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The Jay-Eye-See – J. I. Case’s Modernized Monster 290 HP Fiat Racing Car

Updates I & II – The Case Jay-Eye-See, an early racing car, shared the same name as the late Jerome Increase Case’s famous record-setting racing horse. The history of the car is difficult to trace and was also quite hard to determine its exact specifications. One of the reasons for this is because the car’s makeup was not identified by the J.I. Case Company that entered the automobile business in 1911; at the same time looking for publicity, expert racing driver Lewis Strang was hired to run the new Case Racing Team, and this was one of his own cars. He died in an unfortunate road accident driving a Case, during the 1911 racing season.

It was likely imported for racing to the US in 1908 or ’09 by Hollander & Tangeman, the New York Fiat Importer that supplied Fiat racing cars to qualified drivers. Only after the lead photo in the post was found recently by Isabelle Bracquemond, did it became clear that is was powered by one of the large Fiat o.h.v. rocker arm engines and not one of the later o.h.c. engines.

Case-Fiat - Jay-Eye-See 1910 290 HP Fiat

  • Lou Disbrow poses in the Jay-Eye-See, still in bare aluminum at some point soon after he converted it. Spooner & Wells photo courtesy of the City of New York Museum.

December 1909 auto press report’s tell of Strang taking the big Fiat “Red Devil” to Indianapolis and setting new records for the mile, the lap speed record and the two-lap five-mile record at 91.05 m.p.h. on the newly paved brick surface. At some point, it later became Strang’s own racing car.

Alex Sloan Racing Circus - Louis Disprow - Case Jay-Eye-See Fiat Racer

  • Illustration courtesy of Carl Schultz shows that Disbrow and the Jay-Eye-See had become a part of the J. Alex Sloan traveling “Racing Circus” for the 1912 season. Sloan ran a scripted show that set new “Worlds Records” at each stop to and entertain the farmers at each appearance and to enrichen its coffers.

Based on research, the best information that came to light about the car was found in the May 14, 1914, “Motor Age.” In an article titled “History-Making Racing Cars” by Darwin S. Hatch he described one-by-one “racing cars that made good” in the past including this car:

“The Jay-Eye-See, which now is owned by Louis Disbrow, really is the old 200 h.p. Fiat that formerly was driven by Lewis Strang, in which Strang set up several records in Indianapolis just after the speedway had been resurfaced with brick in December 1909. Later at Atlanta, Strang drove the same car. At one time its motor was the biggest ever built. There are four cylinders cast in pairs with a bore of 9 3/4 inches and a stroke of 8 5/8 inches. The valves are in the head operated by long rocker arms. A 1000-pound weight is carried on the rear end to hold the car to the track. Since Disbrow has had it, he has remodeled the car, and it looks like a veritable speed monster, making it very successful in dirt track exhibition work.”

In his book, “150 Years of J.I. Case” by C.H. Wendel, he tells of the conversion that was Disbrow’s idea and adds that the driver, who did most of the work on the car, bored out the Fiat engine to the same 9 3/4-inch figure that Hatch used in his description of the car. At the time, it was stated and advertised that this increased the horsepower from 200 to 290.

The bore and stroke sizes quoted are quite a bit larger than the 200 h.p. Fiat, but having the services of the Case Company behind him, it is possible new blocks were cast and the lower end was modified or a new one was built at the same time.

Mid-teens Photo of Case Jay-Eye-See

  • Images from Smith Hempstone Oliver in the British magazine “Veteran and Vintage” courtesy of Tony Kaye, show the old war horse on the left circa 1914-’15 at an unknown track. The right-hand photo was taken through a plate glass window and clearly shows the valve gear and Rayfield carb.  

Update I – Having had the time to work out the cubic inch displacement of this 9 3/4 inch X 8 5/8 inch bore and stroke engine, it has been found to be a whopping 2575 c.i.d. The 200 h.p. circa 1908-’09 Fiat rocker arm actuated o.h.v. engine appears to have had a 7.48o-inch x 6.299 bore and stoke (190-160 mm). Unless Case helped Disbrow build a much larger model of this engine, the quoted figures are incorrect and were likely hype by he and Sloan to help sell tickets at the race tracks across the land.

Update II – Reader Tin IndianNazzaro at Brooklands with a Fiat 1911 found the reference to the right in the Jan. 1, 1914 “Motor Age” at the end of an article about French driver Arthur Duray’s record run in a S76 Fiat. It tells of a 4680 c.i. Fiat Nazzaro ran at Brooklands in 1911. Other than this one report, it as of yet is unconfirmed and appears to be unlikely.

On the other side of the coin, if you study the size of the exhaust manifold in the lead photo and wide spacing of the individual cylinders, maybe the engine’s displacement was somewhere in between the above figures. For comparison purposes Duncan Pittaway’s S76 Fiat 300-h.p. s.o.h.c. racing engine is 1729 c.i. or 28-liters.

Lou Disbrow Case Jay-Eye-See 290 HP Fiat

This set of photos appears to show Disbrow and the Jay-Eye-See at the short-lived (1910-’13) Los Angeles Motordrome in Playa del Rey, CA. It was a one-third mile round-shaped board track that burned to the ground early in 1913.

At this time, the car received minor changes from it earlier guise that include, a paint job, wheel discs, aerodynamic aids taped to the frame and front axle, and two “wings” inserted between the front frame horns and through the nose. The lead photo in the post shows Disbrow and the car at a later date with a four-into-one insulated exhaust manifold and pipe with a short megaphone. The engines rocker arms are clearly visible in the photo.

Case Jay-Eye-See Fiat Los Angeles Motordrome

Exactly how long the aging giant of a car was run on the track is uncertain at this point. The expandable image (below) shows the Jay-Eye-See just to the left of center, repainted and again wearing the stub exhaust pipes. The occasion was the opening of the new Wichita Speedway on October 15, 1915. It is unlikely the car was part of the program, but instead was used for exhibition laps.

Wichita Speedway Opening - 1915

23 responses to “The Jay-Eye-See – J. I. Case’s Modernized Monster 290 HP Fiat Racing Car

  1. Great article! Louis Disbrow seemed to have a thing for race cars with big motors. In 1918 he drove the old Barney Oldfield Christie for awhile. According to the Syracuse Herald, he bought it from Barney. The Great War was on then, and Disbrow sometimes ran in Canada with Ruth Law’s aviation show. Louis Disbrow also built a nice looking passenger car during the war, called the Disbrow Special, but it was not a financial success. He died in Philadelphia in 1939.

  2. I work out the displacement as 2575 c.i. Bigger than a WW2 Allison fighter engine. Is that possible?
    (As I remember from high school: 9.75/2 for radius * 3.1416 * 8.625 * 4)

  3. A very similar 4 into one exhaust header can be seen driven by Teddy Tetzlaff in the 1913 movie “The Speed Kings”. At about 7 minutes into the 9 minutes that can be found on the internet. But the valve cover looks lower than the overhead cam version.

    • With respect to the claimed displacement of 2575 Cubic inches (4 cylinders@bore9.75 by stroke 8.625) it seems almost unbelievable as compared to the Beast of Turin’s 1729 cu in. As has already been suggested, hype and exaggeration certainly are one possible explanation. There may be another possibility.

      It should be noted that Case had been building internal combustion engines since 1895 and was already a huge industrial corporation with advanced manufacturing capabilities at this time. In 1912 Case introduced the 30-60 gasoline tractor with two cylinders displacing 1885 cu in (bore 10 inches by stroke 12 inches). Rated at 75 HP at 350 rpm by Case this would not be considered an automotive type motor by most, but that was a normal production item for Case at that time. Case was also rapidly expanding both the number of models of gas tractors and the production volumes. Some were higher speed multiple cylinder models more closely following typical automotive practices of the time.

      Modifying and or producing castings and machining a 2575 cu in four cylinder could have seemed like a logical thing to do for various reasons. All the in house capabilities to design, make patterns, cast and machine this 2575 cu in four cylinder motor (or one of smaller dimensions) would have been available for any project approved by Case management. That in no way proves it was done, but all that would have been required was someone important ordering it to be done.

      Good information on the Case history and the Case 30-60 engine can be found online and in various books such as: Illustrated Buyer’s Guide: Case Tractors By Peter Letourneau. See page 13 in that book.

      https colon //books dot google dot com/books?id=6yXYR3EJNNsC&pg=PA13

      I think it would be interesting to do some careful photographic analysis of these engines and cars to see what might be learned.

    • There may be yet another Fiat of even larger displacement during this period. I have not traced the origins of report(s) yet so I consider this unconfirmed, but nothing seems obviously amiss in the reports, and Nazzaro certainly would have been a logical driver to take it on the track. This discussion seems like a good time to bring it up. Perhaps others have additional information?

      Motor Age January 1, 1914 had an article (article is available online) reporting on the 300 HP Fiat driven by Arthur Duray at Ostend in 1913 (owned by Prince Soukanhoff). In that article appears the following:

      “In 1911 Nazzaro appeared on Brooklands track with a Fiat of 9.4 by 12.59 inches bore and stroke, but the car was so big and so hard to handle that it never did really fast work. ”

      If the dimensions are correct, these dimensions and 4 cylinders have a displacement of 3495 cu in.

      Link to article https colon //books dot google dot com/books?id=BTwfAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA95

  4. Thanks, David, another excellent article.

    The Jay-Eye-See was an occasional subject of discussion in the British magazine ‘Veteran and Vintage’ from 1958-63. Michael Sedgwick stated that Peter Helck had reported that the car was imported in 1910 by W.E.C.Arnold and that prior to Louis Disbrow it was driven not only by Lewis Strang, but also by Ralph DePalma. (Unfortunately the latter was not substantiated with venues or dates.) In an article by Smith Hempstone Oliver there were two photos of the car, one of which provided a clear view of the engine. It was equipped with a Rayfield carburetor – as were Case production cars – and a Gemmer steering box. But was this the original FIAT engine?

    In the January 1963 edition of Veteran and Vintage Peter Helck quoted a letter which Smith Hempstone Oliver had given him. It was from a gentleman by the name of Merrill C. Meigs:

    “Answering your letter of July 11, 1962, regarding the Jay-Eye-See racing car controversy – in 1911 I became Advertising Director of the Case Threshing Machine Co. As such, I inherited the Case Racing Team.”

    “Someone sold us the idea that we should have a real spectacular car as an added attraction to the team. There was a big Fiat racing car which had a high powered engine built low to the ground, for the purpose, I presume, of breaking some records. Someone purchased it, brought it to this country, and Case bought it. It resembled a canoe upside down, and was a most spectacular car. With the exhaust open, it would shake the rafters. Louis Disbrow drove it. It was not entered in races, but driven around the tracks in record attempts. Definitely it was a Fiat car manufactured in Italy and brought to this country. American Automobile Association rules would not allow us to call it a Case car since we did not build it. Mr. Case, originator of the Case Threshing Machine Co., owned an outstanding racehorse called Jay-Eye-See, so that is what we called the car. When the A.A.A. questioned it, we naturally told them we were not calling it a Case car – just naming it after the famous horse, which added more interest to the car, of course.”

    • So far as I know the car (extreme displacement Fiat owned by W.E.C. Arnold and driven by Strang) was not imported by WEC Arnold, but rather by Hollander and Tangeman and then sold to W.E.C. Arnold.

      The car was driven by DePalma on a number of occasions. The New York Times on June 26 1910 reported DePalma won the Port Jefferson (Long Island) hill climb in this Arnold owned Fiat the day previous.

      • I just realized I have the car owner’s name wrong in the above comment. The owner of the Fiat was EWC Arnold, which sometimes appears as Edward WC Arnold.

  5. Excerpt from an article I wrote a few years ago about the Case/Sloan team:

    “Before the Case team started its 1912 campaign in California, Sloan saw to it that the press knew what to expect: for one thing, joining the team now as a full-time member was Louis Disbrow, as has been mentioned. The other big news item was the cars he was bringing to the team: early in November of 1911, it had been reported that Disbrow had bought the “200 hp Fiat” of E. W. C. Arnold, allegedly the car Felice Nazzaro had raced at Brooklands in 1908, (in)famous for its alleged lap record of over 121 mph – actually, it appears to have been an identical “twin” of that particular car, an 18,146 cc (190 * 160) OHV monster with an actual output of 175 hp, according to the most reliable sources. It had been driven for Arnold by Lewis Strang and Ralph de Palma in exhibitions at the Atlanta Motordrome, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Los Angeles Motordrome at Playa del Rey. Its only race appearance, as far as I can determine, happened in a 50-miler at Indianapolis on Labor Day of 1910, where de Palma finished 4th behind Eddie Hearne (Benz), Ray Harroun (Marmon) and Al Livingston (National) – not quite the performance of a champion!

    Shortly after the purchase of the big Fiat, Disbrow announced plans to convert the car over the winter into the fastest dirt track racer in the world, but consented to a public tryout during a motorcycle meet at the Guttenberg track in New Jersey, during which the Fiat caught fire and inflicted painful burns on the driver. Both he and the car were restored to health by March 31 for their first competitive event at the Lakeside Inn Speedway near San Diego (CA), where the big Fiat sported the now well known upside-down boat body as well as the name “Jay-Eye-See Special”, and was reportedly powered by a 290 hp engine of 1,760 CID – first indications of the Sloan flair for embellishment that would become a virtual trademark for IMCA later on! Somehow, Sloan seems to have become “confused”, and quoted the specifications of the new Fiat S76 record car instead (apart from adding another 30 CID for good measure) – oh, well… The quoted weight of 3,150 lbs (1,429 kg) was likely more accurate, and indicative of some actual gains in that department – not really surprising, either, as the car had been devoid of any ornamental features such as a body, originally!”

  6. The car with which DePalma made ftd at Port Jefferson in 1910 was variously described as 200 hp (The Horseless Age) and 190 hp (Automobile Topics). The car had conventional bodywork for that time, but that was before Louis Disbrow got his hands on it and completely changed its appearance. Incidentally Disbrow was a fellow competitor at Port Jefferson, so he presumably had ample opportunity to inspect the car. The Horseless Age report contained a photo of the car making its ascent and the same photo can now be seen in Howard Kroplick’s Vanderbilt website.

    The Automobile commented that “the Fiat pair (i.e. DePalma and Bragg) came perilously near somersaulting after the sharp turn in the free for all, showing by their performance, the big advantage they had in the matter of engine power. DePalma swerved so far in making this turn that his machine seemed to be traveling on two wheels.”

  7. The board track pictures are, I believe, from the half-mile Oakland Motordrome in Elmhurst, rather than the Los Angeles Motordrome in Playa del Rey which was 1 mile in circumference, not one-third of a mile. The Jay-Eye-See ran at both tracks in the spring of 1912, lapping at 74.38 and 89.66 mph, respectively. It was only used in exhibitions, and performed best at the Galveston/TX beach races in August 1912, where it recorded 115.71 mph over the measured mile in a straight line. On a dirt track, its best average was 69.09 mph at the two-mile track in Lakeside near San Diego, indicating that it was probably a beast to handle. For comparison, the Blitzen Benz repeatedly lapped at over 70 mph, even on one-mile tracks.

    Since writing the above, I found some more appearances for the Arnold Fiat, mostly hill climbs were de Palma won three times in the summer of 1910: Giant’s Despair in Wilkes-Barre/PA (45.71 mph), Port Jefferson on Long Island (66.58 mph) and Johnson’s Drive at Plainfield/NJ (34.09 mph). Also, Strang retired from a 50-miler at the Atlanta Motordrome in November 1909, and de Palma ran the measured mile at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 93.16 mph, against 89.55 mph in a 90hp Fiat and more than 100 mph by Oldfield and the Blitzen. The last appearance for the Jay-Eye-See I have is September 27, 1915 at the Utah State Fair in Salt Lake City, a mere two weeks before the Wichita meeting mentioned above. There, it did a mile on the half-mile track just short of 50 mph, but almost 5 mph slower than the 450 CID Case of Eddie Hearne – time to pension off the old war horse. Two years later, however, Ray Lampkin did a few races on a “Fiat Submarine”, and one wonders if it was perhaps a last hurrah for the Jay-Eye-See!?

    • Billboard Magazine issue of April 14, 1917 had the details of promoter Ralph A Hankinson’s show for the 1917 season. Auto racing, aviation and auto polo. The cars were said to include the “300 hp Blitzen-Benz” imported for the late Wild Bob Burman” and the “290 hp Fiat Submarine”.
      https colon //books dot google dot com/books?id=XaoiAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA36

      I found a large ad in The Des Moines Register August 21, 1918 Page 10 for an appearance at the Iowa State Fair August 23, 1918 featuring among others Barney Oldfield and

      “Distance Two Miles Special matched race between the Jumbo Benz, with Burr Lampkin at the wheel, and the Fiat Submarine driven by Captain Henderson. Said to be the two largest and most powerful racing cars in the world”

      https colon //www dot newspapers dot com/newspage/130889329/. I

  8. It seems by 1916 the promoters liked to use 300hp to amaze the fans. Oldfield’s Christie became the 300hp Killer Christie. I guess everyone forgot that when the car was built in 1909 it had 100hp.

  9. David –
    Another winner! The Jay-Eye-See is a car that has long been on my radar. The photos are fantastic and the comments are likewise. Always learn something new. I do have clippings from the local papers from ’17 or ’18 when the car played the Utah State Fair and performed match races with the former Blitzen Benz No. 2, the same car that Tetzlaff drove on the same track in 1914 and later ran on the salt. The J-E-S, now called the Fiat Submarine and the Blitzen, now named The American Benz, look to be pretty worn out at this point. The Benz even seems to have had it’s trademark radiator beak sheared off. Perhaps it’s just a poor photo. Anyway, great piece. Thanks to all who commented as well.
    Bob.

  10. The Stoddard Dayton 4-cylinder OHV speedster engine was fun to WATCH at idle speed, —as the rocker arms spanned the Head to the opposite side, cam over there VALVE WAY over Here type setup!!! Tom Barrett was driving his Stoddard -Dayton, and I was using My sunglasses as a windshield, He was behind the monacle windshield, and we were returning from a Phoenix Concours, -to Scottsdale on a back road, with brilliant ACETYLENE HEADLAMPS, mostly at About 80 MPH, something to remember, as I could still hear EACH cylinder fire, cut-out OPEN at that speed. Tom said: Don’t worry about coyotes, the wheels are way too big to be concerned! GO ahead and ask me if I would have preferred a Modern car. NOT likely!

  11. Can anyone provide photo or information on this driver and car in Augusta, Georgia on April 18, 1914/ Thanks in advance.

  12. I am a bit baffled by the information here, it all seams as if the dates could possibly wrong on a few things. As it goes the information we have regarding a fiat with 290hp that was built as a land speed record car and the fact there was a possibility of a twin car to the fiat and that the name Felice Nazzaro keeps popping up makes me wonder if actually the vehicle in question was that of a “1910” fiat S76. Along with the history of the Fiat S76 recorded as only 2 cars produced and the second car is lost to history maybe the second car was actually the “Jay-eye-see”. I could and am probably wrong on this, but the current owner of the Fiat S76 has taken the engine from one of the 2 Fiats and placed it into the other Fiat for restoration. Why would he not of just restored the other chassis instead so that it would be even more original? Could the vehicle he got the other engine from have actually been the “Jay-eye-see” car and not have been worth restoring as much as the Fiat..?

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