Since the beginnings of the automobile, Grand Prix racing was a way for auto manufacturers to show the public who had the best automobiles. Early on Willie K. Vanderbilt was an avid automobile enthusiast and always had the biggest and best cars, for example in 1903 he owned a 90 horsepower Mercedes and he would participate in races all over the world himself from Daytona Beach Florida to the Paris to Vienna race in 1902 with his 60 Horsepower Mors. But, Willie K. wanted his own Grand Prix race so he began the Vanderbilt Cup races in 1904 on Long Island where he had his summer home. The race drew manufacturers and people from all over the world from Fiat to Darracq to Mercedes to Locomobile located just across the Long Island Sound in Bridgeport, Connecticut. From 1904 through the 1906 races European cars had won consecutively against the Americans. In 1904 Panhard took the inaugural first place and Darracq took first for the next 2 years. In 1907 there was no race due to a spectator fatality during the 1906 race, so crowd control was a big issue. Remember that these cars were new to people so they really didn’t realize how fast 80 or 90 MPH really was. The races resumed in 1908 where the Bridgeport, Connecticut auto manufacturer, Locomobile, ran two cars (both cars actually previously racing in the 1906 race as well under different qualifying numbers) #1 and #16. #1 was the fastest qualifying car, hence the #1 and it was driven by Jim Florida. #16 was not so fast but was driven by George Robertson. At the very end of a long and grueling race #1 was in 1st place but caught a flat tire rounding the last turn and #16 took the lead eventually going on to win the race becoming the 1st American car to ever win against a European competitor . #1 did finish but in third place. #16 and George Robertson instantly became superstars. When they returned home to Bridgeport the entire city shut down to Parade #16 down Main Street to the Locomobile Factory located on Seaside Park on the sound where you can see Long Island in the distance.
The photo of the day today is an action photo of #16 (eventually becoming known as “Old 16”) coming in for the win at the end of the 1908 race. The car is now located in the Henry Ford Museum. #1 is still in private hands. An incredible car, race, story and photo!