
The company’s reputation was due to Andrew Lawrence Riker (1868-1930), a pioneer of the automotive age who became vice president at Locomobile in 1902. The driving force behind the design of their cars for the next decade, it was Riker who would introduce the firm to racing and ultimately write its place in history.
The story goes that Dr. H. E. Thomas of Chicago made a request of Locomobile for a race car suitable for running the 1905 Gordon Bennett race. The company wasn’t really interested and sent word back to Dr. Thomas that he’d have to pay $18,000. An astronomical sum of money at the time, it was thought this would discourage him. But to everyone’s surprise, Thomas said yes.
Unfortunately, driver Joe Tracy (1873-1959) stripped two of the four forward gears and the car was retired from the Gordon Bennett Cup with only a couple laps under its belt. But Riker was inspired by the racing experience and went back to the drawing board to create a masterpiece for 1906 – two Locomobile team cars to be campaigned in the Vanderbilt Cup.
One of these cars, wearing No. 16, would win the Vanderbilt Cup in 1908. The car lives on in its current home – the Henry Ford collection – as one of the most important American-built racecars ever produced. A very fitting tribute to Riker and the Locomobile Company.
Locomobile would run into financial troubles and go into bankruptcy in 1921. Purchased by William C. Durant as his luxury brand for Durant Motors, the company would struggle until it closed for good in 1929.
In the early days of motoring, automobiles were typically possessions of the wealthy. Professional drivers were often employed and many chauffeur organizations existed to advance the profession. This picture appears to show a chauffeur bringing up the family’s 1909 Pope-Hartford somewhere in New Jersey.
In many states around this time, only professional chauffeurs had to obtain operator’s licenses. Up until 1906, New Jersey simply demanded that an automobile owner file with the secretary of state a declaration verified by a notary that he was competent to drive the automobile he desired to register.
With the creation of the Motor Vehicle Regulation and Registration department, New Jersey was one of the first states to license automobile drivers. A New Jersey operator’s license now had to be obtained in person from a state examiner, and the applicant had to make an affidavit on the extent of his driving experience, physical condition and knowledge of the state’s motor-vehicle laws. Our chauffeur pictured here would have been required to have the exhaust cut-out closed while driving in town.
The Pope Manufacturing Company, maker of the Pope-Hartford, was the automotive empire of Colonel Albert Pope (the title is honorary). Before Durant had created General Motors, Pope invested his bicycle wealth in the manufacturing of electric vehicles and entered the automobile business in 1896. Convinced that electric cars were the way to go, Pope was producing just over 2,000 cars by 1899, which were nearly half of all cars produced in the U.S.
Later that same year, Pope sold out to the Electric Vehicle Company, but by 1901, he wanted back into the automobile business, this time with internal-combustion engines. Feverishly acquiring companies, the Colonel built a conglomerate of manufacturers named after the city in which they were manufactured. The longest running of these was the Pope-Hartford (1902-1914) located in Hartford, Connecticut.
By 1909, the Pope-Hartford was a well-regarded and established luxury brand. Building its reputation through contests of endurance as well as factory-sponsored racing, the Pope-Harford had a nationwide network of agents. This four-cylinder, 40-horsepower car would have sold for $2750 with no windshield – a top cost extra. By comparison, the newly introduced Ford Model T (1909 was its first full year of production) retailed for $850 for the touring car. Though not as expensive as a Packard, the purchase of a Pope-Hartford made a statement about your affluence and position in society. It still does.
Albert Pope built a large estate in Hartford and shared his wealth with the community by gifting a large park to the city (Pope Park). In 1909, having been in ill health for a number of years, Pope died in financial ruin. The Colonel was greatly admired in Hartford, thus when he died a collection was taken up to build a memorial fountain in his honor. The fountain still stands in Pope Park.
From the day the first Mercer raceabout was sold in 1910, these have been cars to be admired. The Mercer Automobile Company was founded by the Roebling and Kuser families in Mercer County, New Jersey – thus the company’s name. Both families were wealthy and prominent with extensive manufacturing experience, and they wanted to build a high-quality sporting car.
With the help of engineer Finley Robertson Porter, they would introduce a car that would change the American racing scene.
Porter’s T-head 4-cylinder engine had a higher rev band than most cars of the time, and he placed it on the very best chassis of the day, with a lower center of gravity and better brakes and handling than any other road car available at the time. The Mercer Raceabout quickly became famous for being driven off the show room floor straight to victory on the racetrack.
The car shown here, a 1913 Mercer, type 35, series J Raceabout, is one of about a dozen authentic pre-1914 Mercer Raceabouts known to survive. For 1913, Mercer introduced a 4-speed transmission and this car is said to be the earliest known 4-speed Raceabout.
This car (chassis 996) was found sitting on a used-car lot in Massachusetts in 1935 by classic car enthusiast Cameron Bradley. It cost $2,600 when new and originally was yellow. Bradley is said to have paid $100 for the car.
Cameron Bradley was an early collector of vintage cars who kept his vehicles in the Wolfden Antique Auto Museum of Southborough, Massachusetts. Bradley’s collection included a 1917 Simplex, a 1904 Mercedes, a 1912 Austro-Daimler and 1908 Amoskeag fire truck.
Bradley repainted the car a dark brown color, and the photo captures him showing the car after it’s re-paint. Bradley would cherish the car for 42 years before selling it to Ken Gooding in 1977. Gooding – the father of the founder of Gooding & Company collector-car auctions, David Gooding – retains the car to this day.
Sometimes a picture reveals more than what first appears. What drew me to this picture is the Mercedes 710 Type SS. Looking almost new, this car was still something special a decade after its manufacture and clearly seems well cared for.
The Mercedes W06, as the factory designated it, Type SS was the top of the line for Mercedes street cars at the time. Only 111 Type SS cars were made between 1928 and 1933. Offered with two versions of the potent 7.1-liter supercharged straight-six engine, the car makes up to 170 horsepower before the supercharger kicks in – boosting the output yet another 55 horsepower. The supercharger on these cars engages at higher RPM, thus one must be quite determined to drive it at its limits.
This car pictured here looks to be wearing a Sindelfingen body – Sindelfingen was a subsidiary of Mercedes at the time – and if you look closely, you’ll also note that this car appears to have flag holders at the front corners.
Which brings us to the darker side of this story. This picture was taken in Bayreuth, Germany, in 1937. Bayreuth today is known for its annual festival celebrating the German composer Richard Wagner. But in 1937, Bayreuth was the center of Nazi power in the Bavarian region.
The first Nazi party leader in the region was Hans Schemm, and he was known to have acquired a Mercedes 710 Type SS in 1932. Schemm died in 1935 but his car still exists, on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Is this the Schemm car seen in 1937? Regardless, it’s tragic that this triumph of German engineering is forever linked with the tyranny of the Nazis.
Since its beginnings in 1909, Hudson had gone racing to prove the merits of its cars. In 1916 came the introduction of Hudson’s Super-Six and with it a significant increase in horsepower over the previous Model Six-40. The Super-Six had a number of innovations, chief among them the use of a counter-balanced crankshaft, which helped the engine achieve 76 horsepower.
Hudson built a few “specials” to promote their new model and enlisted the help of veteran race driver “smiling” Ralph Mulford to put the cars through their paces. On April 10, 1916, Mulford drove the Hudson to a new mile record at Daytona, achieving 102.53 miles per hour. During this American Automobile Association-sanctioned event, Mulford and the Hudson set a new American mark for a stock car chassis over a straightaway mile.
This is a new record for man and machine.”
The Hudson Triangle, The Hudson Motor Car Company’s internal newsletter, would report on yet another achievement: “A Hudson Super-Six stock chassis was driven by Ralph Mulford 1,819 miles in 24 hours, that average speed being 75.8 per mile for every hour of the 24. This is a new record for man and machine.” Mulford would follow this with a win in August at the inaugural Peaks Peak Hill Climb, where he would set a time of 18:24.70 – a record that would stand for eight years.
Hudson’s Super-Six would turn out to be a popular model and the company would continue to use the name through the 1949 model year. Ralph Mulford would move on to promote other manufacturers, including another record run, this time for Paige-Detroit at Daytona in 1920.
Hudson struggled against the “big three” American manufacturers as an independent yet was one of the few automobile companies to survive the Great Depression. In 1954, Hudson finally merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors. Although the Hudson name would be retired, American Motors soldiered on into the 1980s.