Check out this amazing piece of motoring machinery from the turn of last century.

The 1917 Golden Submarine is or should we say was the very first car to incorporate a roll cage.

The Submarine was designed and built by automotive legends Fred Offenhauser and Harry A. Miller for racing pioneer Barney Oldfield.

Oldfield worked with Miller, who developed and built carburettors in Los Angeles, to design a car that would protect the driver in the event of an accident.

You see one of Oldfield’s rivals and closest friends, Bob Burman, had died from the injuries he received when his car rolled during a race in Corona, California.

In those days cars all had an open cockpit, like today’s Formula 1 machines, but they had none of the safety features — and death was an all too frequent visitor to the race track.

The Golden Submarine was built of aluminium to help reduce weight, with a cabin that completely enclosed the driver and a metal frame or roll cage — with holes for the driver to look out.

The gold colour was achieved with a combination of bronze dust and lacquer.

The Submarine cost $US 15,000 to build which equates to more than $400,000 in today’s Aussie dollars.

It featured a four-cylinder aluminium 4.7-litre alloy engine that developed 101kW of power at 2950 revs.

It had a single overhead cam, desmodromic valves, dual intake ports for each cylinder, dual spark plugs and magnetos.

The body and chassis were first tested in a wind tunnel which shows how advanced this car was for the time.

It had a 2600mm wheelbase and weighed 730kg.

The Golden Submarine made its track debut on June 16, 1917 at the Chicago Board Speedway in Maywood, Illinois.

The engine failed after 16km, but it was able to average 167km/h before being forced to withdraw.

With the engine problems sorted, however, Oldfield was able to return the following week to defeat arch-rival Ralph DePalma three times in a series 0f 40km races on the Milwaukee dirt track.

On straight sections, the car fell behind the more powerful Packard, but Oldfield was able to corner faster in his lighter car and was able to make up the distance.

The Golden Submarine was a hit wherever it went because it was so different from everything else that was competing at that time.

The Submarine went on to compete in 54 races all up, with a record of 20 wins, two seconds and two thirds.

It also qualified for the 1919 Indianapolis 500 but was forced to drop out — again after an engine failure.

Oldfield, who set a land speed record went on to became something of a celebrity, both on and off the track.

He died at the age of 68 in 1946.

The Golden Submarine no longer exists and no one knows what happened to it — but a replica was constructed in 2006.

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Riley

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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