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The Sensational Comet V-8 – Powered Underslung

The 1910 Sensational Comet V-8 - Powered Underslung

For quite some time, this Comet racing car has been attributed by others, either as a Buick or a Comet that was built by Premier and raced by Carl Fisher. After years of on-and-off-again research, a firm case has been developed proving that this is a Comet racing or test car built in San Francisco by Elbert John Hall. He later went on to form the Hall-Scott Motor Car Company in 1910 with Bert C. Scott and build the Hall-Scott A-2 V-8 aviation engine.

The Comet car was produced in San Francisco by the Comet Automobile Co. (1907-1909), and Hall joined the newly-formed Company, which soon floundered and died. According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars Hall, ended up with the rights to the name and soon formed the Hall Automobile Co. with Autocar dealer Walter C. Morris.

The 1910 Sensational Comet V-8 - Powered Underslung

  •   Workers at the Hall Automobile Co. pose with the V-8 powered car. Can anyone ID Hall in this image?

Hall continued to use the Comet name and over the next few years a total of about six automobiles were reported to have been built. The cars were powered by straight fours, one six cylinder and V-8 engines of Hall’s design. The small four cylinder 25- h.p. o.h.v. road car was guaranteed to do 75 m.p.h. which was very fast for the time.

The Hall also built a small and lightweight o.h.v. four cylinder racing car that tore up the race tracks in San Francisco and the Bay Area winning many events in the 1909 to ’10 period. Automobile Topics magazine reported on August 5, 1908 that the Comet won seven races at a meet sponsored by the Sonoma County Auto Club in Santa Rosa, CA.

A casual look at the photo (above) would lead one to believe that this was the four-cylinder racing car. Further investigation of the photo of this racing or test car shows that it is powered by one of Hall’s V-8 engines. This car may have served as a test bed for developing the A-2 V-8 aviation engine, and there is a possibility that it was the race car repowered with the new V-8.


  •                                 An enlargement of the group photo shows the details of the V-8 engine. 

The enlargement (above) shows that this car was powered by a V-8 engine that is very similar to the Hall-Scott Type A-2 aviation engine that was introduced in 1910. If one takes the time to study the engine, it will noticed that the two cylinder blocks on the right-hand side of the car are inclined on an angle.

The V in the photo (above) points to a radiator hose with a second water manifold behind it on top of the other bank of cylinders. V2 points to the tip of one of the exposed rocker arms on the other side of the engine. The bundle of ignition wires also begin at a magneto in the vee of the engine and are in the same location as the A-2 engines.


  •                          This photo shows the water manifold on the left side of the V-8 marked by a V.


Photos (above and below) from the Automobile Trade Journal November 1910 issue, show an early Hall-Scott A-2 V-8 aviation engine. Note the sophisticated oil pan Hall designed that used a lower collection section that in effect was the tank for a dry sump oil system. The four-cylinder aviation engine used a separate tank mounted off to the side of the oil pan. The first Mercer racing car designed at the same time would use a similar design as seen above, and it was used in all of the later 1911-’14 production and racing cars.


  • A rear view of the early A-2 engine showing the camshaft gear and magneto and water pump location. 

Hall-Scott A-2 V-8 Aviation Engine

  • An advertisement from the “Aero Magazine” Volume 2 April 8, 1911, showing the second design A-2.

26 responses to “The Sensational Comet V-8 – Powered Underslung

  1. Top photo tearing up that board track, you couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face either. No protective gear, goggles, etc. This is amazing. Imagine ten more cars racing around and kicking up splinters and chunks of wood. They would be like minature arrows flying about. Not only do they have to learn how to build cars, they have to learn the perils of racing. Also, my guess is Mr Hall is the man with the bow tie. Bosses of the day were well dressed.

    • Chuck, There is a good possibility this cas was never raced but only used as a test bed for Hall’s V-8 engine designs. He was a brilliant engineer and knew it was much easier and safer to test a future aero engine in a car rather than in a plane.

  2. The fourth man from the left, and the man in the bow tie, look like they could be brothers.

    Thanks for putting this information out here regarding Hall-Scott.

    My current rides include a ’20 T speedster (Rajo ‘C’ head), and a ’25 T roadster modified as a late-’40s era flathead V8 hot rod. Indeed, it’s a hoot to open up and “test” em.

  3. David, would I be correct in saying the car is very low for it’s time?
    The drivers seat is very low indeed .
    Most interesting, thank you.

  4. E.J. Hall also entered the Comet in the Portola Festival Race of October 1909 at San Francisco. This was a 250 mile grind and a perfect test for the still unsorted aero engine.

    Great work David!! Like you said, this one has been one of those “maybe/maybe not” kind of deals.

    On a completely irrelevant topic that has nothing whatsoever to do with the story above I began wondering if someone should dedicate some free time and make a list of how many racing cars were named ‘Comet’. Carl Fisher’s monstrous Premier is most probably the earliest, making its debut sometime in July of 1904. Then there is a smattering of different automobiles listed as such which took to the tracks of the U.S. and also Canada. I have only glanced at results up to 1919 but I suspect and wouldn’t be surprised if there were other racers called ‘Comet’ well beyond WW1.
    Just a thought.

  5. There is quite a bit of information on the Comet in Ric Dias book, “Hall-Scott: The Untold Story of a Great American Engine Maker.”
    Elbert John “Al” Hall had worked for I.L. Burton Machine Works in San Francisco designing engines. He then worked for the Heine-Velox Company in SF building cars until the 1906 earthquake. In 1907 he was a dealer for Sunset automobiles, made by Victory Motor Car Company, and was listed as Superintendent of the Occidental Motor Car Company at the same address.
    Hall likely designed the entire Comet automobile, building the first two in San Jose before moving to San Francisco. At the same time he was associated with and Autocar and Columbia dealership. Comets were sold at 640 Van Ness Ave.
    All Comet engines were overhead valve with a square 4-inch bore and stroke. The four-cylinder was 201 cubic inches, the six 302 and the eight 402. These are the same dimensions as the A-2 Hall-Scott aircraft engine. The four cylinder Comet engine weighed 130 pounds, the eight cylinder A-2 precisely twice that.
    The four cylinder produced 18-25 h.p. in a 102-inch wheelbase. In the race in Santa Rosa in 1908 where the Comet won seven of ten heats it also became the first West Coast car to average 60 mph for two consecutive miles on an oval track. Hall claimed a four-cylinder Comet could achieve 45 mph from a standing start climbing Powell Street, and one of his engineers said the car, “could climb a 32% grade in high gear from a standing start.” Hall advertised, “A guarantee of 75 miles an hour goes with every $1,500 Comet sold.”
    The V-8 had the banks set at 90° with individual cylinders bolted to the crankcase. Horsepower was 60-80.
    After Bert Scott purchased a Comet from Hall the two men went into business together a year later, forming the Hall-Scott Motor Company to build Rail Motors, then aircraft, marine, truck, tractor and bus engines.
    E.J. Hall collaborated with Jesse Vincent of Packard to design the famous Liberty aircraft motor. He also worked with auto racing greats like Harry Miller to refine their designs.
    In the 1970’s I drove many buses powered by Hall-Scott 190 gasoline engines, a six cylinder, 779 cubic inch motor with overhead cam, hemispherical combustion chambers and nickel-iron head and block designed in 1933.

    • Bill, Thanks for spending the time to send in all of that information.

      Are there any photos of him in the book that match up with one of the gentleman standing beside the building?

  6. The guy on the right of the photo is interesting, in that the paneling of the building shows “through” him – like he stepped in to the image partway through what could well have been a many seconds exposure – possibly even the photographer who set the camera off and then ran over to get in the shot while the shutter was still open?


    • More likely, this is a century-old version of Photoshop: the man on the right was integral to the group (possibly Hall?), but wasn’t available/present for the picture; a negative of his picture alone laid atop the main photo.

      Or….maybe he’s just the ghost of the original owner……

  7. What a gorgeous race car! I can see how they got so many men to pose with such low and mean machine when the family motorcar still had barely evolved beyond a carriage.

    Imagine how fast the perceived speed must have been sitting down there behind that unmuffled V8 in an open vehicle.

  8. Anyone who has seen pictures of the Heine -Velox engines manufactured prior the the 1906 earthquake might think that they were the work of Hall in the design and probably manufacture (as I do). 4 cylinder OHV actuated by pushrod and rocker arm. An obvious forerunner of what was to come from Hall, fine both in design and execution.

    Then too there is Hall’s rumored involvement in the design and production of the first engines manufactured by Aurora Engine Company in Stockton during this same time period soon after the earthquake.

    Question- Does the Comet underslung shown in the side view have a transmission? If so where is it? Interesting that Hall Scott Motor Car Company later produced the Ruckstell two speed rear axle for the Model T.

  9. The second picture down shows the prop-shaft with a lump behind it which is presumably a gearbox. It is interesting to note that the under-slung set up is the same as Whistling Billy the 1905 White steam racing car and the prop-shaft with its leather universal covers could be straight out of Billy. Whistling Billy toured the West Coast of America in 1909 and entered 29 races winning them all! The comment from the last driver Fred Dundee was that most of the race cars were lapping the one mile dirt ovals in the 60 – 70 miles per hour but Billy could do it in the 80’s.

  10. Thanks! It’s great to finally see the mystery surrounding those widely circulated pictures unravelling.
    E.J. Hall competed in what was described at the time as ‘the first real hillclimb in San Francisco’ in a Comet March 1909 , the owner is listed as Hall Auto Repair Co.
    Hal Hall drove an 8 cyl Comet at Elmhurst Motordrome Oakland 20th April 1912, described as big in the San Francisco Call 21st April.

  11. There is a chance that the tall fellow third from the right might be Hall. On page 3 of Bradford & Dias’s book there is a photo of Hall sitting next to Gustav Heine in a Heine-Velox car that seems to resemble this fellow (although he looks shorter sitting in the car). No one else in the photo looks likely.

    • I suspect you’re right and the the young man on his right is his younger brother Harold A. and that’s them in the car.
      In 1910 the pair (Elbert as Albert) were credited with the engine design of a Colonel Johnson’s ‘airship’ which Harold then 17 flew (Elbert would have been 28 or so). It seems airship was interchangeable with aeroplane and both terms used to describe the same Curtiss in one news item.
      Also in 1910 Elbert was sued by his former partner a Mr Kennedy for witholding profits from an airship drive mechanism. Elbert’s first patent in 1911 is for such a mechanism and a Captain Kennedy was reported as racing a Comet 8 about this time.
      A descendant commenting on a Hemmings Hall-Scott article states Harold was killed at San Jose but doesn’t elaborate, Harold filed 2 patents for a 4 valve cylinder in 1918 and 20.

      • Thanks for mentioning Harold Hall, E.J.’s younger brother. Harold, according to family stories, was an incredibly brave and inventive driver/engineer in the Hall tradition. We was killed in San Jose when testing on a dirt track . Conditions were terribly dusty limiting visibility and he collided with a harrow being driven in the wrong direction on track. Peter Brock (grandson of E.J. Hall)

  12. One more thing , a 1912 news item describes Harold’s Comet 8 as ‘grotesque’, synonemous with the common at the time ‘freak’ used to describe such cars as the pictured Comet.

  13. I was looking at the gear drive on the magneto and realized it either has a gear reduction drive on the inside or it must be a hit and miss type of ignition. The gear ratio is not consistent with the cam timing for correct spark timing. Interesting…………

  14. I have the winning trophy for the Comet , driven by Free, Aug 22 at Sonoma county automobile association race in Santa Rosa. I would like to upload a photo of it. How do I do this?

  15. I sent this article to Peter Brock and just received his response:
    Peter Brock Designs Hello Bill….THANKYOU so much for sending this information on the Comet racing cars. Yes, “EJ” was my grandfather, an amazing innovator in the early days of autos and aircraft ( Did you know he also designed the first full size wind tunnel back before WW2? This was , I understand, at Tullahoma in Tennessee, where they have now developed several wind tunnels for Air Force testing. What a fantastic photo of the Comet! I immediately recognized the Underslung chassis but had never seen any of these photos. After reading through some of the comments I can confirm that EJ’s brother Harold was killed on a dirt track near San Jose. Please understand that I was just a little kid when I had the chance to meet EJ and never had the background or intelligence to ask him about anything pertaining to his life. ….one of the greatest regrets in my life. Had I been a few years older I would have recorded everything possible. Another family relative told me that Harold Hall was the real genius of the two….a real innovator and design/builder. If so he must have been really incredibly smart! I wish I knew more. I only have a couple of photos of EJ…these taken when he was much older, so I can’t ID the guys in the car or standing behind. Receiving these photos has really renewed my interest in learning more. I had no idea that Comet photos even existed! This era was well before my mother was born so most of what I ever heard was from other distant family relatives. Wish I could supply more, but again…many thanks for these photos. If you discover any more please keep me updated. Peter Brock

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