Those who know me well know that one of my favorite movies is “The Great Race”, with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Keenan Wynn, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, and many others. This is a classic Blake Edwards comedy about a race in the early 1900s from New York to Paris.
I mention this because there was a very interesting article in today’s New York Times describing the original 1908 “Great Race”. Yes, the movie was based (loosely) on a real event. The winner was not the Leslie Special but the Thomas Flyer, driving by George Schuster. The car is still around and on display, and some of the aspects of the movie are true (such as the presence of a newspaper reporter on the trip). Though 13 cars were entered, 7 were no-shows. The six starters zoomed up Broadway at speeds exceeding 30 miles an hour. The 1907-model Flyer roadster, powered by a 60-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, soon thundered into the lead. Behind it came a Zust from Italy; a Protos from Germany; and from France, a Motobloc, a DeDion and a tiny ill-prepared Sizaire-Naudin that did not survive the first day. I’m not going to repeat the details in the article, but I do note that the race is one factor that led to the creation of the Lincoln Highway. I’ll also note that Schuster, who died in 1972 at age 99, did not collect the $1,000 prize that the Automobile Club of America had promised if he won. Sixty years after the race, The New York Times made good on the debt at a banquet honoring Schuster, then 95. He expressed appreciation but noted that the $1,000 did not have the same buying power in 1968 as it would have had in 1908.