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.