Tag Archives: Barney Oldfield
Soon vintage car enthusiasts from around the world will be able to witness a sight and sound not heard for close to 100 years. The clock is ticking, and Duncan Pittaway and his helpers are working overtime to finish up one of the most impressive pre-World War I racing cars ever built, the Fiat S.76. It is entered and will be run in this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed to be held on June 26-29 in the UK.
The Fiat with its 1729-c.i.-s.o.h.c. four cylinder engine that produces 300-h.p., was unofficially the fastest car in the world in 1913 when it posted a speed of 132.27 m.p.h. in a one-way run; the car was driven by American Arthur Duray at Ostend, Belgium, when it topped Barney Oldfield’s speed of 131.72 m.p.h. set with the Blitzen Benz. However, the Fiat was denied the record as it was unable to complete a return run within the specified one hour.
After the First World War, one of the two S.76 cars Fiat built was dismantled by the automaker. Russian aristocrat Boris Soukhanov owned the other car that Duray drove for him in 1911 and it survived intact. Following the War, the car ended up in Australia, where it was rebuilt and re-powered with a Stutz engine. The special’s career ended when it was crashed at Ammadale in the early 1920s while practicing for a race to the coast, it later ended up in an early collectors hands.
Duncan Pittaway obtained the chassis in 2003 and had it shipped to the UK. After the discovery of the surviving S76 engine from the sister car, he knew that it would then be possible to fulfill his dream of having an operational car. It was by no means easy as three major parts of the car still needed to be recreated including: The double chain-drive gearbox, the body, and the radiator. All were created by referencing original Fiat drawings, and period photographs.
Let’s all wish Duncan luck in finishing up in time for the Goodwood Festival of Speed and for undertaking and sharing this monumental project. We have been following this project for over three years now, and special thanks also go out to Stefan Marjoram for providing us with his photographs and drawings during that time. You can take a look back here on The Old Motor at three pages of information covering the car including: Period images during pre-war use, and Stefan’s work covering the re-building of this legendary icon. Stay tuned for a follow up.
Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey, two famous early showmen have been covered here on The Old Motor before. Just found in the collection of the San Diego Air & Space Museum is a photo album that belonged to Warren Samuel Eaton, seen here from it are pre-WWI era photos of the dynamic barnstormers and their machines.
The Museum describes Eaton’s role in early aviation as follows: ”He was born in South Dakota on June 12, 1891 and moved to Los Angeles as a child. He formed Eaton Brothers Aircraft with his brother Frank, and they built several aircraft together. Warren teamed up with Lincoln Beachy and barnstormed with him. He also built some of Beachy’s airplanes. Later, he assisted Glenn Curtiss with the design of an amphibian aircraft”.
Lincoln Beechey with his two Curtiss-type airplanes, one powered by the makers V-8 on the left, and a smaller craft powered by a Gnome rotary engine is seen in the center and on the right.
Eaton no doubt, also knew Barney Oldfield as he and Beechey preformed their airplane and car expositions together on racetracks all across the land. Two of the photos posted here from the collection show a pair of Oldfield’s cars. The first car that Barney is seen posing in is a very sporty Simplex at the top of the post, wearing a custom body, it features: wire wheels, a frame-mounted oil tank and Rushmore headlamps. There is a good chance that this car was owned George R. Bentel who had the Pacific Coast distributorships for the Simplex and Mercer automobiles at the time.
The Christie he is posing in below is much more well-known and was used between the 1912 and 1916 period by the speed king. This image gives a very good side-view of the car, including Christie’s assembled metal wheels. Just below are drawings and a photo showing the very interesting details of its construction.
If you can tell us anything about the Simplex, or who built the coach work, please send us a comment. You can refer to our earlier articles here on Oldfield and Beachey and also on Barney Oldfield himself. More photos and information on the Simplex can be found here.
The names of Ralph DePalma, Tommy Milton, Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmie Murphy, and Dario Resta are all writ large in the earliest days of motor racing, but none had quite the same flair for self promotion as Barney Oldfield. Whether in organized competition or barnstorming across the country in special events that he and promoters arranged, Barney gained a level of name recognition that few drivers have equaled since. So it made perfect sense that he would lend his name to a product that drivers of the day would easily identify with his well known achievements when he finally retired from racing.
“Auto Trade Journal” June, 1919 – “Motor Age”, March 1919 – Auto Trade Journal, 1921 tells of racing wins
In 1919, he joined forces with Firestone and formed the Oldfield Tire Company after having used the company’s tires for years. More than just a simple celebrity endorsement of a product, he implied that the customer who bought an Oldfield tire would benefit directly from his many years of experience on both the road and track. In an interview published in the March, 1919 issue of the Automobile Journal, he’s quoted as saying, “The Oldfield tire is my idea of what a tire ought to be. It has built into it all that I’ve learned in more than half a million miles of racing and touring.” The same article states that the company was producing 2500 tires a day at the time.
The supreme confidence he expressed to potential retailers in the promotional material you can read in this post evidently wasn’t all talk. When Gaston Chevrolet won the 1920 running of the Indianapolis 500 on Oldfield tires without a single tire change, he didn’t hesitate to exploit that remarkable performance to it’s fullest as you can see in our lower photo. And while Oldfield drove a wide variety of cars during his long and illustrious career, we’re not exactly sure what he’s piloting in our top photo and invite you to give us your best guess about it’s identity. Our top photo is courtesy of Wayne Petersen great-great nephew of Barney Oldfield.