Happy Saturday morning! A cool and calm day in Easton is much welcomed after a long, hot, humid week. Our thoughts today are with our members and friends affected by Hurricane Henri last week, and with those preparing for Hurricane Ida to make landfall in Louisiana sometime Sunday.
This week, my dear friend Lee Williams dropped in with a wonderful surprise. A few years ago he purchased, at a fundraising auction, an original photograph of the second Frederick Lothrop Ames in a Renault automobile. He is sitting at the wheel of the car, and the photo was taken at his home, Stone House Hill House, better known today as Stonehill College (his former home is Donahue Hall). The photo is a wonderful photo of Mr. Ames, known as Lothrop, but with all due respect to the Ames family, it is the car that steals the show.
The story begins with William K. Vanderbilt of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. As a young boy in the 1880’s, he visited France with a family friend, and rode in a three-wheeled French steam powered car. He was most amazed at the speed at which they were able to travel (Vanderbilt himself would break the land speed record - twice!). That love of speed led him into taking an active interest in auto racing, and when a Renault car won the first ever French Grand Prix style event in 1905, he contacted the company about building race cars so he could introduce the sport to the American market. In 1907 Renault delivered eleven custom built race cars at a total cost of $150,000. Vanderbilt had agreed to take all eleven cars and found owners for ten of them, keeping one car for himself. There was one difference in each car - the seating was customized to the size and needs of the prospective owners. Soon Vanderbilt began a race in Newport, Rhode Island, which later moved to Long Island and became the Vanderbilt Cup race. For many years it was the premier auto race in America.
One look at the photo quickly shows this was not a “normal” car for its time. Some thought of reducing drag is evident in the car’s aerodynamic design. Powered for a four-cylinder 7.5 liter engine that could develop up to 65 horsepower, and coupled with a four speed progressive transmission, the car had plenty of get-up-and-go, winning a number of early races. Semi-elliptical leaf springs and mechanical hub brakes rounded out the basic needs. The car was equipped with special removable wheel frames that helped to speed up pit stops. Another innovation was the mounting of the massive radiator near the center of the car, which improved its handling. I am not sure whether or not Lothrop owned this car at one time or if a friend visited with it. It is a rare photo of an important early race car. Of the eleven original cars built, only four are known to survive in America, and in 2020 one example was sold at auction for $3.3 million dollars. Check out this link https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/25719/lot/159/ for more information!
Stay safe, stay well, and until next week,
Curator: Frank Meninno