110 years ago today, Ford Motor Company attempted a world record. Frank Kulick, acknowledged as Ford's 5th employee, and renowned race car driver, attempted to officially break the one mile circular track world record. Henry Ford was present, and Kulick was attempting to set a coveted speed record at the Michigan Fairgrounds track. Kulick driving a Ford Model K broke the world 24 hour record.
Henry Ford began work on the Ford six cylinder racer in 1903 at the request of Barney Oldfield, who at the time was winning races with Ford's creation, 999. Ford said he was designing a racer to match the European rivals for Oldfield. Barney soon left Ford to drive Winton's, but Henry Ford had begun his infatuation with the six cylinder racer.
By late 1904 Henry Ford had finished his creation, a 6 in bore by 6 in stroke six cylinder racer. The racer made a few records, however did not achieve a world record as did predecessor 999.
Meanwhile, Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company flourished, and in 1907, Ford Motor Company became the largest manufacturer of motor cars in the world.
In 1907, Henry Ford redesigned the six cylinder racer. Changes included more horsepower, and a unique front suspension system with a "wishbone" that attached to the crankcase of the car, much like the future Model T.
The story picks up with the world record attempt on the one mile flat dirt track. Since this wasn't the 'internet age," world record times were delayed and somewhat confusing. Still, this was an important record, and coveted by many concerns.
I note that fact that Mr.Ford broke his alleged oath not to build any more racers.And the fact that Frank Kulick drove them.
Jim, yes, broke it several times. This is one of those "histories" where a good story begins to take over and becomes accepted as fact.
The record Ford and Kulick were attempting to break was in the 52 second range. It's a little unclear because several race car builders were attempting to break the record, and some of the tracks used weren't actual one mile circles. The record would eventually be set on a one mile banked curve tract in late October. Meanwhile, this is where the record stood two weeks after the wreck in late October 1907:
Fortunately, the photos shown in the Detroit News of Kulick on the six cylinder racer and remains of the racer following the wreck still exist:
Photos courtesy to THF, all rights apply.
Just a week earlier, Kulick drove the racer to a sanctioned time that Ford thought set a new world record. However, the record had been lowered to 51 3/5th seconds as noted a few articles earlier:
As Jim mentioned earlier, Henry Ford would change his mind regarding making racers and allowing Frank Kulick race again. That doesn't surprise, because a month prior to this wreck, Kulick had an almost identical wreck, except he walked away from the crash. At the time Henry Ford said he was through with racing:
As a result of these wrecks, Ford called for cubic inch motor limit in racing.
This will be important for this story later, and for the future of the over 1,000 cubic inch Ford six cylinder racer.
Thank you Rob.
I thank you,too,Rob.The early era of automotive history has always fascinated me.
And at this point in Ford Motor Company history,Henry Ford was still a progressive leader.Which makes it all the more interesting.
Thank you guys. It's obviously my passion and pleasure...
Another distinction the six-cylinder racer owns, it's probably the last racer Henry Ford drove at a near record pace. During the September Ford Branch Manager gathering, Ford demonstrated the racer for them at the Highland track. The world track record was in the low 50's, and Henry Ford is timed at 55 seconds.
I also like the six cylinder story because it demonstrates to me that Henry Ford didn't "hate" the six cylinder motor. He began designing the six cylinder racer in late 1903. Even after setting the world mile record with 999 in early 1904, he continued developing the six cylinder racer. As we'll see later, the six cylinder racer continued to be in Ford's thoughts well into 1909:
Thank you Rob for posting. This is very interesting.
Thanks Richard. Many stories sprang from this incident, and continue to be spread with many new versions of Ford history. One "myth" is the account in some Ford histories that the racer was buried on the spot at Henry Ford's instruction. Ford did say in one news account that he wished the racer would be buried on the spot.
By 1911, as written in this account, the statement had evolved into "fact."
Most historical accounts end the six cylinder story here. Most comment that Henry Ford was dissatisfied with the racer, possibly helping foster the notion that Henry Ford disliked the six cylinder motor.
If anyone is reading along, let's look into "the rest of the story....."
Just as with the first serious Kulick/6 cyl accident, Henry Ford wasn't necessarily finished with his racer. Less than a month after the October 18th accident, Henry Ford is reported to be considering another racing venture:
Henry Ford appears poised to have the racer sent to the Brooklands in England, a cement well banked 3 mile track, to demonstrate the speed he believes his racer is capable of on a safe track.
IN early 1908 story that the racer will be sent to England continues, making this Sydney Australia newspaper:
However, the racer didn't return to the track, and for all anyone knew, was no more. And what did Henry Ford think of the racer, compared with his other "speed machines." This June 15, 1908 Ford Times article may give some insight into his opinion of the 6 cylinder racer, and the 24 hour record breaking Model K for that matter, as four of his racers are featured in the article. Interestingly, his first, Sweepstakes, isn't mentioned:
And this May 1, 1908 front page of the Ford Times, the second issue of the publications, shows Frank Kulick, seated on the racer, along with an explanation of why Ford left racing:
This should be the end of the six cylinder story. Every serious Ford historian over the next one-hundred and ten years will write that Ford Motor Company didn't enter a car in a race again until 1910, with the Ford Special.
to be continued.....
It seems Henry Ford and Frank Kulick weren't through with the six cylinder racer. These articles appeared in the spring, with Frank Kulick saying he had been to Savannah GA to look over the Vanderbilt Cup course. Ford had shown intense interest in the 1907 cup, however the race wasn't held.
While an appearance by Ford and Kulick didn't materialize, evidently Ford was again looking into the racing "game."
Then, in August, Ford did again participate in a race, with a six cylinder car. No historian cites this event, while reporting Ford Motor Company didn't compete in a circular track event again until 1910. Here, it's reported Frank Kulick has arrived with a six cylinder Ford to compete in the upcoming races:
And compete Kulick did. The Ford Six won it's event, putting a fitting end to Ford Motor Company racing the six cylinder Model K:
Not a bad way for the Ford Model K to bow out of official competition.
And again, this isn't the end of Henry Ford, Frank Kulick, and the six cylinder racer.......
Keep these articles coming,Rob.
I'm going to get these articles printed off.Then,this evening,I'm gonna crack open a pre prohibition style beer and enjoy reading them.
Having a kraft brew as we speak (type...)
Following Ford's victory in the Ocean to Ocean Race (NY to Seattle), Henry Ford and Frank Kulick were again promoting the Ford six cylinder racer. Henry Ford is reported to have agreed to enter the racer in the inaugural Indianapolis Speedway Races set for late August 1909. Henry Ford reports that the racer has sat unattended at Piquette since the wreck in 1907, and that Frank Kulick convinced him to rebuild and send the racer after records again:
This detailed account ran a few days later:
National automotive journals picked up the story that Ford was returning to racing with the six cylinder racer:
As of August 1909, Charles Miller, one of Ford's largest dealers reports on the progress of the racer being prepared for the Indy races:
However, the Ford six cylinder racer never races again. It exists today at the Henry Ford, proof that it was rebuilt, although it is not on display. Tomorrow, I'll give my opinion why the big racer didn't run, and finish with the legacy of the Ford six cylinder racer.
Why didn't the Ford Six racer make the 1909 inaugural Indianapolis Speedway races? While I haven't found a specific answer, I believe the A.A.A. race sanction rules may hold the answer. Henry Ford had long been a proponent ot engine size limitations, and by the summer of 1909, the A.A.A. Issued standards, that the Indy Speedway subscribed to for the event sanction:
Maybe the 1,000 plus cubic inch racer was simply ineligible?
Meanwhile, as of 1914, the legend of the big six cylinder racer was still evident. While no world records were set, the racer did set track records in New Jersey and Michigan. This Motor Age magazine included the Ford racer among twenty most influential racers of all time in their racer article. Appropriately, Barney Oldfield and Henry Ford's 999 were the featured racer and driver:
Further into the several page article, Henry Ford's six cylinder racer is included among the all time greats:
I’m still stuck on:
“The six cylinder racer is a wonder’” says Manager Hay.
“It has no differential, no re-verse, and no intermediate speeds.
To get it going it is necessary to shove it, but once under way it is a cyclone.
It’s a small car, not much larger than a Ford runabout, but it is almost all engine
and with horse-power to burn up the ground.”
I've much catching up to do.
Rob, thank you for finding/releasing these bits. :-)