Carl Fisher’s 1905 Premier Vanderbilt Cup Racer

I believe one of the most interesting cars in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum is Carl G. Fisher’s 1905 Premier built for the Vanderbilt Cup Race. What makes this car so interesting is that it possesses one of the world’s first automotive engines with an overhead camshaft operating overhead valves. It was air-cooled and was one of the first American race cars to use magneto ignition.

Fisher earlier enjoyed some success with a 1903 Premier Comet racer, which is why he turned to George A. Weidley, co-owner and chief engineer of Premier Motor Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, to build his new Vanderbilt Cup Racer for one of the important speed contests in the world.

1905 Premier side view
1905 Premier side view

The four-cylinder engine that Weidley designed had a bore and stroke of 7.0 in. by 5.5 in. for a total displacement of 846.6 cu.in. The single overhead valve camshaft operated 45-degree valve rocker arms above the valves in the hemispherical cylinder heads.

Weidley shared some thoughts about one of the car’s first shakedown runs along East Washington Street. He commented that the racer’s seats were remarkably easy riding. Then he reportedly ran close to a mile in a minute clip for a short distance with the throttle slightly opened with the exhaust muffled to a mild roar. He soon wondered what the car would do with the throttle wide open and without a muffler.

Unfortunately, the car exceeded the 2,200-pound maximum weight limitation in the rules for the race by some 300 pounds. The crew went to work drilling 470 holes in the car, but it was still 120 pounds’ overweight and not eligible for the race. Weidley placed a Premier advertisement in several trade papers criticizing the Vanderbilt Cup’s race commissioners for lack of sportsmanship for failure to allow the car to compete because it was overweight versus underweight.

Weidley’s 1905 Premier ad
Weidley’s 1905 Premier ad

Later, Fisher drove the car in one race at the Indiana State Fairground’s one-mile horse track on October 21, 1905. In the five-mile handicap race, he won the contest, turning the final lap at 59.21 mph.

Weidley’s design for the Fisher Premier race car had many features far in advance of the time frame and would later become popular on racing cars.

The next time you visit the Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum I invite you to take a careful look at Carl G. Fisher’s 1905 Premier racer. A number of innovations debuted on this car which would later be standard on race cars of the future.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

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