Forgotten 1904 Henry Ford Land Speed Record

The Ford 999 was a nameplate attached to two distinct but similar racers built by Henry Ford during the early 20th century. Though they began as separate entities, they were virtually mechanically identical, and parts (and ultimately names) were swapped between them as needed, making the identities and legacies inseparable. The 999 was named after a New York Central Railway train that set records in 1893.

After building this massive car Henry Ford was reluctant to drive it. Ford wanted all the publicity he could get for his young company so he hired a fearless bicycle racer named Barney Oldfield. Oldfield won many races at the controls of "999" and would go on to become America's first nationally famous race driver. The success of "999" would help Ford promote his next venture, Ford Motor Company. This car represents the triumph of brute force over finesse. The huge 1155 cu. in. engine is mounted in a wood frame; there is a clutch but no transmission; the single brake acts only on the rear axle, which mounts rigidly to the frame without benefit of springs. The name "999" came from a famous steam locomotive that set a 112 mph speed record in 1893.

 

Henry Ford himself would set an automobile speed record of 91.37 mph in 1904 driving the "Arrow," a twin to his "999." Engine: Ford, inline 4-cylinder, atmospheric overhead intake values and side exhaust valves, 1155 cu. in., 70 hp. There had been a 1 mile distance measured off on the frozen surface of Michigan's Lake St. Clair. 

Henry managed to maintain control of the car as it bounced around, and when he completed the run his time was 39.4 seconds 91.37 mph, a 7 mph increase from the previous record. The run was timed by the AAA and unfortunately was not recognized by the world sanctioning body in France, the A.C.F. However, Henry Ford had set the American land speed record. Ford's record was reportedly broken less than a month later William K. Vanderbilt in Ormond, Beach, Fl. 

 

Though Ford's name was attached to the cars and the ensuing legend, he had ironically sold his stake in them for $800 to Barney Oldfield and Cooper when the cars had refused to start during a test drive two weeks before the first race. Ultimately, Ford would abandon his share of the racing money, but would reserve the right to promotions and publicity of the cars, which secured his image behind their eventual successes. He meanwhile built up Ford Motor Company, which surpassed Winton in terms of production by the end of 1903.

Barney Oldfield, despite having absolutely no driving experience, learned how to race the 999. In his October 1902 debut, a five-mile (8 km) race known as the Manufacturers' Challenge Cup, despite a strong challenge from Winton once again (which was the rematch for which Ford had originally planned), Oldfield easily won. The 999 set a course speed record at the track at Grosse Pointe, and went on to tour America and score many other victories. Cooper retained ownership of the car for its racing career, while Oldfield ultimately pursued a racing career with Winton, against whom he had raced at the outset.  Barney Oldfield went on to become America's first nationally famous racing hero, known for his thrilling exhibition races and the trademark cigar he chewed to protect his teeth in a crash.

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