It is difficult for me to wrap my head around what people at the turn of the 20th century made of the new, noisy horseless carriages. The automobile was such a leap foward from the horse and buggy that it almost defied belief. Chuffing carts of all types, scaring horses and frightening those who had never seen such a contraption in all their life must’ve been a sight indeed, but it’s the big machines that truly make me wonder what the first thought of each individual must’ve been when they saw it. Think of the “Beast of Turin” Fiat, for example: A 1.7L four cylinder making about 300 horsepower and racing around at 140 miles per hour sounds like something from today, but back then it was 1,726 cubic inches (read: over 28 liters) and when it was running, it was belching fire and pounding like a bomb each time the spark lit the fuel. I’d imagine that you could’ve easily convinced anyone standing around in 1910 that you had found the Devil and had made a deal to harness hellfire for your own personal transportation.
If Italy had Fiat, France had Mors. Émile Mors had immediately jumped into automobile racing in 1897, believing that racing had technical and promotional benefits. He certainly wasn’t wrong, as history has proven, but Mors had some mis-steps that didn’t help his case. Even the name itself was problematic…about this time there was plenty of opposition to the automobile at all, and though it was named after himself, Émile found that members of the British Parliament thought that “mors”, which in Latin means death, was a roundabout way of giving the driver permission to mow down anyone in their path. It didn’t help that Mors advertising used “Mors ianua vitae” (Death is the gateway to life) as a tagline.
In the early days of the automobile, these absolute beasts of cars were the kings. Cubic inches like a drag racer, chain drives, tub cockpits with exactly zero nods to safety of any kind, a transmission that required a mechanical degree to get right and all of the quirks and random needs to maintain operation while ripping down a dirt path that worked as a road wouldn’t go far. Most of the monsters didn’t make it past the second World War, when an old racing car was better suited to be scrapped and used for the war effort. What few beasts are left need to be kept whole…because few today would believe that something like this was made at the beginning stage of the automobile.