By Lee Stohr: Inventor and engineer Walter Christie patented his first front wheel drive automobile in 1904. In 1909 he built his last and greatest Christie front wheel drive car. It was an impressive machine with a 1237 c.i. s.o.h.c. V-four and on his very first outing with it at the Grosse Point Track outside of Detroit, he set a new record for the mile at 54 3/5-seconds and beat his rival Barney Oldfield. Later at Ormond Beach, Florida during the 1910 speed fest the tables were turned with Oldfield and the Blitzen Benz turning 131 m.p.h. and Christie only managing to go 118.
Walter Christie then moved on to other projects, and his racer sat collecting dust for a couple of years. Barney Oldfield bought the car in 1912, and he used it for the next four years in exhibition races at events around the country. Barney’s biggest accomplishments with the car were in setting the first 100-m.p.h. lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just before the running of 1916 500-mile race; later on June 5th at the Chicago Speedway board track Barney set the 2-mile track record at 113-m.p.h. Then he supposedly sold the old Christie, to race promoter Max Friedman.
By October of 1916, the Christie was part of the Ernie Moross traveling auto racing show. After the United States entered World War I in early 1917, and needing work, the barnstorming road shows moved North to Canada. In March of 1918, the Syracuse Herald announced that racer Louis Disbrow had purchased the Christie. Later in July of 1918, Ruth Law, a pioneering female aviator and her act arrived in Montreal, Canada, and along with it was the famous old Christie.
In these newly-discovered photos, taken by Joe Westover, one of Ruth Law’s mechanics we see that Jerry Wonderlich was then behind the wheel. By that point, the old warhorse had been completely rebodied and a new sponsor, Riverside Tires was now on board. Ruth Law is shown in two of the photos. The driver in the lead photo could be Wonderlich, or possibly Joe Westover’s brother who also worked for the famous early female pilot.
Only a year after these photos were taken, the Christie after a long career on the race track met its final day. An article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, on April 20, 1919, titled: Scrap Pile For A Wicked Old Freak, by Shepard Butler, tells the story of its demise. In the article Butler states: One of Barney Oldfield’s first acts when he stopped racing and became a tire manufacturer, was to reduce the sinister contraption to junk. Later in the article Butler stated: Incidentally, the Christie proved to be a veritable gold mine for the junk men (much of it was made of cast bronze). If this is true maybe he never sold the car all, but worked out arrangements with the others that used it.