On this day, exactly 120 years ago, January 12, 1904, Henry Ford, driving the Ford 999 racing car created under his leadership, set an absolute land speed record of 147.042 km/h.
Back on October 10, 1901, the first automobile race in US history took place at the Grosse Pointe Hippodrome in Detroit. Three people went to the start with their cars. The first was “America’s No. 1 racer” Alexander Winton, the author of the absolute speed record in the country. The second is the pioneer of American motoring, William Murrett. And the third was the then unknown mechanic Henry Ford.
But fate smiled on him. Murrett’s car retired almost immediately after the start due to engine trouble, and on the ninth lap Winton also stopped racing for the same reason. So the winner was unexpectedly Henry Ford. He won a $10,000 prize, but more importantly, he gained attention.
But Henry didn’t stop there. And the next year, two twin cars were assembled in his workshop at once, which were named “999” – in honor of the then famous railway express in the country.
These were unusual cars. Low and very long, they had neither a body nor even a hood. The inventor wanted to reduce the weight of the car as much as possible, as well as reduce the area of its drag. The car was equipped with a 4-cylinder engine with an impressive displacement of 17.9 liters, which developed a small power in modern times – only 72 hp. With.
Interestingly, the frame was made of wooden beams. Moreover, the coupling connecting the engine crankshaft and the driving rear wheels was also made of wood. These wheels were attached rigidly – there were no springs. And finally, the most interesting thing: there were no brakes at all!
It is not surprising that the famous cyclist Tom Cooper, invited by Ford, flatly refused to ride such a machine. Another athlete, motorcycle racer Barney Oldfield, decided to try his luck. True, he… never drove a car at all.
But everything turned out well. During the race in the summer of 1903, all at the same Grosse Pointe racetrack, Oldwild easily left behind all his rivals, including Winton, who dreamed of revenge.
Inspired by success, in the summer of 1903 Henry opened the Ford Motor Company and produced the first three hundred simple Type A cars, with a two-cylinder engine producing only 8 hp. With. However, for their successful sale, advertising was again needed. Therefore, Ford decides to organize races again and challenges competitors. They, however, were in no hurry to answer, and in the meantime winter came.
And Ford makes a radical decision: get behind the wheel and drive alone. The task was ambitious: to set an absolute world speed record. At the beginning of January 1904, near Detroit, on the ice of frozen Lake St. Clair, a 6.5 km long track was cleared of snow and sprinkled with ash for better traction. Ford conducted a test drive on January 9, just in case, without unnecessary witnesses. And on January 12, already in the presence of judges and the public, Henry’s car rushed forward.
Ford only needed a victory: after all, the next day an automobile exhibition opened in New York, where he demonstrated his new models. And the desired goal was achieved – Henry set an absolute speed record of 147.042 km/h.
True, an authoritative commission in Paris did not consider this a global achievement, citing some inaccuracies in measurements. But Ford was quite happy with the American championship for advertising. And he never got behind the wheel of a racing car again. But a few years later he set a world record of a different kind – his company became the world’s largest automobile manufacturer.