Suppose that you were a sporting person of the first decade of the twentieth century and you wanted to purchase a nifty motorcar that reflected your sporting nature. After all, you wanted to have fun and adventure at a time when exploring the world in a car was the newest thing to do.
The first cars to appear on roads and trails were anything but sporting, as owner-inventors sorted out seating capacities and arrangements, steering and suspension, power and transmissions, and of course, brakes. The earliest examples resembled coaches and carriages but without horses.
By 1904-05 a smattering of speed cars were appearing that served a dual purpose of street speedster or track star. News about them could be found in automotive news journals, by attending speed events such as a county fair or a hillclimb, making a visit to a local dealer, as well as going to a new phenomenon, the auto show.
A relative lack of national networks and distributorships provided both a problem of access as well as an opportunity for local innovation. By 1910, many states had at least one manufacturer of motorcars, with the biggest concentration stretching from the industrial northeast to the upper Midwest. Most of these early ventures rose, faltered, and then fell, yet by 1910 over 122,000 pleasure or passenger cars had been produced by hundreds of newly-organized manufacturers.
Sporting cars occupied a space in that group of available street cars. Below are some of the speedsters, racy roadsters, and sport runabouts that one might have come across in one municipality or another.
Apperson and Haynes
Indiana was a cauldron of automotive innovation and development in the early 1900s, and scores of automobiles were being developed in several parts of the state. Both Apperson and Haynes built cars in Kokomo, Indiana beginning in 1894, first as a joint venture, but splitting up in 1901 to form rival companies. Their acrimonious divorce was not unlike many others of this era, and their story occupies a chapter in my book, Classic Speedsters.
Edgar and Elmer Apperson were highly skilled machinists and speed freaks at heart. By 1904 they had produced a track speedster called a Model A Cup Racer, with which Jack Frye had won the Motor Age Cup Race in 1904. A local paper had stated that the car leapt ahead of its competition and aptly named it “Frye’s Rabbit Racer.”
Given that this wild hare with a 100-inch wheelbase had a 491 cubic inch engine and weighed 1900 pounds all in, the torque alone must have made this car squirm and skeedaddle! The Appersons developed and competed with it over the next several years, and between 1905-07 went public with it as their street speedster to much acclaim. It was light, fast and expensive.
For those who wanted a larger and meaner Apperson - well then - there was a 90 horsepower, track-proven Vanderbilt Cup veteran known as “Big Dick.” Its name said it all… For several seasons it won and it won big!
Appersons supported a team that competed in hillclimbs and road races for several years with much success. An Apperson would compete in 1911 at the inaugural Indianapolis Sweepstakes 500, but after another car crashed into them while they were refueling in the pits, the Apperson brothers swore off racing as too dangerous. Despite this setback, the Appersons featured their Indianapolis racer in a subsequent full-page ad, which, oddly enough, was the end of the line for Apperson speedsters. That’s business!
On the other side of Kokomo, Apperson’s rival had not been asleep. Elwood Haynes was a university-trained engineer, a ceaseless experimenter, and a bit of an autodidact. He also spent a good amount of time pamphleteering that his car was the first American automobile ever produced (it wasn’t), but Haynes products were nevertheless of excellent quality. Never to be outdone by his rivals, Haynes was building street speedsters that derived their DNA from its 1907 Vanderbilt Cup Racer, the Model V.
In 1907 Haynes also marketed a street speedster that incorporated elements of the Model V and the Model S Runabout of 103-inch wheelbase and 30 rated horsepower. The Semi-Racer had three seats like the runabout, retailed for $2500, and looked almost identical to the Haynes Runabout (it probably was).
In 1909 Haynes continued the Semi-Racer, but also featured a two-seat Hasty Hiker, probably the stripper version of its sibling, as the X-4 Hiker retailed for $1875. Both were planted on a now-larger 112-inch wheelbase. Haynes was more of a touring car company that featured runabout speedsters for endurance events rather than racing. They would abandon the speedster line after 1912 but pick it up again in the 1920s.
Other Speedsters For Sale
The first decade of the 1900s was not exactly thick with speedsters – that would come in the teen years – but they were definitely available in most any state, despite the model having gotten a later start than others. Speedsters in this period were commonly called a variety of names: Gentleman’s Speedster, Raceabout, and Racy Roadster, to name a few. The Society of Automotive Engineers, in charge of automotive nomenclature, hadn’t yet gotten around to naming conventions. In fact, as laid out in a previous post, they never did define exactly what a speedster was. But everyone on the street knew what they were! As defined in this blog journal: powerful, fast, and built for fun and adventure!
Leafing through a trade journal such as The Motor Age or The Automobile, one could read the latest news from on the street, in the factories, and at the tracks. Flush with ads, these mags covered all aspects of the automotive trade. Following are ads from them as well as images from catalogs of the era that give an overview of only some of the many speedsters of this first decade.