Monthly Archives: April 2016

Remembering the 1916 Indianapolis 500

The 1916 Indianapolis 500 will be remembered forever as one of the most trouble-packed undertakings in the Speedway’s history.

Following the 1915 500-mile race, Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison became concerned that European teams would not participate in International races during World War I. They decided to develop their own racing team to fill the expected gaps in the starting lineup caused by the growing absence of factory-sponsored entries. They commissioned five racers and formed the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company in September 1915. As part of the team, Eddie Rickenbacker encouraged them to include the two Maxwells sponsored by the Prest-O-Lite Team.

Eddie Rickenbacker in a Maxwell
Eddie Rickenbacker in a Maxwell

In 1916, Allison became the sole owner of the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company and moved operations to a small shop on the corner of the Prest-O-Lite lot in the town of Speedway. Of the 30 cars entered in the 1916 race, seven were from the Speedway Team and Prest-O-Lite Team companies consisting of two Peugeots, two Maxwells, and three Premiers.

Track officials also complied willingly with suggestions made by spectators and press representatives designating 300 miles as the “ideal distance” for high-speed championship events. More than half of the available cars were two or three years old. Fisher was skeptical of their ability to finish a 500-mile test.
When entries closed on May 1, the official list consisted of 30 eligible cars for the 33 available starting positions, not too bad under the circumstances. Track management, however, still had cause for considerable concerns.

Eleven of the 30, including three Speedway Team Premiers, were new cars still under construction. There was considerable doubt that any of the 11 could be completed in time. Several of the others were of questionable quality, with comparatively unknown drivers assigned to them. An honest appraisal of the situation convinced Track management that were only 13 bona fide contenders. These were the four-car Speedway Team, three Delages entered by Harry Harkness, two Duesenbergs, Dario Resta’s Peugeot, Barney Oldfield’s Delage, Ralph Mulford’s Peugeot, and an English Sunbeam assigned to Josef Christiaens.

The Track’s concern of a full field was not alleviated when only 10 competed in the first championship event of the year on the new two-mile board track at Sheepshead Bay, NY, on May 13.

Oldfield and Christiaens reached Indianapolis on May 16 to open the pre-race practice period, joining Johnny Aitken and Charley Merz on the track in Speedway Team-owned Peugeots. Resta and Tom Alley arrived two days later, with Rickenbacker and Pete Henderson also on hand to tune-up their Speedway Team-owned Maxwells.

Gil Anderson in a Premier
Gil Anderson in a Premier

The first two Premiers, painted green and assigned to Gil Anderson and Tom Rooney, were fired up for the first time on May 23. The Frontenacs arrived the following morning and all three members of the new Crawford team completed a tiring overland drive from Hagerstown, MD, later in the day at the wheel of their respective racers.

But only 22 cars were on the grounds for the start of time trials on Friday, May 26. Twelve of them still needed considerable work in order to attain the required minimum speed of 80 miles an hour. When the 10 successful qualifiers were joined by only four more on Saturday, race officials held an emergency meeting and set up an additional two-hour period for time trials on Sunday. Five successful runs against the clock increased the list of eligible cars to 19, including the third new Premier, which Howdy Wilcox qualified after driving it only eight laps.

Another extension of time permitted Ralph Mulford to qualify on May 29, and Eddie O’Donnell also made the grade in a Duesenberg. Several of the early qualifiers were far from satisfied with the performance of their respective cars, however, and insisted that additional practice time was necessary on race morning, May 30, for final “tuning.” Such permission was granted at another emergency meeting of officials, who also announced that any unqualified car could make another attempt to get into the lineup during the special practice session scheduled from 10 a.m. until noon. The start of the race was scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Art Chevrolet “blew a cylinder” in the Frontenac that he had qualified earlier. Fortunately, he was allowed to start the race in another Frontenac previously qualified by Joe Boyer.

Louis Chevrolet in a Frontenac
Louis Chevrolet in a Frontenac

The 21 starting positions for the race were assigned according to speed in time trials, regardless of the day on which the various entrants had qualified. Members of the Speedway Team were strong favorites because they had captured seven of the first nine positions.
The starting lineup was Aitken, Rickenbacker, Anderson, Resta, Oldfield, Wilcox, Rooney, Merz, Henderson, Wilbur D’Alene, Art Chevrolet, Louis Chevrolet, Jules Vigne, O. F. Halbe, Christiaens, Billy Chandler, Aldo Franchi, Art Johnson, Dave Lewis, Jack LeCain, and Alley.

Rickenbacker and Aitken set the early pace. But a series of misfortunes engulfed every member of the Speedway team in rapid order. Rickenbacker broke a steering knuckle on the tenth lap, and Aitken blew a tire on his 17th lap. Resta, pressing them relentlessly at speeds up to 98 miles an hour, roared into the lead at this point and never was challenged seriously during the remainder of the event. After lapping the entire field and making his only pit stop of the day without losing first place, he built up a six-minute advantage over his nearest rival by running a steady 85 miles an hour and “coasted” to victory.

Dario Resta in a Peugeot
Dario Resta in the winning Peugeot

Wilbur D’Alene, a comparatively unknown young member of the Duesenberg team, finished a surprising second with Mulford in third, Christiaens in fourth and Oldfield in fifth. Rickenbacker, driving relief for Henderson after a long pit stop, struggled home in sixth position. Wilcox salvaged seventh place despite repeated ignition trouble. Louis Chevrolet in his Frontenac and Gil Anderson in his Premier finished 11th and 12th respectively. As for the others members of the Speedway team, mechanical failure ended the hopes of Merz and Anderson, and Rooney hit the wall in the third Premier.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Mileposts in Indiana automotive history-Part Two

In this series of posts, I’m sharing some of my list of Indiana’s mileposts in automotive history. I share this automotive heritage to energize and excite auto enthusiasts to get involved with collectible cars.

1906 American Motors Company of Indianapolis develops the American Underslung car, one of the first examples of low-center-of-gravity engineering.

1906 Maxwell-Briscoe, (predecessor of Chrysler Corporation), builds its plant in New Castle. It is the largest automobile plant in the nation.

1906 National Motor Vehicle Company introduces a six-cylinder model, one of the first in America.


1907 Willys-Overland Motors is established by auto dealer John North Willys, who takes over control of Overland Automobile of Indianapolis and moves it in 1909 to the old Pope-Toledo plant in Toledo, Ohio.

1909 Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler pool $250,000 in capital to form the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company and transform an Indianapolis west side farm into a two-and-a-half-mile oval that becomes synonymous with automobile racing. The Speedway is designed as an automotive testing ground for U.S. manufactured automobiles to establish American auto supremacy. After the August motorcycle and auto races, the macadam track is repaved with 3,200,000 ten-pound bricks.

1911 The first Indianapolis 500 Mile race is held May 30. A Marmon Wasp averages 75 miles per hour to win. The Wasp employs streamlining via elongated front and rear sections and adds the innovation of a rearview mirror.

1911 Haynes Automobile Company is the first to equip an open car with a top, a windshield, headlamps and a speedometer as standard equipment.

1912 Stutz Motor Car Company is founded by Harry C. Stutz, who merges his Stutz Auto Parts with Ideal Motor Car.

1912-Stutz-Model-A Roadster
1912-Stutz-Model-A Roadster

1912 The Davis car is the first to have a center-control gearshift and the Bendix self-starter.

1912 The Stutz Bearcat is introduced with a design patterned on the White Squadron racing cars that won victories in 1913. Stutz also produces family cars, while the Bearcat provides lively competition for the Mercer made at Trenton, New Jersey.

1913 On July 1, the Lincoln Highway Association is created with Henry B. Joy (president, Packard Motor Company) as president and Carl G. Fisher as vice president. The Lincoln Highway is conceived as America’s first transcontinental highway.

1913 Premier and Studebaker concurrently introduce a six-cylinder engine featuring mono bloc engine casting.

1914 The Haynes is one of the first autos to offer the Vulcan Electric Gear Shift as standard equipment.


Mileposts in Indiana automotive history -Part One

To learn more about Indiana’s automotive innovation, I invite you to pick up a copy of Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana click here.

1914 Indianapolis 500 France vs. America

As preparations for the 1914 Indianapolis 500 moved along, the field shaped up to feature France versus America. Jules Goux, the 1913 500 winner, headed the Peugeot assault with teammates Georges Boillot and Arthur Duray, and they seemed confident of a second French victory. The French Delage team of Rene Thomas and Albert Guyot, plus Joseph Christiaens’ Excelsior entry, provided extra support.

The U.S. met them with a crack contingent of men and machines – Barney Oldfield, Earl Cooper, and Gil Anderson for Stutz; Caleb Bragg and Spenser Wishart for Mercer; Teddy Tetzlaff and Willie Carlson for Maxwell; and Eddy Rickenbacker and Willie Haupt for Duesenberg.

A crowd of 100,000 surged into the Speedway to fill the stands to capacity. The top three qualifiers were Boillot, Goux, and Tetzlaff. Oldfield managed to qualify 29th among the 30 starters. Oldfield deliberately held back because of a blue-gray cloud of exhaust, castor oil, and burning rubber.

Barney Oldfield in his 1914 Stutz
Barney Oldfield in his 1914 Stutz

Rene Thomas assumed the lead on lap 13. On lap 16, Oldfield worked his Stutz to 19th position ahead of his American competitors. Anderson’s Stutz retired early, and he waited to relieve Oldfield. By lap 48, Oldfield edged into the top 10 with Rickenbacker close by and Cooper following in the third Stutz.

Oldfield was seventh by lap 72, with Guyot leading the pack in his Delage. Anderson climbed into the Number 3 Stutz on lap 100, with Thomas driving in first place. By lap 150, Oldfield was back in his Stutz holding on to fifth place.

With 50 laps to go, Thomas, Duray, Guyot, and Goux in four French cars led Oldfield in the lone Stutz in fifth place. Oldfield represented the last serious American threat. As the miles rolled by, the cars finished in that order. Rickenbacker and Haupt drove the Duesenberg entries to 10th and 12th respectively.

Eddy Rickenbacker in his 1914 Duesenberg
Eddy Rickenbacker in his 1914 Duesenberg

The fourth annual 500 was over, a singular triumph for France, but America had not lost without honor.

Almost overlooked by most spectators was the accomplishment of Willie Carlson’s Maxwell, which completed the full 500 miles on 30 gallons of kerosene priced at 6 cents a gallon and finished 9th. Indy 500 winner Ray Harroun had designed the new type of carburetor for kerosene on the Maxwells. This was the most economical high-speed performance in automotive history.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Great time at the SAH Automotive History Conference

SAH banner

We had a great time at the Society of Automotive Historians Automotive History Conference in Cleveland last week. This biennial conference draws people from around the world to celebrate our automotive heritage.

The first session on Friday presented by Carl F.W. Larson covered Charles J. Glidden’s 1904 transcontinental tour. This 3500-mile trek in a 1902 Napier proved quite interesting in the early days of motoring. Carla Rose Lesh PhD presented “American Women in the Early Automotive Era.”

Another group of presentations offered a glimpse at the growth of regional auto centers with Bernard J. Golias presenting “Cleveland: The Original Motor City,” Kyle Yarber sharing “From Cow Town to Car Town: The Sputter, Stalls and Ignition of Automobile Manufacturing in Kansas City,” and my featuring “Indianapolis: Rival for the Title of the Nation’s Auto Capital.”

Friday afternoon sessions included Robert Ebert’s “The Historic Electric Vehicle Industry: The Case of Baker, Rauch & Lang,” Jorgen Burdhardt’s “The Technical Development of Heavy Vehicles from Modified Passenger Cars to Special Purpose Built Trucks and Buses,” James Rubenstein’s “The Auto Industry in the Great Depression and the Great Recession,” and Per Ahlstorm’s “How the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company Pressed Cars and Industrial Structures into New Shapes.”

1904 Peerless
1904 Peerless

Featured Saturday morning were Arthur W. Jones’ “Universal Cars: The North American Motor Vehicle in World Markets,” Sinclair Powell’s “The American Automotive Industry: Independents versus the Giants 1898 – 1950,” Thomas Adamich’s “Wills Sainte Claire and Related Companies – The Creation of the Auto Factory Town,” and William B. Chamberlin’s “Automobile Evolution in an Age of Increasing Regulations.”

All of the presentations were interesting and covered diverse subjects. The presenters demonstrated the wide interests of automotive history.

1919 Templar
1919 Templar

On Saturday afternoon we embarked on the Cleveland Auto History Bus Tour with visits to the Templar Motors Company and the Western Reserve Historical Society / Crawford Auto – Aviation Museum with information about other auto sites along our route.

The Templar Motors Corporation operated from 1916 to 1924. The car’s tagline was “The Superfine Small Car.” Its name was derived from the crusades of the Middle Ages and its emblem was the Maltese cross. The Templar was stylish, sporting and thoroughly modern. The Templar facility has an excellent collection of representative cars, advertising, manufacturing patterns, and reference material. What a great look at this 1920’s era automobile.

The Western Reserve Historical Society / Crawford Auto – Aviation Museum does an outstanding job of telling the story of Cleveland’s automotive heritage. Some 88 cars were built in Cleveland’s city limits. The saga begins in 1896 with cars built by Winton and 1897 by Stearns followed by Baker electric cars in 1899, Peerless in 1900, and the popular Owen-Magnetic in 1915. The museum has excellent examples of these popular Cleveland-built cars and many others. The collection is well researched and presented.

1913 Studebaker-Garford
1913 Studebaker-Garford

The itinerary of the other sites along the tour included Winton Motor Carriage Company, Rubay Company, Baker Motor Vehicle Company, Owen Magnetic, White Motor Company, Ford Motor Company Cleveland Branch Assembly Plant, F. B. Stearns Company, Rauch & Lang Carriage Company.

My congratulations go out the Society of Automotive Historians and Arthur W. Jones for creating this Automotive History Conference. I urge you to attend the next Biennial Automotive History Conference in 2018.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Kokomo Salutes Indiana’s Automotive Heritage 1894-1964

Kokomo Salutes Indiana's Automotive Heritage 1984-1964

The folks at the Kokomo Automotive Museum have put together an outstanding Indiana Bicentennial celebration titled “Kokomo Salutes Indiana’s Automotive Heritage 1894-1964.” This series of events take place September 5-11, 2016, and provide numerous ways to experience our automotive heritage.

Driving Tours

Endorsed by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, the “Hoosier Heritage Bicentennial Driving Tour” travels Indiana on September 5-8 from South Bend to the Ohio River, Richmond to Terre Haute, and everywhere in between. Join the pre-1966 cars on one of two statewide driving tours. Explore historical and automotive sites and enjoy a variety of great Hoosier cuisine. All driving tours will depart from the Kokomo Automotive Museum. Registration is required.
Or just explore Kokomo on September 5-8, and get to know the “City of Firsts” like never before. Stops include the Elwood Haynes Museum and Howard County Historical Society.

Car Shows

The public is invited to view rare and beautiful cars on September 10, from 11am to 3pm to experience Kokomo’s automotive heritage firsthand in Highland Park at these events: “Indiana Grand Classic” Enjoy 50 Full Classic automobiles from the Classic Era, 1915 -1948. “Haynes-Apperson Reunion” See up to 50 Kokomo-built cars return home to the “City of Firsts.” “Grand Stutz” national meet celebrates the “Car that made good in a day”. “Mighty Marmon Muster” experience the “Luxury, Speed, and Technology” of Marmon motor cars.

Grand Indiana Bicentennial Motor Muster

Don’t miss the capstone event on September 11, 2016, in Jackson Morrow Park, featuring rare Indiana-built cars from Auburn to Zimmerman and special interest cars through 1966 in a beautiful park setting. Free admission.
I encourage everyone interested in Indiana’s car culture to set aside these dates to experience Indiana autos at this event endorsed by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

For more information follow this link.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.