Wednesday, January 11, 2017

way back in 1902-03, racing was pretty dangerous and wacky... they didn't have a lot of power, or advancements, but they could drive through walls unscathed

Back in 1902-03, Walter C. Baker built three streamlined electric racing cars. Called “Torpedoes,” these all-but-forgotten electrics should be remembered for four good reasons: 
  1) They allowed Walter Baker to become the first man in history to break the 100-mph barrier in a motorcar; 
  2) the Torpedoes’ bodies were remarkably streamlined, decades ahead of anything similar;
  3) because Walter Baker regularly crashed his cars, none of his speed marks went into the record books. Even in his own day, he became known as “Bad Luck Baker;” and
  4) what probably saved his life in all those crashes were plain, simple shoulder harnesses, an idea again much too modern for the times.


Baker mounted 11 batteries plus a 14-horsepower electric motor behind the seats and ran double chains to the rear axle.

 On Memorial Day 1902, May 31, the Automobile Club of America held speed trials on the streets of Staten Island, N.Y. Baker intended the Torpedo to set records that would overwhelm the makers of steam- and piston-powered machines. Rumor had it that the Torpedo was good for 120 mph, which at that time was roughly double the World Land Speed Record.

Baker chose to drive the Torpedo himself. His passenger and brakeman was the company’s chief mechanic and electrician, E.E. Denzer. Baker and Denzer covered the flying kilometer in 16 seconds, running exactly 100 mph, and they were still accelerating when Baker lost control crossing a set of trolley tracks.

 His steering went limp and, as Denzer yanked the brake lever, the car left the road and smashed sideways into the crowd. Two spectators were knocked flat but not injured. A third died instantly. The Torpedo spun 180 degrees, then stopped.

Baker and Denzer stepped out unscathed and were immediately arrested for manslaughter. But the police released them just as quickly, because the crowd had crossed protective barricades. Despite the accident, Baker had set a new record for the flying kilometer, albeit unofficially.

Then, in Aug. 1903, Baker entered both Torpedo in a special event for electric cars near Cleveland. A man named Chisholm drove one, started on the pole and was doing fine, until he got sideswiped by a Waverly Electric. Chisholm crashed and knocked down four spectators. No one was badly hurt, but Walter Baker, who’d been driving the second Kid, decided to hang up his goggles and stop running into people.

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