Twenty-four years ago, Automobile Quarterly issued a calendar of historic vintage automobiles.
The December 1976 page featured the 1909 Alco Black Beast.
The back of the December page provided this history of the American Locomotive Company and the Black Beast.
On June 24th in the year 1901, eight locomotive-building plants in the United States merged to form the American Locomotive Company. Four years later, on June 4th, 1905, the company announced that it was entering the automobile business "on a large scale." Eight years after that, it was ignominiously out of it, after having lost, one business reporter estimated, an average of $460 on every car built. But commercial failure should not obscure the fact that the car produced by the American Locomotive Company was one of the best automobiles built in America.
Sold at prices up to $9,000 for the largest touring car, Alco models were first powered by a four-cylinder engine, replaced by a six in 1908. Both shaft and chain drive models were offered and in 1907, a vehicle intended for use as a taxicab was introduced. No expenses was spared to make the Alco as perfect as humanly possible and out of the very best materials. The engine blocks, for instance, were cast in pairs from vanadium steel- and crankshafts, connecting rods, and camshafts were machined from solid vanadium steel billets. "It Stays New," said Alco of their product and a racing Alco - the one shown here- soon proved the marque's durability and performance with wins in the 1909 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Races, among others.
Initially, the company hadn't been interested in racing, believing that their wealthy customers would not be impressed by competition successes. But in 1906, factory test driver Harry Fortune Grant persuaded a Boston Alco dealer to let him race one of the forty horsepower cars. His successes led the factory to give Grant a six-cylinder 134-inch chassis which he and his mechanic Frank Lee modified by moving the engine back seven inches for better weight distribution, altering the springs, and adding a pair of bucket seats and spare tire brackets to create a spartan typical car of the 1909 era.
The "Black Beast" as the car became known, proved capable of 110 miles per hour and was a match for the best competition, including Fiat, Mecedes and Issota-Fraschini. It is owned today by Mr. Joel Finn.
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