In 1903, with Tom
Cooper, I built two cars solely for speed. They were quite alike.
One we named the "999" and the
other the "Arrow." If an automobile were
going to be known for speed,
then I was going to make an automobile that
would be known wherever speed
was known. These were. I put in four great
big cylinders giving 80
H.P.--which up to that time had been unheard of.
The roar of those cylinders
alone was enough to half kill a man.
was only one seat. One life to
a car was enough. I tried out the cars.
Cooper tried out the cars. We
let them out at full speed. I cannot quite
describe the sensation. Going
over Niagara Falls would have been but a
pastime after a ride in one of
them. I did not want to take the
responsibility of racing the
"999" which we put up first, neither did
Cooper. Cooper said he knew a
man who lived on speed, that nothing could
go too fast for him. He wired
to Salt Lake City and on came a
professional bicycle rider
named Barney Oldfield. He had never driven a
motor car, but he liked the
idea of trying it. He said he would try
It took us only a week to
teach him how to drive. The man did not know
what fear was. All that he had
to learn was how to control the monster.
Controlling the fastest car of
to-day was nothing as compared to
controlling that car. The
steering wheel had not yet been thought of.
All the previous cars that I
had built simply had tillers. On this one I
put a two-handed tiller, for
holding the car in line required all the
strength of a strong man.
race for which we were working was at
three miles on the Grosse
Point track. We kept our cars as a dark horse.
We left the predictions to the
others. The tracks then were not
scientifically banked. It was
not known how much speed a motor car could
develop. No one knew better
than Oldfield what the turns meant and as he
took his seat, while I was
cranking the car for the start, he remarked
cheerily: "Well, this chariot
may kill me, but they will say afterward
that I was going like h***
when she took me over the bank."
And he did go.... He never
dared to look around. He did not shut off on
the curves. He simply let that
car go--and go it did. He was about half
a mile ahead of the next man
at the end of the race!