How would you feel if you had the chance to drive a 1901 Sweepstakes racing car? For me it would probably be like shaking hands with Henry Ford himself, as this car has the man’s blood, sweat and tears all over it.
NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards had the privilege of driving the 1901 Sweepstakes, Henry Ford’s first racing car, and was stunned by this moving piece of mechanical history.
While Ford was not a big fan of racing, he built the car because at the time “the public refused to think about the automobile as anything but a fast toy. Therefore, we had to race.” He had to do something to generate publicity, especially since his first auto venture, the Detroit Automobile Company, had gone bust. That something was called the Sweepstakes.
The car’s frame is made of ash wood reinforced with steel plates, suspended on its front and rear axles by leaf springs. Sweepstakes rides on 28-inch wire-spoke wheels fitted with four-inch-diameter tires from the Diamond Rubber Company. A 26 horsepower two-cylinder boxer engine is mounted in the middle of the car on the left-hand side, under the seat. With a total displacement of 539 cubic inches (8.8 liters), the unit was linked to a two-speed planetary transmission, with a first-gear band and a reverse band.
While all these sound a bit rudimentary now, in 1901, Sweepstakes was a pretty advanced piece of machinery. Tests revealed it could do 72 mph (116 km/h). Henry Ford drove it to victory on October 10, 1901, beating Alexander Winton, one of the best and most successful racers in the country.
The victory made Sweepstakes famous and changed Henry Ford’s fortune, who received several offers of financial support after the race. Consequently, in June 1903, he founded Ford Motor Company, today a major global player and the second-biggest carmaker in the U.S.
You can see for yourselves how the 112-year-old car drives and feels in the video below.
By Dan Mihalascu