Apr 01 2010

Old 16 Locomobile: The 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race Winner

Most famous of all the Vanderbilt Cup racers, the victorious Locomobile of 1908 was the first American machine to win the race. Although the field for that event was far less prestigious than its predecessors, Americans heralded the car for its conquest of international competition. The car’s triumph in this race is described in the 1908 race section of the website.

The race car was constructed in 1906 for the Vanderbilt Cup Race with Joe Tracy at the wheel. It won the 1906 American Elimination Race and had the fastest lap of any entry in the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup Race. A muddy track and inferior quality American tires robbed observers of any chance to see how the new racer could compete against the best Europe had to offer.

The car was two years old when it was prepared for driver George Robertson and the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race. Its pressed alloy steel chassis supported a four cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 7.25 inches each making for a total displacement of 1,197.2 cubic inches. This configuration delivered 120 horsepower.

The 2,204 pound car had a wheel base of 110 inches or slightly more than nine feet. The tread was 54 inches, or four and a half feet. Hardened hickory artillery wheels were mounted to the car with Michelin tires. The front tire and wheel combination was 32 inches tall and four inches wide. The rear wheels (with tires) were taller at 35 inches and wider at five inches.

“Old 16,” as the historic Vanderbilt Cup racer came to be known, survives today at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The car’s path to this final destination is a story of respect reserved for icons.

Locomobile used the car extensively to promote its manufacturing prowess after the race, but as the novelty faded, it was placed in storage in a barn on A.J. Riker’s farm. Joseph Sessions, whose firm did much of the casting for the Locomobile engine, purchased the car in 1914. It was housed in a garage on his Bristol, Connecticut farm that was specially built to care for the car. There it was revered for 27 years and only driven by Sessions who occasionally took it to meets of the Veteran Motor Car Club.

When Sessions died in 1941, Peter Helck, the renowned automotive artist and author, acquired the historic racer with the assistance of his friend Joe Tracy. The car was delivered to his Boston Corners, New York home by none other than Joe Tracy in January 1942. Helck exhibited the car more frequently than Sessions, and allowed both Robertson and Tracy to drive it in touring events, including the 50th anniversary of the Vanderbilt Cup Race held in 1954 at Garden City, Long Island.

When Peter Helck died on April 22, 1988, ownership of Old 16 had already been transferred to his son Jerry Helck. In 1997 the car was acquired by the Henry Ford Museum where it is currently on display.


Sep 10 2008 Gerald Rokoff 3:15 PM

Fascinating blend of Long Island history, geography and the “automobile” which is an integral part of American culture.  Unfortunately, I am travelling this wekend and the weekend of October 17, but will forward to my company’s professionals and staff who live on Long Island.

Sep 11 2008 Howard Kroplick 12:43 AM


Thanks for the comment. Check out the recent Old 16 video on the blog. After 100 years, Old 16 still can race!


May 10 2009 Peter Becker 4:10 PM

If my memory serves me correctly, Peter Helck told me the conditions attached to his acquiring “old 16” were first that he drove it at least once a year and second that he NEVER restored the car.

May 24 2009 Howard Kroplick 2:25 PM

Hi Peter:

I am not sure if it was a condition, but the Helcks drove “Old 16” often and they never restored it.


Jul 30 2009 Ed Mistler Jr. 8:38 PM

In the Seventies I ran a garage in Amenia,NY. One Saturday morning my brother Kevin and I saw Old 16 on the side of Rt 22. We stopped and found it had fouled a spark plug,we pulled the plugs cleaned them. We were thanked for our help and Old 16 took off headed south. We both are glad to have this memory of Old 16 Ed Mistler Jr.

Sep 21 2009 Howard Kroplick 11:40 PM


Thanks for the Old 16 story!


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