Dec 19 2011

Article “The 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race” by Peter Helck

For the 1948 Veteran Motor Club of America Antique Auto Show,  prominent artist Peter Helck, then owner of "Old 16", wrote an article on the Vanderbilt Cup Races for the official program. Supplemented by photos from the book "Vanderbilt Cup Races of Long Island", this is Helck's colorful description of the 1908 race:


The 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race by Peter Helck

Reprinted from Program for the Antique Auto Show-Veteran Motor Club of America, March 8-14, 1948

It was two years before Long Island presented the fourth race for the Cup. and under conditions considerably altered. Because of the bloodshed in 1906, the circuit now comprised nine miles of the new parkway; the first concrete auto highway in the world. With its protective features for the straying public it was looked upon as the solution to the disorders which had characterized all preceding Vanderbilts. However, 14 miles still traversed the public turnpikes with their inadequate facilities for herding the reckless spectators. Another departure from established Cup traditions was the boycott by the great firms of Europe. In their support of the new rulings by the powerful Automobile Club of France the days of International team competition were over; on Long Island at least.

These changes affected public interest no whit. The huge, thrill-loving crowds cared little for the finer shadings of International sport relationships. The papers reported the early morning trials of the potential Cup winners, and the times registered by a few hearty hellions were faster than ever. For instance, young Robertson driving Tracy's old Locomobile was matching the theatrics, and exceeding the pace of the Lancias and Jenatzys of two years previously.  So, the crowds arrived, one-quarter million strong.

Seventeen cars participated of which six were of foreign make. Chief among them the Isotta of L ytle's, the Renault of Lewis Strang, and Keene, Luttgen and Stricker on 120hp Mercedes. The rest were American productions; Haupt's Chadwick, a couple of revamped 1906 Thomas Cup cars and Chevrolet's Matheson among them. As indicated, popular choice was the Locomobile, now numbered "16" with Robertson, and supported by the little known sister-car No. 1 in the hands of Jim Florida.






From the instant of Starter Wagner's signal Robertson set a furious pace and at 70 miles led the Chadwick by one minute. On lap 4, tire troubles dropped the Loco to fourth. . Haupt, Lytle and Luttgen now held top positions. Grim doubt assailed the Locomobile pit. Then, for nearly 100 miles Robertson thundered in fiendish pursuit...and regained leadership at 160 miles.







The big Chadwick had cracked, but right on "16's" heels was the fast-flying Lytle Isotta. For another 90 miles the Robertson-Lytle duel raged.  On the last lap in a ferocious skid, the Loc threw a tire. The only spare was feverishly put in place. Two minutes later Robertson thrashed off, desperately aware that victory hung in precarious balance. The final 18 miles were a demoniac drive with all caution flung aside, but man and car survived in triumph. The Cup, at long last, was America's , and a new record of 64.3 mph for 258 miles.









Links to related posts on

1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race- Entrants and Results

1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race- Statistics

Archives: 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race, Long Island, New York

A Tribute to Peter Helck (1893-1988), the Great American Artist


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