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The James Scripps Booth BiAutogo – A “Motorcycle Car”

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Over one hundred years ago the course of the automobile had been fairly well charted out, but this did not discourage free-thinking individuals like James Scripps Booth who would continue to design new variations of mobile transport. And he could well afford to do so as he was an heir to the Booth family fortune that had originated from publishing the Detroit Evening News. Born and raised in the Motor City, he was educated in private schools and also developed his artistic abilities.

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Booth also had a keen interest in mechanical engineering and automobile design, which led to him laying out the Biautogo sketches in Paris, France around 1910, while studying art there for a time. He did not intend to turn it into a production vehicle, but rather to use it as an engineering study and for promotional purposes at the 1912 New York Auto Show.

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The project was not completed in time for the New York show, but it was soon finished and featured in an article in The Automobile, in 1913. And what a vehicle it was – the aluminum-bodied machine was powered by the first V-8 built in Detroit, a 332 ci. Scripps-Booth engine that produced 45 hp. A steering wheel and shaft actuated the springer type of front fork by the use of a chain and bevel gears. The chain-driven rear wheel was suspended by parallel semi-elliptic springs. It rode on large 37 x 5.5-inch tires and a long 140-inch wheelbase.

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One would assume that a vehicle of this type would be stabilized at low speeds by a powered-gyroscope, but instead Booth fitted drop-down balance-wheels for that purpose. It has been reported that above twenty mph the front and rear wheels would keep it upright by the same principals used for the bicycle. Other features were: a four-speed transmission, an air starter, a very distinctive surface-mounted radiator of copper tubing, and seating for three passengers.

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Full details of this of this unusual vehicle are in a two-page article that can be seen above, which was featured in the August 28, 1913, issue of The Automobile. You can also learn about the JB Rocket Cyclecar produced by Booth and covered here earlier on The Old Motor and the later Scripps-Booth Car here.

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In person, the BiAutogo is a genuine delight to see, and you can do just that by visiting with the Owls Head Transportation Museum, in Owls Head, Maine. At the museum, you will find one of the most diverse collections (a small sampling is above) of primarily pre-1920 automobiles, aircraft, motorcycles, stationary engines and bicycles in the country. You can visit with them here at the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

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Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Motorcycle photos, Pre-War Contemporary Photos | Tagged , , , , , , |

John Volpe, a V-16 Cadillac and the Gangster’s Last Day

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  • John Volpe’s V-16 Cadillac coupe equipped with bulletproof glass being towed away after his death 

During the years of Prohibition in America, a fortune was to be made by those bold enough to take charge of bootlegging in a city. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania gangster John Volpe was just such a man, and by 1932, he and his brothers ruled the supply of alcohol in the Steel City and also ran a busy rackets operation.

At the time, the organized machine of ruthless bootleggers also included his brothers James and Arthur (Louis Volpe was serving a few months in Allegheny County Jail on a bootlegging conviction) and half-dozen of the gang’s henchmen. His younger brother Chester Volpe had died the previous New Year’s Eve in a car crash in the city.

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  • Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh near the Allegheny County Courthouse

The set of photos seen in this article are from an outstanding account in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, written by Steve Mellon. In his report of Friday, July 29, 1932, titled MidDay Massacre, he tells an engaging story about the gangster’s operation and the events of John Volpe’s last day; the story starts at noontime when he got a shave and a shoeshine in Frank Manna’s barbershop at 527 Fifth Avenue close to the scene of the above photo.

After leaving Manna’s, Volpe and former numbers racketeer Charles Modarelli, walked a few blocks through the city’s Lower Hill District to the Rome Coffee Shop seen below, at 704 Wylie Avenue. The shop served as a front for his numbers operations. There he and Modarelli parted company and Volpe went inside and met up with his brothers and associates.

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  • The Rome Coffee Shop, at far right, on Wylie Avenue and a 1927 Chevrolet

Shortly afterward Volpe went back outside and was gunned-down by a team of three hit men. Finished with killing the gangster, the trio then entered the shop and brutally shot and killed two of his brothers, James and Arthur. Their job accomplished the gunman emerged and fled the scene in a dark blue Ford sedan. The Volpe brother’s deaths brought the toll to one hundred unsolved gang murders between the years of 1927 and 1932 in Pittsburgh.

You can read a more detailed and very intriguing accounting of the situation then we have the time and space for here at, Pittsburgh: The Dark Years, by Steve Mellon. There you see many more photos and learn more about: Prohibition, both political and police corruption in the city, the aftermath of the killings, the funeral, the Volpe family and the details surrounding the location of dozens of bars, “bawdy houses” and gambling dens.

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Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Goodwood 72nd Members’ Meeting and the Grover-Williams Trophy Race

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At the Goodwood circuit in Southern England, Lord March launched the latest event to be run on the famed racing track, the Members’ Meeting, which was held on the weekend of March 29th and the 30th, 2014. The racing action is open only to members of the Goodwood Road Racing Club and their guests. The event continues on from the 71 club meetings held earlier at Goodwood in the fifties and sixties for members of the British Automobile Racing Club. A full slate of twelve races was presented covering many vintage categories.

The photos shown here are of the Grover-Williams Trophy Race that was staged to celebrate the 90th anniversary of one of the most successful racing cars of all time, the Bugatti Type 35. The race is named in honor of William Charles Frederick Grover-Williams who was very successful behind the wheel of his British Racing Green Type 35. Photographer-filmmaker Stefan Marjoram was there to record the action and today we are featuring his photographs covering this race.

At the Goodwood 72nd Members’ Meeting  you can learn more about this new event. Be sure to view the exciting video below they have produced which will fill you in on all the action during this race along with the results. A visit with Stefan Marjoram will reward you with more of his fine work.

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Posted in Pre-War Contemporary Photos, video | Tagged , , , , , |