Friday, March 31, 2017

Locomobile and auto racing
Part two - Locomobile fights for its life
In 1911 Locomobile introduced its model 48 which was manufactured through 1926 with few changes. Model 48 series numbers were used to differentiate the developments through the years. The '48' designation was used by the Locomobile Company to signify that the 475 cubic inch six-cylinder engine was rated by the NACC (National Automobile Chamber of Commerce) with 48 taxable horsepower. Through the years the Locomobile Model 48 built a solid reputation as a powerful, luxurious, reliable automobile for America’s upper class.
A postcard of the Locomobile factory

Locomobile fortunes changed radically in the summer of 1915. In July the company declared that its profits would be shared with the factory’s 3000 workers, then on September 1, company president Samuel T. Davis died unexpectedly from ptomaine poisoning.

The death of Davis, the son in-law of founder Amzi Barber left a vacuum in Locomobile’s leadership. Company treasurer Raymond Albright the son of one of Barber’s former business partners, took over but during the next few years while Locomobile built Liberty aircraft engines for the war effort Albright built up a stockpile of materials in anticipation of a huge post-World War One boom in automobile sales. 

The post-war nationwide economic recession and subsequent depression left Locomobile overextended and vulnerable. A month before the company entered the new decade, shareholders forced the Locomobile directors to sell out to the newly-formed Hare’s Motors Inc. a mysterious New Jersey “operating company” led by former Packard sales vice-president Emlen Spencer Hare.

The photo of Emlen Hare published
with his 1918 Horseless Age article

Emlen Hare formerly of the Commercial Truck Company of Philadelphia joined Packard Motor Car Company on January 1 1916 as a ‘Special Representative’ for commercial trucks in New York and headed the truck department after just six months.  In August 1916 he became the general manager for Packard in New York and before the year was out he was named the president of Packard’s New York branch.

In 1917 Emlen Hare wrote and published a booklet entitled Packard Salesmanship that pointed out good address, tact and thorough knowledge of the product and hard work were key, and his final tip was “never let him suspect that anything is too much trouble. He may be a bore but his order is not less valuable. Bores usually buy again once they are satisfied as few establishments satisfy them.”   

In that role in February 1918 Hare had penned a very strange article published in The Horseless Age, an automotive trade journal that claimed it was “a patriotic act to sell automobiles.” In his one-page opinion piece Hares drew a comparison between a “too-elaborate $6 dinner” to an automobile; he claimed the dinner “left one drained of energy with reduced efficiency for several days” whereas  the automobile “brings health and energy and thereby keeps judgement sound and is an insurance policy for what we have.”

Hare’s article also railed at the use of the term “pleasure car” to describe passenger cars which he said "are among our foremost time-savers.” Most curious was Hare’s use of President Woodrow Wilson as the proof for his argument in favor of automobiles.  Hare wrote that “to insure (sic) his judgement being normal, Wilson uses an automobile for mental and physical relaxation.” Wilson who in 1906 branded automobiles as “a picture of arrogance wealth” did not drive a automobile, rather he rode in a Pierce-Arrow limousine.  

In September 1918 Hare was elevated to the role of vice-president of Packard in Detroit but he left Packard in August 1919 with a new company Hare’s Motors Inc. created on October 6 1919 “backed by New York bankers” according to Motor Age.  Hare was named the company president with two other former Packard executives and his brother Alfred as vice-presidents. 
In October 1919, Hare’s Motors took over the operation of Mercer Motor Cars of Trenton New Jersey, a company which had suffered a sudden loss of its family leadership. In December as Mercer’s new president Hare revealed plans to immediately increase production to 3000 cars annually per the Automotive Trade Journal.   

In early 1920 after Hare’s Motors took control of Locomobile in a December 1919 deal that was leveraged with the issuance of 100,000 new shares of Mercer stock, former Locomobile treasurer Frank Hickman replaced Albright as the Locomobile company president.

Three former Packard executives – H.D. Church, Ormond E Hunt and Henry Lansdale, who had all resigned from Packard on November 1 1919 moved into respective management roles of engineering, production, and distribution at Locomobile. Hare’s Motors ceased Riker Trucks production in Bridgeport with the plan to build a new factory and in the meantime took over the operation of the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company in Ohio.  

Author's photos of a Wright built Hispano-Suiza V8 aircraft engine
at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum

In January 1920 Hare’s Motors issued additional Locomobile and Mercer stock to finance the purchase of automobile manufacturer Crane-Simplex from aircraft manufacturer Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation. Wright bought the company in 1916 to obtain Henry Crane’s license to build the Hispano-Suiza aircraft engines for the allied war effort. Wright did not build any of the luxurious Simplex six-cylinder cars after the stock of parts was used up and the Simplex automobile factory had sat idle for two years.

Hare’s Motors then controlled the manufacturing and sales operations for automobiles from Locomobile, Crane-Simplex and Mercer as well as Kelly-Springfield and Riker trucks (built by Locomobile) A full-page announcement published in the March 10 1920 edition of the Bridgeport Telegram newspaper under the unusual company motto of “We shall keep faith” which Emlen Hare explained meant “quality is the keystone.” stated that Hare’s Motors “assumes the directing power…to effect a big increase in output” and that “there shall be no waste in plant space or effort in any respect” as “management intends the Company shall succeed most by serving most.”

Later in March 1920, Hare gave an interview to the Automotive Trade Journal in which he anticipated “annual business of $250 million within five years” as Hare’s would produce a ”complete line including trucks.” Hare clarified that Locomobile Simplex and Mercer will retain their corporate identities with the plants operating purely as manufacturing establishment, with engineering, distribution maintenance and advertising removed and operated as divisions of Hare’s Motors Inc.” Almost without exception, the leaders of these departments announced by Hare were former Packard employees.

Hare first planned to introduce a car smaller than the Locomobile ‘48’ and intended to increase production at Mercer up to 50,000 cars per year.  Hare’s plans quickly went awry however, as the country went for a recession into a short intense depression. In October 1920 Hare announced a $1000 price cut for Mercer and $1350 for Locomobile.

In a convoluted statement Hare traced his company’s problems to “suppressed demand due to the insufficient purchasing power of the country due to the deflated value of the dollar.”  He claimed the price reduction was “part of a collaboration among manufacturers to restore the morale of business for temporary sacrifice,” and “that the ultimate profit is to be earned by taking a present loss.”

Many lower-cost cars such as Ford and mid-ranged priced car manufacturers that included Jordan and Maxwell cut their prices in the fall of 1920 but that the manufacturers of higher-priced cars such as DuPont, Nordyke & Marmon, Peerless, Packard and McFarlan stood pat while Pierce-Arrow actually raised prices. Automotive Industries noted in their October 7 1920 issue that “Hare has taken a stand in variance with most manufacturers of high-priced cars.”

In February 1921 The Magazine of Wall Street provided an advisory on Hare’s Motors which noted that “as result of the absorption of Locomobile, Simplex, and Kelly-Springfield, no statements of earnings have been made. Some time ago it was said of exchange of Hare’s Motors stock would be made but no announcements has been forthcoming. Probably the condition of the auto industry has caused a temporary delay in the consummation of that plan.”  Quite simply, Emlen S. Hare had grown his empire too fast, built up massive debt (over $6 million in new stock and bonds were issued to take over Locomobile) and now was overextended.       

In July 1921 The Commercial and Financial Chronicle reported that Hare’s Motors Inc. had sent stockholders a letter that stated in part “as a preliminary step to settle the difficulties of Hare’s Motors bank and creditors committees have worked out a plan for cancellation of all Mercer contracts and options with Hare’s Motors. In other words Mercer will be divorced from the Hares organization.”  Shortly thereafter, Henry Crane repurchased the assets of Crane-Simplex from Hare for pennies on the dollar. It is unclear whether any Simplex cars were built under Hare, but under Crane Simplex never resumed production. .

Hare’s Motors continued as the selling agent for Kelly-Springfield trucks as Locomobile’s future hung in the balance since Hare had used Mercer stock to finance the Locomobile purchase. The Commercial and Financial Chronicle reported that “bank and merchandise creditors of Locomobile are being asked for an extension of perhaps six months in the hope that some plan can be evolved for the reorganization of the company.” 

The creditor’s extension did last long as in September 1921, in a manner similar to Mercer Locomobile was “split off” from Hare’s Motors with attorney Elmer H. Havens named as the new Locomobile Company of America president. Following close behind was the entry of Kelly-Springfield Trucks into receivership.  Although Locomobile was free of Hare, the damage was done and In February 1922 Havens under pressure from creditors and stockholders allowed Locomobile to enter voluntary receivership despite the fact the company had $500,000 cash on hand.

The same day as the Locomobile receivership announcement, Hare’s Motors Inc. was reorganized as E.S. Hare Incorporated which would function “to assist auto manufacturers by straightening out their sales policies and taking over their distribution.”  In March 1922, Emlen Hare wrote a newspaper article entitled “Plans working out” in which he described his plans “in the not very distant future for the production of cars designed by a group of the ablest engineers ever assembled,” for which Hare claimed he “has experience and resources aplenty for the success of these plans.” 

Hare’s grand plans never worked out and soon after E.S. Hare Inc. publicly announced it had “retired from manufacturing to devote all its energies to merchandising.” E.S.Hare Inc. apparently failed soon after as in 1924 Emlen Hares was a vice-president with the Philadelphia investment firm of Hare & Chase Inc. a partnership controlled by his brother Alfred.

Over the next few years, under Emlen’s guidance Hare & Chase became a minor player in the relatively new field of new-car financing.   In 1936 Hare one of the new members of the Hupp Motor Car Company board of directors was named in federal lawsuits that were filed in connection with stock fraud and sales kick-back accusations against the notorious Hupp chairman and stock promoter Archie M. Andrews. The door for Andrews opened because before he took over Hupp, the company lost over $4 million each year in 1931 and 1932.

While Emlen S. Hare who noted automotive historian and author Beverley Rae Kimes called “one of automotive history’s more renowned scoundrels” can be blamed for contributing to the death three car companies- Locomobile, Mercer, and Simplex-Crane, his notoriety pales beside that of his associate Archie Andrews who killed four car companies – Hupp, Kissell, Ruxton, and Moon Motors. While Andrews died in 1938 while under indictment for bankruptcy fraud, Hare worked as an executive in the investment industry before passed away in 1962 at age 79.    

Locomobile had barely survived Emlen Hare’s failed empire building but sadly another empire-builder waited in the wings.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Locomobile and auto racing
Part one - the early years
Author’s note – this article began as a report on the 1923 Locomobile model 48 displayed at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River Oregon. However during the research, the story grew into a three-part article that encompass the history of Locomobile in general and in racing. The author found the Locomobile drama to be engrossing and hopes that you the reader enjoy it as well.  

Before the dawn of the twentieth century a single car united  two prominent men and led to the founding of one of America’s true classic automobile brands- Locomobile.  In 1898 prominent magazine publisher John Walker bought one of earliest Stanley steam wagons for $650 and later sold the used Stanley at a profit to multi-millionaire Amzi L. Barber the man known as “the Asphalt King.”

The next year, Walker purchased the Stanley brothers’ steam car manufacturing company for $250,000 then soon after sold half interest in the company to Barber for $250,000. The new company initially operated under the name of Automobile Company of America but quickly was reorganized as the Locomobile Company of America after Walker left the partnership and the company settled in Bridgeport Connecticut.
Locomobile manufactured an inexpensive ($600) low-quality runabout steam car but after the Stanley twins, Francis and Freelan, reentered the steam automobile business in1902 and their new Stanley steam carriages immediately cut into Locomobile sales, so Locomobile quickly began experimenting with another form of power. The ‘gasolene’ (as it was initially spelled) powered 1904 Locomobile Touring Car which could carry five passengers sold for the very high price of $2000. With the success of their ‘gasolene’ nine- and sixteen- horsepower machines, Barber and Locomobile sold the steam manufacturing rights back to the Stanley brothers.
The early Locomobile ‘gasolene’ automobiles equipped with the sixteen horsepower four-cylinder front-mounted “vertical engine” was an early performance car. In an advertisement in Automotive Topics magazine a customer was quoted “I have never been passed on the road and have never seen the machine I could not pass.” The advertisement copy also recounted the customer’s story of recent trip from Boston to Providence with four passengers aboard as the customer claimed “I passed 23 cars but was not passed myself. “    

16-horsepower Locomobiles stripped of fenders and tonneau were successful in racing such as the events held on Labor Day 1903. J. Murray Page won a five-mile “free for all”  Gentleman’s Driving Club race in Danbury Connecticut, and it was reported that the same day A.M. Kline and his Locomobile won the Labor Day races in Muncie Indiana. Less than an month later, on October 3 1903 Archie McNeil a Locomobile he called the “Grey Gem” won a five-mile special race run over the Empire City race track in Yonkers New York in a time of 7 minutes 19 seconds for an average speed of over 40 miles per hour (MPH).     

This performance came at a price as in 1908 a new Locomobile model 40 Runabout a 4-passenger touring car equipped with a 60-horsepower 990-cubic inch 4-cylinder engine sold for $4750 without a top. Stripped-down Locomobile ‘40’ cars proved to be formidable racing machines in the east; in 1905 Irishman Joe Tracy drove a 90-horsepower Locomobile in the Gordon Bennett Cup race in France but broke down early with transmission troubles. Later that year Tracy finished second in American elimination trial race held to winnow the entries prior to the Vanderbilt Cup race, then followed that up with a third place finish in Vanderbilt Cup race.

The following year, Tracy and his riding mechanic Al Poole, won the American elimination trial, then during the Vanderbilt Cup race they set a new course record with a time of 26 minutes and 20.8 seconds for the 29.1 mile lap in their number 9 Locomobile. Joe Tracy ran in 10th place when the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup race ended prematurely when a spectator was struck and killed when the crowds swarmed the course.

After Joe Tracy’s retirement from racing, George Robertson and his riding mechanic Glenn Etheridge won two major “stock chassis” races in the 1906 Locomobile during 1908, the first being the inaugural 200-mile race at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia in early October. Two weeks later the pair drove the 1906 Locomobile renumbered #16 to victory in the 4th Vanderbilt Cup race held on the closed Long Island Parkway and became the first American car and driver to win the Vanderbilt Cup.

The #16 Locomobile was proclaimed in the press as “The Greatest American Racing Car” and Robertson, Etheridge and the car were featured in parades and feted at lavish banquets. To commemorate their 1908 Vanderbilt Cup victory, the Locomobile factory utilized a miniature reproduction of the Vanderbilt Cup as the radiator cap on the 1909 models, and offered similar versions to Locomobile owners for retrofitting at a cost of $2.25 each with nearly 900 such cups sold. Today these miniature Locomobile/Vanderbilt sterling silver cups are extremely prized collector’s items.

George Robertson and his teammate James Florida posted pair of strong finishes (second and fourth) in the June 1909 Crown Point Indiana road races before the Locomobile factory dropped out of racing. Robertson finished the 1909 season behind the wheel of a Simplex, won the Fairmount Park Founder’s Week trophy race for the second time and the 318-mile Lowell trophy race in Massachusetts and was later retroactively crowned the 1909 AAA (American Automobile Association) champion.

George Robertson was seriously injured in a bizarre pre-race practice crash in a Benz prior to the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup race and retired.  Robertson later worked part-time for the AAA and served as the assistant starter of the first Indianapolis 500 mile race under chief starter Fred Wagner. The unrestored “Old 16” Locomobile driven by Robertson to victories in Long Island and Philadelphia was later donated to the Henry Ford Museum collection in Dearborn Michigan.     

During the same time frame, the years 1908 – 1909, Locomobile achieved considerable racing success on the West Coast which has been overshadowed in history by the Vanderbilt Cup and Fairmount Park successes.

A Locomobile ‘40’ driven  by the company’s representative for the West, J. Murray Page, won  the 24-hour race held on the one-mile (original) Ascot Park track located near what is now downtown Los Angeles. Page drove R.S. Wilson’s Locomobile for 21 of the 24 hours in the race which started on noon on October 31. Page finished on November 1 1908 as he completed 916 miles and won the Diamond Trophy and the $1000 purse.

During the 1909 racing season, Murray Page in a Locomobile ‘40’ won a 150-mile race on Sunday March 28 at Ascot Park and established a new “World’s Record” as he completed the distance in two hours and 47 minutes and won two laps over Bert Latham who drove a Stearns.     

Three months later in the Wemme Cup race an “open event” held on the 14.6 mile Portland road race course, Murray Page and the Locomobile led the first two laps before the engine faltered during the third lap. Bert Dingley in the smaller Chalmers-Detroit car swept by into the lead followed by Sam Christopherson in a Stoddard-Dayton before the Locomobile returned to form.  

Page could not close the gap over the last four laps and finished third but after the race Murray Page protested the finish.  Murray claimed that Charles Arnold in a second Chalmers had “persistently jockeyed and intentioned fouled” him in the far turns out of sight of the referees. This was early in the development of the sport of automobile racing which were governed by thoroughbred racing rules long before competitors embraced the modern NASCAR maxim that “rubbin’s racin.’”  

Murray Page finished fourth in the July 1909 Dick Ferris Trophy “stock chassis heavy car’ race over Santa Monica road course behind Harris Hanshue in the Apperson ‘Jackrabbit’ which averaged 64 miles per hour. After the Santa Monica race, a “match race of the giants” between the Locomobile and the Stearns was scheduled for August 15 1909.

Advertised as rematch of the March 28 Ascot Park race, the Los Angeles Herald reported that the stakes for the 300-mile match race were $5000 from each team. The driver lineup was different than the March race, with Charles “the Old War Horse” Soules (at age 33) listed as the Stearns driver and the unknown “little Billy” Orr behind the wheel of the Locomobile.

Before a large crowd on a warm Sunday, the Stearns built up a five (or six depending on the source) lap lead as it turned consistent laps at one minutes three seconds, or 57 MPH  while the Locomobile was forced to stop five times with tire trouble. The Stearns’ race ended when its crankshaft (or clutch depending on source) broke on its 109th lap. Orr and the Locomobile completed the distance in six hours and forty-three minutes at a leisurely 44 MPH average speed to claim the $10,000 stake.              

Amzi Barber passed away in 1909 and beginning with the 1910 model year, Locomobile’s marketing under the direction of President Samuel T. Davis, who was Barber’s son-in-law, deemphasized racing and speed and instead focused on the advertising promotion of the car’s durability and comfort.

In the second chapter of the story of Locomobile and racing, you’ll learn that while Locomobile struggled financially through the nineteen twenties under the control of a reckless investor, the company still managed to build magnificent automobiles. 


Friday, March 17, 2017

"The lightweight" 1967 Penske Camaro  
This 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Trans-American Sedan Championship[p (Trans-Am) series race car displayed at the Sunoco Race Fuels booth at the 2016 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show is another example of the famous Penske “Unfair Advantage” as well as a demonstration of how legends grow as facts get twisted over time.

The 1967 Trans-Am season saw the debut of the Chevrolet Camaro and the Mercury Cougar. After the Penske Racing team built the first Sunoco Blue car, according to Mark Donohue in his book The Unfair Advantage “someone” arranged for Fisher Body to stamp special bodywork out of lighter gauge steel. Unfortunately Donohue crashed the first lightened car twice in its first outing at Bryar Motorsports Park in New Hampshire.

Rather than repair the lightweight sheet metal, Penske contacted Canadian heavy equipment dealer Terry Godsall who purchased the first Penske Camaro which had subsequently been wrecked in a towing accident. The original Penske Camaro under the new partnership of Penske-Godsall Racing was re-bodied with panels dipped in an acid bath “at some aerospace company in Los Angeles” according to Donohue.

The acid-dipped body panels and associated bracketry reduced the weight of the Camaro even with a full roll cage to 2,550 pounds which led the team to nickname it “the lightweight.”  An urban legend has grown up that the Camaro was raced underweight, but Donohue in his book was clear that the “dipping” merely allowed the team to redistribute 250 pounds of weight required to meet the series minimum weight to improve handling.

Donohue and the “lightweight” Camaro debuted at the September ‘Gallo Trophy’ race held on the Crows Landing Naval Auxiliary Air Station near Modesto California which replaced the previously announced Vaca Valley Raceway venue.  The flat 3-mile temporary course set up on the concrete runways was very abrasive and all the competitors suffered tire problems during the 250-mile race.
Due to the wrong rear axle gearing Donohue struggled and placed third behind Jerry Titus’ Shelby Mustang and Peter Revson in Bud Moore’s Cougar. The Modesto track was not used again for professional racing, but even today the facility now owned by NASA still hosts annual amateur autocross events.

Donohue related in his book that SCCA officials were very unhappy with the acid-dipped body, and for the rest of the season Roger Penske and the SCCA battled over the car’s legitimacy, although the Ford teams were also acid-dipping their Mustang bodies according to Donohue.   Meanwhile Donohue and “the lightweight” Camaro won the final two rounds of the 1967 Trans-Am series at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas and at Pacific Raceway at Kent Washington.

Despite those wins, Chevrolet finished third in the 1967 SCCA Trans-Am championship, with three wins behind Ford which just edged out Mercury each with four wins.  After the season finale at Kent, the SCCA officials declared the Penske “lightweight” car banned forever.

The Camaro is powered by a 302-cubic inch Chevrolet cast-iron engine with cast iron cylinder heads fed through a four-barrel Holley 800 CFM (cubic feet per minute)  carburetor built by Traco Engines of Culver City California run by Frank Travers and Jim Coon the winning chief mechanics on Bill Vukovich’s 1953 and 1954 Indianapolis ‘500’ winning Kurtis roadster.

The engine produced “410 to 420 horsepower” per Donohue and fed through a four-speed transmission the “lightweight” Camaro accelerated from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds. Post-season testing at Chevrolet engineering revealed that use of a “seasoned” engine block fitted with new cylinder heads could yield up to 460 horsepower but Donohue stated that those engines were not reliable when used early in the 1968 season.     

At the 12 Hours of Endurance For The Alitalia Airlines Trophy race at Sebring Florida in March 1968, “the Lightweight” Camaro reappeared and through some “tricky stuff” described by Donohue that involved switching of numbers between the team’s 1968 Camaro and this car both cars passed technical inspection. The SCCA officials were apparently unaware that they inspected the legal 1968 Camaro twice despite the fact that the 1967 Camaro featured vent windows unlike the 1968 Camaro and the 1967 version lacked the 1968 Camaro’s side marker lights.   

Donohue qualified the lightweight #15 Camaro for the pole position in Class 12 (Trans-Am) class at a lap time of 3 minutes and 1.2 seconds around the 5.2 mile road course which  tied with the equally suspicious black and gold Camaro built by the infamous Smokey Yunick shared by Lloyd Ruby and Al Unser. At the conclusion of  the 12 hour race, Donohue and his co-driver Craig Fisher finished third overall and first in the Trans-Am class four laps ahead of the their teammates Joe Welch and Bob Johnson in the #16 Suncoco1968 Camaro.   

Godsall sold the “lightweight” Camaro which was re-bodied as a Firebird after the 1968 SCCA Trans-Am season in order to develop and build a series of Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am cars. The lightweight Camaro was raced for many years by a variety of owners in Canada until vintage racer Paul Ryan recognized its significance, purchased it and had it professionally restored in 1987.

This 1967 Camaro was not Penske Pacing’s last experience of pushing the “Unfair Advantge” envelope with acid-dipping of the Camaro body. During the 1969 season the team used a body with sheet metal so thin that the roof panel wrinkled. To disguise this problem, the Sunoco Camaro raced with a black vinyl roof which Donohue explained to SCCA was because the team “liked the look.”

The 1969 Camaro’s vinyl roof drove the SCCA officials crazy, and sent the racing press into an long series of suppositions with articles that included suggestions of hidden fiberglass panels and hidden air holes in the roof to reduce lift.  Near the end of the 1969 season Penske removed the vinyl top and Chevrolet Camaro claimed its second straight Trans-Am Touring Sedan championship.
Check out an interesting interactive history of Sunoco Race Fuels at
photos by the author

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Luxor Goggles

All the poster photos appear
courtesy of EB Meyrowitz

While safety protection of racers in the early days of automotive competition were rudimentary with no seat belts and the use of cloth helmets, from the start racers recognized the importance of protecting their vision from dust. The brand of choice for many early racers was a pair of Luxor Goggles manufactured by Meyrowitz Manufacturing Company which sold by E.B. Meyrowitz Incorporated from its eleven stores in five cities - New York City  (seven stores), Minneapolis and Saint Paul Minnesota and two subsidiaries in Paris and  London and many local distributors nationwide

Emil Bruno (E.B.) Meyrowitz was born in 1852 in the city of Danzig, then part of the Prussian Empire, today known as the Polish city of Gdansk.  Emil graduated from optical college in Russia, and after he served his apprenticeship, he immigrated to America in 1872. In New York City He worked for Benjamin Pike & Sons opticians but also tinkered in his spare time in a workshop in his basement.

Emil and his two younger brothers Oscar and Paul started the Meyrowitz Brothers Company in Albany New York in 1875 before Emil became a naturalized United States citizen in 1878. By 1886 he and his brothers had opened E.B. Meyrowitz Incorporated at 104 East 23rd Street in New York City and later would establish their flagship store at 520 Fifth Avenue.  

EB Meyrowitz Incorporated optician stores in New York City, Paris, London, and Minnesota specialized in custom hand-made eyewear with the last King of France, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, painter Claude Monet (whose glasses were tinted blue) and Winston Churchill all mentioned as past customers. The stores also sold precision vision-related instruments such as microscopes and binoculars along with a line of cameras and offered film processing.

Emil had a curious mind and during his life invented and patented many instruments used in the optical trade. In April 1893 Emil received US patent number 495506A for a perimeter, an instrument used to measure the extent of a patient’s visual field with moving targets. Emil’s invention combined the principles of the existing Landolt and Priestley-Smith perimeters along with “certain novel features peculiar to the improved instrument itself.”

Emil followed his first invention with two more devices for the support of optical testing instruments which received US patent protection in 1897 and in 1898. Also in 1898 Emil received a patent for “a saddle for spectacles” designed “to give the wearers of spectacles relief from the pressure upon the nose due to the weight of the lenses and their frames with a novel device with a pair of pads rest upon the face at the sides of the nose attached to the bridge of any make of spectacles.”
Emil Meyrowitz’ two major inventions were patented during the first decade of the twentieth century; in 1902 he patented an ophthalmoscope which allowed the optician to see inside the eye and in 1907 an ophthalmometer an instrument to measure the curvature of the surface of the cornea.

To manufacture Emil’s many inventions, the brothers set up a factory known as the Meyrowitz Surgical Manufacturing Company in New Jersey, and the three brothers prospered until tragedy struck on Wednesday January 8, 1902.  In a snowstorm as an inbound express train from Connecticut, stopped in the Yorkville tunnel is it waited to enter the overcrowded Grand Central Depot, a second train inbound from White Plains plowed into the waiting express and destroyed its two rear passenger cars.

Oscar Meyrowitz, 47 years old, who had gotten on the express train in New Rochelle, was among the fifteen people killed (two more died later of their injuries). Oscar’s widow filed a $150,000 suit against the railroad (equivalent to $4 million today) but a jury later awarded her just $20,000. The public outcry after the accident led to the construction of the larger Grand Central Terminal and the replacement of steam locomotives with electric units on city routes.     

Two years later, it was discovered that a night watchman at the Meyrowitz flagship store had surreptitiously looted the store and attempted to sell through an auction the $20,000 in stolen merchandise (mainly eyeglass frames) under an assumed name. His crime was discovered when John Schwenger an employee of the firm inspected the goods at the auction and found the ‘EBM’ trademark on the frames. Why the watchman William Cooper did not melt down the gold and sell it instead of trying to auction the frames was never explained.     

Meyrowitz had first advertised goggles in their catalog in 1905 which included a water-roof mask and nose piece for ‘rainy day’ driving but Meyrowitz’ place in racing history was cemented with the issuance on November 11 1907 of United States patent 871762A for “improved construction of goggles, goggles or protecting glasses for the use of motorists and other persons, for preventing dust and particles from entering the eyes particularly to render them more easily applied and removed in use.”  

Over the next 26 years Meyrowitz was issued nine more patents for improvements to his original goggle design.  Through the years, Emil (and in one case an employee) patented different bridge designs, various cushion styles  and methods to attach the cushion to the eye cups, ventilating inlets to prevent fogging, and even a moveable shutter so the wearer could adjust the amount of opening.

Truly, E B Meyrowitz Inc.’s Luxor brand of goggles became the standard of the industry and was sold at air fields, opticians, and sporting goods stores. A 1933 Luxor advertisement modestly proclaimed “there has been hardly a flight of consequence since aviation first began when Luxor Goggles were not worn. This is also true in important motor and speed-boat races. There must be a reason why the leaders of air and track races prefer Luxor.”

All the most experienced Hollywood stunt pilots of their day including Frank Clarke, Roscoe Turner, Al Wilson, Frank Tomick, Elmer Dyer and Garland Lincoln took part in the two years’ filming of Howard Hughes' epic motion picture Hells Angels and all wore Luxor goggles.
Colonel Charles Lindbergh and Art Goebel Jr. both appeared in Luxor print advertisements and Royal Air Force Lt. Sidney Webster wore Luxor goggles when he won the 1927 Schneider Cup air race at 281 miles per hour (MPH). Most famously, aviatrix Amelia Earhart wore Luxor #6 goggles fitted with hand-ground curved lenses, and a pair of her Luxor goggles with a cracked left lens sold at auction in 2011 for nearly $20,000.

The mention of Earhart’s goggles brings up the point that the standard lenses in Luxor goggles, whether flat or curved, while precision ground were not shatter-proof, although “non-shatterable” glass was an option on the model 8 which doubled the standard $18.00 list price. Buyers could also opt for meniscus, or convex-concave, lenses which had the effect of magnification.

Clear or “white” lenses were standard but amber, green or smoked lenses were also available and on special order, EB Meyrowitz Inc. could grind the goggle lenses to match a prescription. Whatever model was purchased, Luxor goggles always came furnished in a metal case engraved the Meyrowitz’ signature which remain a relatively inexpensive collector’s item today; cases usually sell for $50, while the goggles themselves often fetch more than $400.   
Tommy Milton in 1923 wore Luxor goggles with clear (white) flat lenses

Ralph DePalma in 1923 wore Luxor goggles with clear (white) flat lenses

Peter DePaolo in 1926 seated in the Marmon Wasp
wore Luxor goggles with curved lenses that appear tinted

In the world of automobile racing, Meyrowitz boasted a powerful line-up of customers which included the first two-time Indianapolis 500-mile race winner Tommy Milton, the 1924 ‘500’ co-winner LL ‘Slim’ Corum, the 1915 ‘500 winner Ralph DePalma and his nephew Peter DePaolo, who signed a photograph to Emil after this 1925 Indianapolis victory which read in part “Luxor goggles have been with me in all my victories” which was reproduced in advertisements.
Harry Hartz in 1923 wore Luxor goggles with white flat lenses
According to other print advertisements other noted racers such as Harry Hartz, the 1926 AAA (American Automobile Association) national champion, the 1920 AAA national champion Louis Chevrolet, and Cliff Durant also wore Luxor goggles in competition.  

There were of course competitors for Luxor Goggles such as General Optical Co. Inc.’s “Gogglette #3” which were used by drivers that included  the legendary barnstormer Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield, the inaugural  Indianapolis 500’ winning relief driver Cyrus Patschke, 1916 Indianapolis ‘500’ winner Dario Resta and the 1919 Liberty ‘500’ winner Howard Wilcox.  EB Meyrowitz advertising warned discerning customers to make sure their goggles “have the new red rubber cushions bearing the word Luxor.”

Eventually center-hinged “tank style” goggles which had Triplex laminated flat clear glass and provided a wider field of vision grew in popularity and eventually replaced Luxor goggles. Company founder Emil Meyrowitz passed away at age 85 in 1937 after a two-month illness and the control of EB Meyrowitz Incorporated and its subsidiaries passed to his two sons, Ernest DuPont and Russell Alexander. Paul the youngest of the three original Meyrowitz brothers retired from the firm in 1943 and passed away at age 82 in 1946 in his apartment in New York’s swank Hotel Seymour.

Emil’s son eldest son Ernest also passed away in 1946 at the age of 61 in New Jersey while his brother, Russell born in 1890, died in 1965 in New Rochelle New York. Although no longer owned by family members, the EB Meyrowitz brand still exists; although the three locations in New York City, Paris and London are each owned by separate owners, they all sell a line of custom hand-made eyeglasses and frames. You can visit the three EB Meyrowitz stores websites by clicking the following links

All the black and white driver photographs with Luxor goggles appear courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies


Thursday, March 2, 2017

The 1935 Pirrung Special
On display at the Museum of Speed of Wilsonville Oregon was the 1935 ‘Pirrung Special’ a front-wheel drive machine powered by one of the earliest 220-cubic inch inline four-cylinder Offenhauser racing engines. The car was designed by Wilbur Shaw and Offenhauser associate Leo Goossen a master draftsman and engineer. The machine was built during late 1934 in the Los Angeles area by master metal craftsman Myron Stevens and longtime Shaw associate and veteran ‘500’ chief mechanic, Roscoe E. Dunning.

The ‘Pirrung Special’ debuted at Indianapolis in 1935, as shown was driven by Shaw with Dunning as crew chief and former driver Stevens as his riding mechanic. This was perhaps a unique circumstance in Indianapolis ‘500’ history as a car builder Stevens competed on course against no less than six other cars which he had built.  Shaw and Stevens finished in second place, just 40 seconds behind winner "Kelly" Petillo for the the first Offenhauser-powered one-two finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

The owner of the light blue #14 ‘Pirrung Special’ was young sportsman Gilbert “Gil” PIrrung, of Clayton Missouri a 1934 graduate of Yale with a Bachelor of Science degree. Gil heir to the Gaylord Container fortune was accomplished squash player and golfer.  Pirrung was born on July 12 1911 near Columbus Ohio, and after his father died when Gil was just a year old, his mother married Robert Gaylord. Mr. Gaylord was the multi-millionaire president of the Gaylord Container Company of Saint Louis Missouri the innovator of the corrugated fiberboard pallet mounted “bulk box.”

The racing press understandably had a field day with such a young man as a race car owner and newspaper articles featured a posed photo of Gil “tuning” his car before the 1935 race. In addition to the second place finisher, Gil Pirrung owned a second car in the 1935 ‘500,’ a conventional rear-drive Miller-powered Miller ‘122’ chassis and bodywork modified by former Duesenberg employee Herman Rigling to comply with the two-man rules.

The #8 rear-drive Yale Blue “Pirrung Special” finished ninth in 1935,  driven by George ‘Doc’ McKenzie with riding mechanic Billy Devore, the son of race driver Earl Devore, would later participate as a driver in the ‘500’ seven times beginning in 1937.

After achieving such success during their rookie year at Indianapolis in 1935, the Pirrung team struggled during May 1936. 

Our featured car carried number #21 and started the race in the middle of the front row for the 1936 Indianapolis 500-mile race driven West Coast ‘big car’ graduate Elbert ‘Babe’ Stapp and his riding mechanic, Indianapolis native John Apple.

On May 15, the day before Stapp qualified the Pirrung front-drive car for the middle of the front row, teammate Tony Gullotta destroyed the second rear-drive Pirrung entry in a practice crash past the exit of turn four which injured Tony and his long-time riding mechanic Carl Riscigno “painfully but not seriously” according to the Indianapolis Star 

Pirrung, a vice-president at Gaylord Container, then purchased a similar replacement car from Michael de Baets but Gullotta was unable to find the necessary speed in the replacement entry to qualify for the 33-car starting field.

During the running 1936 Indianapolis ‘500,’  Stapp and Apple led twice for a total of 35 laps before the Offenhauser engine in the 'Pirrung Special'  broke a crankshaft while the pair were leading on lap 89, placed 24th in the final standings and won $1,585.

The front-wheel drive car and the rest of the Pirrung racing operation which also included a DOHC (double overhead camshaft) Frontenac powered ‘big car’  was later purchased by another heir, the notorious Joel Thorne. Thorne had the Shaw & Goossen designed front wheel drive machine’s body revised to a single cockpit design and he personally drove the car as the 'Thorne Engineering Special' to a ninth place finish in the 1938 Indianapolis 500.

In 1939, midget standout and ‘500’ rookie Mel Hansen was racing in the top ten positions behind the wheel of the former ‘Pirrung Special’ until he hit the pit wall on lap 113 which the author believes was its last race appearance. It was owned during the nineteen seventies and eighties by 1957 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the year Don Edmunds who sold the car around 1995.   

Gil Pirrung remained as a vice-president and board member at Gaylord Container through 1956 except for the period of time that he served in World War 2 as a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel with an engineering battalion and earned the Silver Star. During 1956, Pirrung retired from Gaylord and purchased Aragaon Farm in Bainbridge Georgia where he lived until his passing March 1986.  

The “Pirrung Special”  was driven in pre-race activities before the 2016 100th running of the Indianapolis 500-mile race by 1992 ‘500’ rookie of the year and 7-time 500-mile race starter Lyn St. James.
Photos by the author