Bet you didn’t know Henry Ford set a land speed?

We’re talking the Henry Ford who founded the Ford Motor Company and went on to revolutionise automobile production.

Driving a four-wheel device called the 999, which had a wooden chassis but no body or engine cover, the 40-year-old adventurer clocked a blistering 91.37mph (147.05km/h) on a track carved out of  Michigan’s frozen Lake St. Clair.

The car had been wrecked in a crash the previous year in which the driver had been killed, but Ford rebuilt it and, with his mechanic Ed “Spider” Huff at the throttle, he went on to set the record on January 12, 1904.

The record breaker, one of two cars built, took its name from the Empire State Express No. 999, a steam locomotive that set a world speed record of 112.5 mph (181.1 km/h) on May 10, 1893, making it the first man-made vehicle to exceed 100 mph (160 km/h) under its own steam.

The cars were heavily engineered, with an 18.9-litre four cylinder engine, 100kg flywheel, and bore and stroke of 184 mm x 180 mm.

Power was quoted at anywhere from 50 to 75kW.

There was no rear suspension, no diff, and steering was controlled by a crude handlebar arrangement.

Ford’s record stood little more than a month, but it was a record nevertheless and more importantly money in the bank for someone trying to get their own car company going.

Four years later Ford launched the Model T, a car that revolutionised not only the automotive industry but provided the masses with affordable, reliable transportation for the first time.

To promote the Model T, Ford entered it in races and in 1909, the Model T won a race from New York to Seattle, although it was later disqualified on a technicality.

The Model T continued to win races but Ford was reportedly unhappy with certain rules and quit racing in 1913.

Born on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan, on July 30, 1863, he began his career as an engineer in Detroit where he built a four-wheel, self-propelled vehicle with a gasoline engine that he called the Quadricycle in 1896.

The rest as they say is history.

Ford died at the age of 83 on April 7, 1947.

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Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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Daniel Braatz
Daniel Braatz
5 months ago

I read that, sometime after the race, Ford was disqualified; do you know what the technicality was?