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*Updated* The Fertile Mind of Motor Car Inventor Francois Richard

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  • Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt’s straight-eight 250-HP F.I.A.T.

Just the other day we did a post called: Its’s a Bird? It’s a Plane? No, It’s The Richard Special. Thanks to the efforts of readers Ariejan Bos and Tin Indian, much more has been found out about Francois Richard. The May 27, 1916, article in Automobile Topics we quoted, incorrectly stated that he was the brother of George S. Richard, the designer of the Richard-Brasier. Instead, it was learned that he was born in 1875, in Nimes France, the son of Augustus Richard.

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  • *Update* Rare photos of the custom built Vanderbilt 250 hp. engine, “The Automotor Journal” January 27, 1906  

Richard was a very imaginative inventor who may have had an engineering background. In the New York area, he and Italian racing driver Paul Sartori built the engine for Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt’s 250-HP racing car seen above. The pair may have used cylinder blocks and some other parts from F.I.A.T. For years this car has been said to be powered by two of the Italian-made engines but the recently discovered photos above, point to it being a specially constructed straight-eight.

The car was built for Sartori to run at the 1906 Ormond-Daytona Beach Races; at the event the car was finally coaxed into running, but was not entered into the speed trials. The press reported at the time that the car built at Vanderbilt’s garage was a total failure which was later dismantled.


Later Richard moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he operated the Richard Auto Mfg. Company. The Richard Special that was entered in the 1916 Indianapolis 500 by Robert H. Delno has been attributed to him, it ended up as being a non-starter in the race. On April 29, 1915, he filed a patent covering some of the characteristics of the body used on the racing car that are also seen above in the patent drawing.


Another unusual design by Richard can be seen above in a patent that was filed on April 12, 1917, for a headlight design. This concept used light tubes that mounted under the fender and reached up into the cowl structure. There a light bulb #38, behind a lens #39, directed the light through the tube and finally to the second lens #33.

He stated in the application that: conventional headlights were “unduly expensive and subjected to the risk of injury”; He also mentioned that the lamps blended in with the “smooth continuity of automobile body design which has of late come into vogue”. 


And finally you can see one more of Richard’s patented inventions above and below to provide for oil pressure to all four connecting rod journals when fed from the center main journal. Richard developed this invention to “to counteract centrifugal force when its exertion is not advantageous.” Oil flow from the center main out to crankpins two and three was naturally assisted by the effects of this force.

His design used an elaborate system of curved tubing to counteract such forces after the oil reached the center two crankpins and then was directed to number one and four. If the oil traveled in a straight line, it would have to overcome centrifugal force on the way to the center point of the shaft. By directing it through the curved tubing seen below, he was able to overcome this action.

He may have designed this system to work with low oil pressure; in actual use with high enough pressure, the oil would be able to travel through the crank arms in a straight passage and overcome this centrifugal force. In use this invention was likely to have suffered from broken tubing, due to normal torsional vibration and bending forces that a crankshaft is subjected to. More of his interesting patents can be found here.


4 responses to “*Updated* The Fertile Mind of Motor Car Inventor Francois Richard

  1. David, In looking closely at the Fiat straight 8 it appears to have the 60/75 cylinders of 1904 which were 150x 150m for the 60hp and 165x165mm for the 75 hp cars. Assuming all 8 cylinders were alike,this engine would have had a displacement of 20 or 28 liters. The crankcase does not resemble a Fiat of that period as the cam shafts appear to be separate from the crankcase casting. Perhaps like Herbert Bowden’s Mercedes “Flying Dutchman” which did run.

    This LSR car probablyhad a multiple disk clutch driving a bevel gear rear end unlike most Fiats, Mercedes and other higher power cars of that era which were driven by double side chains. The frame does not resemble that of a Fiat as the wheelbase is considerably longer than the 60 of 1904. It’s interesting that two highly competitive foreignmakes lent themselves for the first hybred LSR cars in America.

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