Oct 21 2014

Mystery Foto #90 Solved (Updated 10/21/14): The 1902 ACA New York to Boston Reliability Run

At the dawn of the birth of the automobile, long distance reliability runs were held by automobile clubs to evaluate the  comparative endurance of automobiles by manufacturer and engine type; gas, steam and electric.

Paul Osika of Waterford, Michigan forwarded this weekend's Mystery Foto from his marvelous collection of a historic reliability run.

Mystery Foto questions:

-Identify this reliability run including: date, the route for the run and its sponsor.

This 488-mile reliability run between New York City and Boston and back was sponsored by the Automobile Club of America. It was held over a seven day period from October 9, 1902 to October 15, 1902. The entire route was described in the October 4, 1902 issue of Automobile Topics.

-What was the make of entrant numbers B60 and B61?

Both automobiles were 6 1/2 hp Grout Steamers entered by Grout Bothers. Both steamers completed the course.

-What was the make of the third automobile?

The caption of the photo indicated the third automobile was a Panhard. However,  I agree with Ariejan Bos that the third automobile was a 1902 Model A Apperson. See his convincing documentation below.

-What street were the automobiles parked?

The automobiles are parked on 58th Street just west of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

-Who was the owner of the gate and fence to the left of the automobiles? How was this person linked to the Vanderbilt Cup Races?

The owner of the mansion, gate and fence was Cornelius Vanderbilt II. He was the brother of William K. Vanderbilt Jr.'s grandfather William H. Vanderbilt. That would make him Willie K's grand-uncle.

-Where can this gate and fence be found today?

The gate and fence were gifted in May 1939 to New York City by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt. They still can be enjoyed at East 105th Street and Fifth Avenue. The "Vanderbilt Gate" serves as the entrance to Central Park's 6-acre Conservatory Garden.

Congrats to Frenk Femenias, Ariejan Bos, and Greg O. who identified both the 1902 Reliability Run, the Vanderbilt manison location and the Vanderbilt Gate. Hats off to Bronson Trevor, Jr. for identifying the mansion and the Vanderbilt Gate. Special kudos to Frank Femenias for his photo submissions and Ariejan Bos for his great research on the mystery third automobile.



Howard Kroplick

Reliability Run

The start of the run at 9:00am on October 9, 1902. The view was looking west down 58th Street from Fifth Avenue. The ACA headquarters was located on 58th Street.

The run was big news in the automobile trade journals of the day.

An amazing 91% of the 75 starters completed the entire 488-mile course including 50 of the 55 gasoline starters (91%) and 18 of 19 steamer starters (95%). As shown in this listing both Grout steamers in the Mystery Foto completed the course.

The Mysterious Third Automobile

A close-up of the front of the third automobile.

This grille and radiator of this 1902 Panhard appears to match the third automobile in the Mystery Foto. But, I agree with Ariejan Bos that this car was likely a 1902 Model A Apperson.


From Ariejan Bos

Hi Howard, first of all I must say, that I like this kind of mystery pictures very much, especially if they are about identifying cars and events. I must admit that I spent a lot of time on this one, because the Panhard-like car intrigued me. As I never trust captions (even in contemporanean magazines!) I did the research leading to the conviction that the car is not a Panhard or a Darracq (Greg O.'s answer and also my first thought), but an Apperson.

First lead is the order of the cars, the unknown car lined up directly behind the Grout steamers. The Horseless Age also presents a starting list with exact departure times. From this list it is clear that although the Packard with number1 started as the first car, the departure times of rest of the field was random. The Grouts with numbers 60 and 61 departed at 9.23 and 9.23.30 resp.. The next car leaving was number 23 at 9.23.45, which was the Apperson of H.K. Browning.

Unfortunately there are very few photos of this early Apperson, but in the same volume of The Horseless Age on p.278 a description is given including a side view photo of this car.

In the description can be read that the car had a very European appearance. In this case they mean of course Panhard- or Darracq-like because of the tubular cooling arrangement at the front, which was uncommon on American cars at the time. The two metal strips holding the cooling arrangement are vaguely visible on the side view of the photo (yellow arrows).If we look more closely however, a very distinguishing feature can be seen which is present on both photos: a third light in between the two normal head lights! In the side view photo the top of this centre light is just visible (red arrow). The cars on both photos could even have been the same car, because this front light arrangement was not a very regular feature at the time.

So taking all these facts together my conclusion has to be that we see a rare frontal view of a real American car, the 1902 model A Apperson. I hope you will agree with me grin

Thanks as always for your often interesting and challenging website!

Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion

This 130-room mansion was the largest single-family residence ever built in New York City. Photo submitted by Frank Femenias.

Submitted by Frank Femenias.

Note the Plaza Hotel on the right which opened five years after the run on October 1, 1907.

The mansion was demolished in 1927. The property became the location of the Bergdorf Goodman department store. View today looking west down 58th Street from Fifth Avenue.

Current view on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Submitted by Frank Femenias. Click here for a comprehensive Then & Now.

The Vanderbilt Gate, East 105th Street and Fifth Avenue

Submitted by Frank Femenias.

Submitted by Frank Femenias.

Submitted by Frank Femenias.