Pre-War Preferred Section
For those who choose high risk over high tech, the enthusiast that marvels at early engineering in an age when motor racing wasn’t just dangerous, for many it was a death sentence. At a time when there seemed to be a Grand Prix most weekends and brave souls took to the banked circuits of Brooklands or Montlhery one week then raced through city streets the next on route from Paris to Peking the following. When cars were coach built and ten litre engines the norm the pages that complete this section maybe for you…
The Greatest Race - New York to Paris
In 1908 motor manufacturers were eager to prove the value and reliability of their products and 15 years after the first known motor race (Paris-Rouen) the New York Times and ‘La Matin’, leading French paper, sponsored the test of all tests. Now geography may not be my strong point but a quick drive to New York Harbour, followed by a cruise, then off at Boulogne and into Paris is no distance. The alternative and official route would not be taken lightly today, even with the benefit of actual roads; back then many believed it simply could not be done. Starting in New York up to Albany and across to Chicago then down to San Francisco; once the cars reached the west coast they had to drive up through Seattle into Alaska and the sea port of Valdez, all taking place in the winter time with no road maps, as they had yet to be built. Next stop Japan and once crossed a journey by sea to the remote Russian sea port of Vladivostok; cutting across Mongolia to Omsk then Moscow, St Petersburg and into Western Europe via Berlin to Paris. With six cars entered national pride became part of the story, the American ‘Thomas Flyer’ was up against the Italian Zust, three French machines including a De-Dion Bouton and a German Protus, all crewed by their fellow countrymen. On a cold February morning in Times Square a single gunshot and over 250,000 spectators waved the racers away. The American entry was the first to reach San Francisco and became the first car to cross the US in winter, taking 41 days. These cars were the first motor vehicles to cross Japan and upon arrival in Russia only three were left in the race; the ‘Flyer’, the Zust and Protus. The hardships and problems crossing the tough continent are far too many to list but at 8.00pm on the 30th July the winning ‘Thomas Flyer’ driven by George Schuster Senior stopped outside the Le Matin offices ahead of the Italian and German entries. 13341 miles had been covered in 169 days and surprisingly that record still stands today. In 1965 Tony Curtiss starred with Natalie Wood in a film loosely based on the story and 100 years later the winning car was guest of honour at the Amelia Island Classic car show.
Canada’s 1st Car and Car Crash
The grainy image of Henry Seth Taylor and his steam buggy was taken nearly 150 years ago; it was the image that first caught my eye then the interesting and amusing story that followed. Taylor was ‘a jack of all trades’ who could turn his hand to most things. Listed as a jeweler, saloon owner, photographer, investor and inventor, he decided at the age of 33 to build his own steam car. Although steam power had been around for some decades Henry Taylor’s Canadian built buggy first appeared three years later in 1867. Employing the help of a local blacksmith who forged some of the metal parts Taylor not only designed but also built the 60lb boiler and the complicated ‘tiller’ steering system. Once completed the Buggy weighed 500lb and it was claimed it could keep pace with a trotting horse. The first outing in September 1867 was meet with much derision and jeering, the steam engine burst a hose and Taylor had to push the Buggy away from the show ground surrounded by plumes of escaping steam. Not one to be beaten the fault was fixed and improvements made, according to his grandson Taylor was not looking to make a commercial success of the Buggy, he just enjoyed the challenge.
Returning to the fair the following year the display was a triumph and more appreciation and invites to shows followed. That same year 1868 near Stanstead and Quebec the importance of brakes became obvious; Taylor had neglected to fit any and whilst travelling down-hill the speed increased and the account of Canada’s first automobile accident from Charles A. Friedric is as follows; ‘’muddy ruts in unpaved roads had seemed sufficient stopping power. But on that morning the road was dry, and Taylor found himself speeding down the slope with a boiler full of scalding water directly behind him. The vehicle’s steering apparatus – to turn to the right, twist tiller to the left – was not particularly appropriate for moments of emergency. Nor was Mr. Taylor; he pulled the steering arm the wrong way, then instinctively jumped from the car. Seconds later, the buggy landed on its side at the bottom of the hill’’.
Understandably unimpressed Taylor had to employ a horse and cart to get his damaged buggy home. With broken wheels the body was consigned to the loft of his barn. The boiler however was put to use by installing it into a ‘steam launch’ he built a year later; this unfortunately ended life at the bottom of Lake Memphremagog on a test run. Sparks from the boiler set fire to the wooden boat and Taylor was forced to swim ashore as it sank. The wreck of the buggy remained in the loft of the barn, untouched for nearly a century.
Gertrude Sowden an antique dealer purchased the Taylor property in 1960 and realized the wreckage in the loft was not just scrap and sold it on to a collector named Richard Stewart. He restored the carriage, replaced the boiler and the damaged wheels and fitted some brakes; the buggy was then loaned to the Science Museum in Ontario. The 2014 Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance will be a chance to see the Henry Seth Taylor ‘steam buggy’ in full running order, this showing will be for an appreciative audience nearly 150 years after most believed the automobile was just a ‘load of hot air’.