By Lee Stohr: In Part I of this series I noted that Walter Christie built two front wheel drive automobiles in the 1903-1904 period. On January 21, 1905, Christie appeared with another new car at the Third Annual Ormond-Daytona Beach races that ran through January the 31st. For the next five years Walter Christie would be severely infected with the auto racing bug.
I prefer to call the Christie that appeared at the Ormond Beach event the 1905 Christie. It looks to have been built using many of the parts from the 1904 Christie, including the engine, wheels and even the small five-spoke steering wheel. The exhaust ports faced forward on Christie’s first two cars, but on his new car the engine cylinders were turned around, so the exhaust faced to the rear.
The transmission was driven by the camshaft gear rather than the crankshaft as on the earlier cars. Christie revised and simplified his transmission design, so now only three clutches were needed instead of four. However, all of Christie’s racing and passenger cars would continue to use his patented direct drive system. The crankshaft was connected directly to the front tires, through a clutch on each end of the crankshaft and then through short drive shafts.
- Sectional drawing of the 1905 Christie front drivetrain – “Scientific American,” January 28, 1905.
The 1905 Ormond Beach races appear to be the first instance that racing cars routinely exceeded 100 m.p.h. on US soil. Henry Ford was there with a six-cylinder racer, but his crankshaft broke. Christie’s car was rated at 60-70 h.p., but was not capable of competing for speed records with the faster 90 h.p. plus racers. Walter did win one event, a fifty-mile race for the Lozier Trophy that only American cars were eligible for. There were only three starters in the event, Walter Christie, Barney Oldfield in a 60 h.p. Peerless Green Dragon, and A. Webb in a 90 h.p. Pope-Toledo. The Pope broke a commutator at the six-mile mark. Barney lost a rear tire but tried to keep going on the rim. Christie managed to finish, going 70 m.p.h. in the last half of the “race”.
- Christie can be seen on this video of the Ormond Beach event at the 3:40-3:49 mark.
During the week in Florida, Walter Christie also ran in the 100-mile Vanderbilt Cup – Ormond Beach race and finished 5th. On the very last day of the event, Christie supposedly did a mile in forty-seconds, which equals a very fast 90 m.p.h.
Christie must have been pleased with his Ormond Beach experience, because on March 11, 1905 the Christie Direct Action Motor Car Company was incorporated to manufacture automobiles under the patents of Walter Christie.
- The only known photograph showing part of an early Christie transmission – “Scientific American”, January 28, 1905.
Christie knew that the car needed more power for racing, but he couldn’t easily increase the displacement of his engine. With the transversely mounted, 828 c.i. engine, any bore increase would have meant widening the front castings and track width. His old 1903 car may have been sitting in the corner of the shop, and he came up with the ingenious idea of installing the entire front engine-drivetrain assembly onto the rear end of the 1905 racer. According to the wildly inaccurate news accounts of the time, the Christie now had either 80, 130 or 180 h.p. – it was more likely around 90 h.p.
- Walter Christie’s racer in the summer of 1905, with the rear engine installed from his 1903 car. Notice the twin surface-mount radiators (one inside the other) that cooled both engines.
In 1905 the AAA held a National Championship which attracted the best drivers and machines in the country. Barney Oldfield would ultimately be crowned champion, in second place was Louis Chevrolet, followed by Webb Jay, Burman, Lytle, Roberts and others.
Walter Christie did not compete in the AAA Championship races. Instead, he competed for world mile-kilometer speed records, and ran in the Dr. Harold Thomas Inter-Cup Trophy series races. The ACA (Automobile Club of America) and CAC (Chicago Automobile Club) sponsored these events. Christie often represented the ACA and Webb Jay the CAC. Jay drove the fast White “Rocket” steam racer. Most of the races were short heats of five miles or less, which were ideal for a steam car.
July 4th was a big race weekend at Morris Park; Christie and Webb Jay ran three races. They traded wins in the first two heats, but Jay won the final when Christie’s rear engine drive clutches began to slip. This problem could have been due to the hastily arranged external contracting brake bands that Walter had rigged around the rear engine’s cone clutch housings that were the only brakes on the machine. In the end Christie appears to have turned the fastest time of the three races in the second heat.
- Webb Jay’s White “Rocket” steam racer, shown leading Walter Christie’s twin-engine, four wheel drive racer at Morris Park.
Christie and A.L. Campbell in a French Darracq spent much of the summer racing on the New Jersey beaches where they exchanged American and World speed records for the kilometer and mile distances. Eventually, they tied at 38 seconds in the mile or nearly 95 m.p.h., but Christie won the kilometer distance at 23.4 seconds. Henry Ford tried but was unable to beat either Christie or Campbell.
The party ended for Christie on September 9, in Atlantic City, New Jersey while trying to set a new mile record. One or more of Christie’s large inlet valve plates blew off the rear engine, barely missing Walter’s head on their hasty exit.
All photos unless noted are courtesy of the National Automobile History Collection.
When we return Christie’s involvement in the 1905 Vanderbilt will be covered. You can look back at Part I of the series here.