Speed the Early Days
Published by: All Car Central Publishing
Date published: 05/21/2015


Question... What was the fastest car one hundred years ago?

Mercedes 120 HP Grand Prix 1906

Mercedes 120 HP Grand Prix 1906

Strange to say there were a few competitors for this title. A hand built Speedster with a Ford engine set up a new record in 1906 in Philadelphia regretfully the full details of driver etc have been lost and all that is recorded is the performance which by any standards, is impressive. Eight hundred miles in twenty four hours with an average speed of just under fifty miles per hour.

A few months later Mr. Steven Edge a Brit, booked three days use of the then new Brooklands Race track in England with the idea of also driving for twenty four hours over a longer distance, I,440 miles and in the process beat the new American record. His choice of car was an eight cylinder open cockpit "Napier" with an estimated weight with fuel in excess of eight thousand pounds, not exactly a light weight vehicle.

He completed the run in the required twenty four hours at an average speed of sixty two miles an hour setting a new record that was not beaten for the next twenty six years when another car at Brooklands raised the record to seventy five mph. In the case of the "Napier" the major problem was driving at night with virtually no vision as the 1907 lighting design was little more than a horse drawn coach, with oil lamps. To overcome this challenge over two thousand oil lamps were placed around the track to enable the driver to stay on course. Regretfully as already indicated, there seems to be no similar information on the American achievement in 1906 and I for one would like to know how they got over the night driving problem.

There is another question that begs an answer. What did these drivers do about the calls of nature over a twenty four hour period..? OK... Yes they did have to stop for fuel etc!!

"Fiat S76 Record" by Unknown - http://www.taringa.net

Fiat S76 Record

In 1911 the Italian firm "Fiat" produced what at the time was considered to be "The Fastest car on Earth, the Fiat S76, powered by a four cylinder engine with a capacity of 28.5 liters providing over 300 break house power. Each of the four cylinders was in excess of seven liters in capacity Equal to the average total power capacity of two American modern vehicles. The car was designed as a world record breaker and named "The Beast of Turin".

The first speed test was set up in a coastal town in Belgium named "OSTENEDE", why Belgium is not clear as there were several roads in Italy that would have suited the task! The track was eight miles long with a turn circle at the end to enable the car to turn round and complete the second run.

(It was/is still required, that any speed test is measured by the average achieved after two runs over the same course.)

The car had no exhaust pipes, the burnt fuel simply blew out of the open exhaust ports which must have been a rather dangers process with the fuel tank just a few inches above the engine. On the first eight mile run the car clocked 135 kilometers an hour. Yes you read that right over a hundred miles an hour, the car was turned around to start its second run but nothing happened! The car would not respond. There is no report as to why but a good guess would be that the cork clutch had been destroyed during the first run, however it was also noted that the two wheel break system was found to be locked making it difficult to move the car. No second run, no speed record, so the car was towed back to Fiat in Italy and put in store for the next one hundred years when a British museum purchased the car and brought it back to Britain to be displayed at the annual Goodwood car event.

This never happened as two engineers decided to try and get the car running and to drive it at Goodwood if successful. After a lot of hard work, in March 2015 the car was taken for a trial run and averaged over seventy MPH. It will be entered in the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed in June 2015 and there are a number of people including Fiat who will be watching a hundred year old car stir up the dust on the race track.

In 1908 the "Palmer Singer Sixty", speedster guaranteed a performance of Sixty Five MPH. Manufactured in Chicago and offered to the public at $3,100 off the show room floor. The 1910 "Keeton-Six" went a step further and advertised a completely equipped four door tourer with full electric light...Left or right hand steering...guaranteed sixty mph with four passengers priced at $3250 direct from the factory in Detroit.

Thomas Flyer Model 35 New York-to-Paris Racecar 1907

Thomas Flyer Model 35 New York-to-Paris Racecar 1907

In the same year the American team of Roberts and Shuster driving a "Thomas Flyer" built in Buffalo NY, won the New York to Paris race via Seattle, Japan and Siberia. The average speed for this grueling journey was forty two MPH. Without doubt a record that was unique at that time remembering that the roads in such places as Siberia left much to be desired.

Mors Type N 1903 rear-entrance tonneau 4 cyl 18 hp 4.6 ltr. London to Brighton 2014
Mark J. Willison Photo

Fiat S76 Record

Finally and this must be a record to beat all records, a Frenchman M. Gabriel driving a eighty horse power "Mors Car" won the 1903 Paris to Madrid race with an average speed of Sixty Five miles an hour.. Note that's the average speed! My only question would be how did he stop the car?

The next time someone tells you about how fast they have driven refer them to the real speed kings of a hundred or more years ago.
Geoff Wheatley

Ford "999"

Ford 999

in 1904, Henry Ford sets a land-speed record of 91.37 mph on the frozen surface of Michigan's Lake St. Clair. He was driving a four-wheel vehicle, dubbed the "999" with a wooden chassis but no body or hood.

Bentley Continental Supersports convertible 2011

Bentley Continental Supersports convertible 2011 new world speed record on ice Baltic Sea, off the coast of Finland, 2011

(Oulu, Finland. 15 February 2011) Finland's four-time world rally champion Juha Kankkunen drove a Bentley Continental Supersports convertible on the hazardous frozen waters of the Baltic Sea, off the coast of Finland, at a breathtaking 205.48 mph (330.695 km/h) to set a new world speed record on ice. Source: Bentley, 2011
Bentley Photo 2-11

Doing some math on the above 2 "Ice Records" consider this: Time between runs was 107 years. Speed increase from the Ford's 91 mph to the Bentley's 205 mph was 114mph, or just a bit over 1 mph increase per year.

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