(Photo credit: DPL Digital Collection) – Last week we showed you the first of a few batches of photos we dug up featuring cars, people, and action at the famed Ormond Beach (Florida) speed trials that were a defining part of the human quest for speed in the 20th century. While Ormond’s reign as the supreme place to go fast in North America would be relatively short lived (it was largely supplanted by Bonneville after 1914) the time that it had was pretty glorious. Racing heroes from the world over came with the most exotic cars on the planet to hammer out records. While a few of the company who built these cars still exist, the vast majority have been washed away by the waves of history that continually sweep over the automotive industry.
It was a sport plied by brave men, often rich brave men and it sometimes ended in disaster. The lead photo has an explanation and you’ll see it int he photo captions below. Most of these cars make 1950s farming equipment look advanced yet many of them traveled well north of 100mph on wooden wheels, flimsy tires, and chain drives. Those chains could do a fearsome job on a man if they failed…and they failed.
Without further wait, let’s take a look at this freshest batch of 100+ year old photos from the annals of speed at Ormond Beach, Florida.
Scroll down to see the photos and the captions about what you are looking at!
Here’s William Wallace in his Fiat race car getting tuned up before a run in 1905. This thing looks like it has been well used judging by the soot, grease, and oil all over it.
Here’s a Fiat charging along the beach in the 1905 time frame. Yes there are two heads in that car. The driver and the riding mechanic. That had to have been the most terrifying seat in motorsports.
I know the year is 1908 but what I don’t know is the car make or anything else about it. Clearly stripped to the extreme, it is basically a rail dragster created decades before anyone got the idea. A seat, a motor, a couple of frame rails and the courage of the driver is all you have here.
Here’s a 1908 Cadillac racer. A far cry from the CTS-V of today but a racy looker for its day. Note the very thin spokes on the wheels and the lack of body work. That lack of a body meant race car back then.
Here’s a row of cars lined up to watch the race cars run in 1908. Pretty awesome to see all of the cars with their tops dropped in the nice Florida weather. Fixed roofs were a thing that didn’t exist yet in mass produced automobiles. It was Australia that figured that program out first.
1908 is the year and Fiat is the make of the car that is going so fast it is slightly distorted in this photo. With steering little more advanced than a horse drawn buggy those race officials were damned brave to be anywhere near that thing.
Here is a Darracq circa 1905. Note that in later years the company stripped all of the body work away, shrunk the wheelbase, and got the driver way down as well. Evolution in design to go faster. That’s what we love about this stuff. These were the earliest concepts and they only got better (with some notable exceptions) from here.
Here’s what “race control” looked like in about 1907. This was the timing and scoring stand.
Here’s James Breese circa 1904 sitting in the luxurious confines of his Mercedes car on the beach. The woman in the photo is in a really weird position. Not sure if she is in the car or next to it. Creepy!
Frank Croker in leather jacket looks on as his crew services his 1905 Simplex on the beach. This is a cool looking car with those really tall and thin wheels.
The mighty 1908 Darracq that hammered the sand with its thundering V8 engine. It looks like the sand it wet here. Note how the tires are sinking in some.
Here’s some work being performed on a 1905 Simplex on the beach. The big guy appears to be working on the rear sprocket or something on the end of the axle. The other two look on in an interested fashion.
This swoop looking piece was undoubtedly one of the more interesting cars of the 1905 speed campaign on the sand. It was built by Renault and M.G. Bernin was the driver.
Driver Ed Thomas is in his Mercedes preparing for a run in 1906. Note the size of the chain on the sprocket and what it could potentially do if it ever came loose and they sometimes did.
Another photo from 1905. This time we see a Mercedes racer being towed down the beach by another car (which also looks like a racer) before making a run. No sense in working the big engine for the menial task of simply getting to the start. Take heed drag racer guys, this has been going on for a while.
The guy in the wool cap is racer Frank Croker, the car is his Simplex and the year is 1905. The fellows in the bowler hats appear to be either race officials or well heeled spectators. Imagine if tech guys had to dress like this today!
This photo from 1908 shows people trying to free up a Cleveland Runabout car that crashed into the remains of a shipwreck. Seriously, how is that for bad luck. You are on a wide open beach and you crash your car into what’s left of a freaking shipwreck?!
In a foreshadowing of drag week some 100 years later, here a race car cruises by a passenger car on the beach. This looks like the “entry” road to the course itself. Note the curbs built up with sand over planks and the fact that they are perpendicular to the water. Not sure if that is smoke or steam coming from the racer but it looks wounded.
Yeah so the guy on the right? That’s William Vanderbilt Jr and apparently he is having a chat with a racing official. We’re guessing that the racing official may be whizzing down his leg a little. This was one of the most prominent family names in the country. They got what they wanted.