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1904 Vanderbilt Cup.

The following are all amateur-level photos of the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup, and while they'll win no prizes for composition or detail, they still capture something of that early era of road races. The 1904 staging was the first year for the William K. Vanderbilt Jr. Cup Race, to give it its full title, and the first major international-level road race to be held in the US of A. George Heath, driving a Panhard, would win the race after just under seven hours of competitive racing over unsealed roads around Long Island, New York. For a full review of the race, I'd recommend viewing the Vanderbilt Cup Races website.
Who took the following photographs, I don't know. They all appear to have been printed onto one (or more) sheet(s) of photographic paper, from which they were cut down into separate images. Whether they date to 1904 or later isn't clear either, although judging by the foxing on their reverse, they definitely have age to them. I bought them in a bundle of original old photographs over ten years ago. While the detail isn't all that great, the conditions of the road surface, the close proximity of spectators watching the cars go by, and the fashions exhibited by drivers and spectators alike, make them worthy of inclusion I think.
The course was roughly triangular in shape. In the first photo, car number (I think) six is shown speeding down a straight, while members of the public watch from close quarters. This makes it the Pope-Toledo, driven by Herb Lytle with his riding mechanic, Charles Soules. They'd finish in third position.
(Please click the thumbnail to view the full-size image.)
Pope-Toledo car
Photos two and three are of car number eighteen, a 60HP Mercedes-Benz driven by William Luttgen who finished in seventh overall. In the first picture, the car is shown at speed with few spectators in evidence, although in the far distance there is a gathering of excited onlookers gathered. The height of the driver's seat position when compared to that of his mechanic, is worth pointing out.
Mercedes-Benz 60hp
Next, a closer look at the Mercedes-Benz, rushing by a gaggle of spectators. The car averaged 39.1 mph over the race.
Mercedes-Benz 60hp
There now follow two snapshots of car number seven, which would be the winning Panhard, an angular-looking machine if ever there was one, piloted by George Heath accompanied by mechanic Eugene Lajunie. This car has rudimentary front mudguards fitted to it, which would have given a hint of protection to the car's occupants from flying stones, not a luxury to be found on all the cars taking part. The first image shows the Panhard and its crew passing by a number of people, one of whom may be waving a flag. To the left are three hatted gentlemen, one perched casually upon his bicycle.
Another view of the same Panhard, car seven.
The final photo in this set barely features a vehicle in it, but just creeping into shot from the left is car number seventeen, a chain-driven Simplex as driven by Frank Crocker, accompanied by Harry Hill. They'd finish ninth, averaging a speed of 29.9 mph.
Given that these are amateur photographs, and bearing in mind the limitations of affordable camera equipment over 100 years ago, I think that whoever managed to capture these scenes on film, did a pretty decent job of it overall.
Return to Page 21 in the motoring image archive, or visit the main index of vintage & classic photographs here. A page describing some of the historic motor racing material on Old Classic Car may be found here.

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