Wednesday, May 12, 2010

W.K. Vanderbilt and the Land Speed Record -- The Early Years

Ormond-Daytona Beach, 1905. W.K. Vanderbilt, A. MacDonald and H. T. Thomas

From G.E.T. Eyston, Fastest on Earth. Los Angeles: Clymer, 1946, pp.173-4.

The Land Speed Record

Date Place Driver Car M.P.H.
18.12.98 Achères Chasseloup-Laubat Jeantaud (electric) 39.24
17.1.99 Achères Jenatzy Jenatzy (electric) 41.42
17.1.99 Achères Chasseloup-Laubat Jeantaud (electric) 43.69
27.1.99 Achères Jenatzy Jeanatzy (electric) 49.92
4.3.99 Achères Chasseloup-Laubat Jeantaud (electric) 57.6
29.4.99 Achères Jeneatzy Jeanatzy (electric) 65.79
9.4.02 Achères C.S. Rolls Mors 63.1
9.4.02 Achères W.K. Vanderbilt Mercedes-Simplex 65.79
13.4.02 Nice Serpollet Serpollet (Steam) 75.06
21.4.02 Ablis W.K. Vanderbilt Mercedes-Simplex 67.78
5.02 Ablis W.K. Vanderbilt Mercedes-Simplex 69.04
7.02 Bruges P. de Caters Mors 75.06
5.8.02 Ablis W.K. Vanderbilt Mors 76.08
5.11.02 Dourdan Fournier Mors 76.60
17.11.02 Dourdan Augières Mors 77.13
7.3.03 Clipstone C.S. Rolls Mors 82.84

Of the early U.S. race drivers, perhaps no one stands out more than William Kissam Vanderbilt II, affectionately known as "Willie K." His activities reflect important themes related to first decade of auto racing, one in which society's upper crust played a dominant role in the story of the automobile in American life.
Born in New York City in 1878 to William Kissam Vanderbilt , he was thus was called Vanderbilt Jr. until the death of his father. Growing up in luxury, raised in Vanderbilt mansions, experiencing European travel at an early age, and sailing around the globe in his father's yachts, Willie K. enrolled at Harvard but left after his first year. Beginning with a ride in a steam car in France at age 10, he was captivated by the automobile. In 1898 Willie purchased a French De Dion-Bouton tricycle, and later other vehicles that he used to speed along to his parents Long Island estate, Idle Hour.
In 1904 Willie K. set a new land speed record at Ormond Beach near Daytona, and later that year he organized the Vanderbilt Cup, the first important American trophy race. The Vanderbilt Cup was America's answer to the Gordon-Bennett Cup races held in Europe, and showcased the competition between the U.S. and European manufacturers. However, European car makers dominated the road race until 1908, when American George Robertson finally took home the honors for the U.S.
Because of crowd control problems and the 1906 death of a spectator, in 1907 Willie K. established a firm that built the Long Island Motor Parkway. His 48-mile toll road not only was used in future competitions, but led to the economic development of Long Island.
Later involved in long-distance sea and air voyages, exploration, and a very messy divorce, the Vanderbilt story involving the automobile ended tragically in 1933 when Willie K.'s son William Kissam III died in an auto accident in South Carolina while traveling back to New York from the family's Florida estate.
The finish of the Vanderbilt Cup, 1906

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