Mar 04 2016

Hemmings Blog: Does this weathervane look familiar?

Yesterday reporter David Conwill in the Hemmings Blog reported on the mini Old 16  that is currently being sold at an antiques store in Bennington, Vermont.

This item was first discussed on  on January 12, 2016 with a comment from Jerry Helck.

David, thanks for the shout out!


Howard Kroplick

auto art

Hemmings Blog
Does this weathervane look familiar?

David Conwill on Mar 3rd, 2016 at 8am

Despite initial public resistance, the first Vanderbilt Cup race was held October 8, 1904, but the Europeans, possibly due to their head start in developing race cars and related driving techniques, won the first two runnings. It was not until 1908 that an American car with an American driver would win an international race, and that race was the Vanderbilt Cup.
Like other early marques, Locomobile entered motor racing, first contesting the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup with a 1, racer that ate its transmission after only two laps of the mountainous Auvergne circuit. That same year, Locomobile’s entry in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup race took third, but a flat tire cost the company any shot at victory in 1906.
In 1908, however, Willie K. had upgraded the race course with the construction of parts of what became known as the Long Island Parkway, a public road that helped open up that previously rural area to development. Locomobile’s new driver, George Robertson, took the win in a Locomobile numbered 16 and the legend of “Old No. 16” was born.

Robertson was born in 1884. His father ran one of New York’s first big garages, and George was exposed to the best European and American marques from the beginning. In addition to Old No. 16, Robertson raced a Christie, a Hotchkiss and a Simplex. In 1910, he was made the captain of the German Benz racing team, but was injured while showing a newspaper reporter a race course, which led to his retirement from driving.
The Vanderbilt Cup races continued on Long Island until 1911 and then began to move to other venues around the country. The U.S. entry into World War I brought a halt to racing, and the Vanderbilt Cup races did not return in 1919.
As influential as the Vanderbilt Cup races were as a whole (many credit the “highboy roadster” look of the ’30s through the present as an imitation of the Vanderbilt Cup racers), arguably no aspect captured the public’s attention in the same way as Old No. 16

As you may have guessed, it is Old No. 16 that this sculpture recreates. The story that was told to present owner Clifford Buisch of Four Corners East Antiques & Art (802-442-2612), when he purchased it in Palm Beach, Florida, was that it may have been commissioned by the Vanderbilts themselves (who often wintered in Palm Beach) to commemorate the race. Although it is scaled like a child’s pedal car, it currently sits on a swivel above a compass rose as though intended for use as a weathervane. Its patinated condition hints that it resided outside at some point.
The original Old No. 16 still exists in the collection of The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. Its technical details are fascinating, but we will leave them to others to relate. It has also passed through many owners before ending up at The Henry Ford, including the great automotive artist Peter Helck. Howard Kroplick, one of the most dedicated of Vanderbilt Cup historians, put us in touch with Helck’s son, Jerry.
Jerry viewed the Old No. 16 sculpture here and concluded that it is unlikely that the car was commissioned by the Vanderbilts or the Locomobile company (which was purchased by Billy Durant in 1922 and ceased operations seven years later), but is instead of 1950s or later vintage.
“It’s not really old,” Jerry says, “I don’t recall OLD 16 having a step originally; this looks like the one I made in the 1950s.”

Indeed, review of photos at the time it was raced do not show the step in question. Nevertheless, we think it’s a neat piece of automotive art that must have some interesting history of its own, given its large size and impressive detail. As Jerry notes, the artist “did get some details absolutely correct, e.g., the distinctive design of the radiator and oil tank caps.”
As for Robertson, in 1921, he served as Duesenberg’s team manager at the French Grand Prix, where they won. He was later vice president and general manager of Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island, which hosted a revived Vanderbilt Cup in 1936 and 1937.
Can any of our readers shed some more light on this neat old piece? Does anyone want to step up and purchase it to display in his or her den of automobilia? It certainly is a neat opportunity to look back at the earliest days of auto racing and the people that made it happen.



Mar 04 2016 Howard Kroplick 8:04 PM

From Hemmings Blog

Alex March 3, 2016 9:14 am

I hate to ask what the dealer wants for the piece. But here goes: what is the price?

Bruce T.


Bruce T. says:

March 3, 2016 10:03 am

Awfully big for a weathervane. You would need a crane to get it on top of a building and a real secure mounting system.


March 3, 2016 10:27 am

Having been an antiques dealer for 50 years AND a lifelong car nut let me offer these comments:
1) It is NOT a weather vane – they are virtually always flat or near flat for the simple purpose of catching the wind.
2) Mounting sculpture on a post (even a rotating one) is not only not uncommon it is the standard practice for 3 dimensional folk art.
3) I would offer that the “step” mentioned might well actually be the shelf for the spare gas can Old No 16 carried.
4) A question – does it actually bear a number on the grill? Old No 16 held a huge place in the American Folk Consciousness in the pre-WWI so it’s not unexpected to see a tribute on this level – although it could have been an actual commission.
5) Although it was found in Palm Beach – the extreme quality of the work would seem to indicate it was done by a master craftsman who had a whole free winter available to him – i.e. Maine or Minnesota, etc. (Just my thought)

Brian Austin
March 4, 2016 1:22 am

FWIW, there have been numerous period-constructed full-3D sculpted weathervanes, such as of steam locomotives. There are also numerous present-day weathervane sculptures presented online making it difficult to find pictures and info on the old ones. :-(

March 3, 2016 10:29 am

Oh – and how much IS it?

51 Ford Guy
March 3, 2016 2:30 pm

If we have to ask, we can’t afford it.

March 3, 2016 11:06 am

A great creation by a very talented man.
Thanks for the data

March 3, 2016 11:06 am

There are many techniques to artificially patinate a “new antique” so that’s not much proof of anything. How long could it have sat outside (in Florida?) with those wheels and tires, anyway?

March 3, 2016 11:17 am

The thing that caught my eye was the sprocket in front of the driver’s rear wheel. It looks like a crankwheel from a bicycle. That alone made me think this was more modern than from the Vanderbilt Cup era.

Also, Peter Helck is a name I hadn’t heard in a while. I remember his work in Road & Track.

John C. Kovalo
March 3, 2016 11:39 am

MY [mental] question is how many hours would I have to spend to make one like it in my shop? I’m already eyeing my huge pile of galvanized sheet metal, copper being WAY too expensive.

Naaah, I dint’t have that much time on my hands, but wouldn’t this be the ultimate KOOL sculpture to have sitting around the garage, patio, etc.? I don’t care WHAT its provenance is; some things just make a statement by themselves.

And thanks for the refresher on the Vanderbilt and Gordon Bennett cups; i’d give my left testicle to go back in time for just one day and watch ’em run; what a time period for automobiles!

March 3, 2016 11:39 am

What’s with the rear wheel “spokes” being different (fatter?) than the fronts?

Brian Austin
March 4, 2016 12:44 am

seems to me many cars and trucks of the era did that.

Forte Venta
March 3, 2016 1:21 pm

Very interesting !

Forte Venta
March 3, 2016 1:30 pm

My guess is that it could have been commissioned by one of the actual prior owners of old # 16. I would think , that the detail we see in this interesting piece, surely had to be patterned after the genuine article. An artist,whom would have had access to the real thing, in order to create such a work…Perhaps you could trace old # 16’s lineage back to the era that the noted artist thought it was created..who owned it during that time? Perhaps they could answer the riddle for
you !

Still, very interesting..Vanderbilt Cup races history..Thanks to your publications for bringing out the historical details like these…It is why I subscribe to your publications …Happy Motoring !

March 3, 2016 2:39 pm

The Henry Ford should acquire it and display it with the prototype!

Scotty G
March 3, 2016 9:39 pm

Old or newly-made-to-look-old, I love it either way! What a great (indoor) display piece this would be, but I’m guessing that the price would be more than most of the wacky little cars on my wish list would be; maybe combined.

I love the line about, “It’s not really old”… “this looks like the one I made in the 1950s.” It’s almost as if the 1950s era wasn’t quite a while ago now..

John Cole
March 4, 2016 9:23 am

I would love to acquire this piece – can anyone shed some information on how to get a hold of the dealer who currently has it?

Frank Schaeffer
March 4, 2016 12:15 pm

judging by the rust stain below the Mechanicians seat and the extreme weathering I think it was garden art. the 2 bucket seats for holding flower pots- this may also explain the broken spoke on bottom of steering wheel and the steering wheel a bit lower than original to clear the pot. it must have come from quite an estate!

Federico Martinez
March 4, 2016 1:09 pm

“I don’t recall OLD 16 having a step originally…” Said Mr. Jerry Helck, but according to this photograph taken in 1908, it indeed had a step, alas, not exactly equal to the one in this replica…

Anyway: one incredible piece of art!
And thanks to Mr Conwill, for showing it to all of us.


Leave a Comment