Monday, November 4

Old 16 and the Vanderbilt Cup

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By Grant Davies

On this day (-2) in 1902, a new offering from a fairly well-known automobile company hit the road for the first time. It was billed as the "best built car in America", and it probably was.

The company was named Locomobile and on that day they sold their first four cylinder, gas powered car, the "Model C." It put out an incredible 12 horsepower. If you were looking for enough torque to make your head snap backwards upon sudden acceleration, and the horsepower didn't deliver, the $4000 price tag surely would. (For those who have a curiosity about how much the Federal Reserve has defended the value of the currency since then, that's $120,040.66 in 2013 dollars. But I digress.)

Anyway, some rich guy in New York was loco enough and had the equivalent of a hundred and twenty grand lying around, so he popped for the Model C. The company was off to the races, literally. More on that later.

The Locomobile Company of America had been around since way back in 1899 (that's three years for you lucky kids of the 60s "new math" programs) and had been producing high quality steam powered cars for folks who just wanted to get around town and weren't in a hurry.

According to, "Steam cars had to warm up (literally: the water needed to boil in order to build up steam pressure) for about a half-hour before the car could be driven, and their water tanks needed to be refilled every 20 minutes or so. They also needed three kinds of fuel: water for the boiler, kerosene to heat the water and gasoline for the pilot light." And that's not counting the acetylene that was needed for the car's "key" which was an acetylene torch to light the pilot. The cars weren't exactly racing material.

So when the company decided that the internal combustion engine was the future instead of steam, they hired a guy named Andrew Riker to design the Model C. It lived up to its billing as a well built car and by 1906 he had manufactured one that lasted well enough to win the "Vanderbilt Cup" two years later. The race was an 11-lap, 258.5-mile test, held on Long Island. It was a very big deal back then.

This car, nicknamed "Old 16," was a tad more powerful than the Model C. It had four-cylinders as well but it put out 10 times the horsepower of the Model C. It was a real speedster that looked fast before it was even running. The car is pictured above and there is a really cool video featuring Paul Newman talking about it below. For more detailed and really cool pictures check this page.

To celebrate the day, take the person riding shotgun in your car to the "Old Sixteen Cafe." When the waitress asks you how you want your coffee, just say, "In my cup." You can skip the Vanderbilt part.

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