Peerless Motor Car Club
MAN HAS ALWAYS RACED WHATEVER HE COULD GET HIS HANDS ON. SOMEONE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE THE FASTEST. AS SOON AS THE HORSELESS CARRIAGE CAME ON THE SCENE, MEN STARTED RACING THEM. MANY OF THE PIONEERS OF THE AUTOMOBILE
WERE MORE INTERESTED IN RACING THAN IN PRODUCING A CAR FOR EVERY DAY USE. THE FIRST AUTOMOBILES WERE EXPENSIVE AND ONLY THE WEALTHY COULD AFFORD THEM. THEY WERE THE SAME PEOPLE THAT LIKED RACING...
The first 2-cylinder Peerless was introduced by the factory at the
Brighton Beach races and did quite well. Racing was good publicity for the auto companies and could prove the durability of their machines. Louis Mooers was hired in August 1902, and promptly built a 4-cylinder 40-HP Peerless racer. "Superintendent Mooers of the Peerless Mfg. Co., who paid a fine of $25 for scorching, recently was again reported a day ago as breaking the speed ordinance in Cleveland".
Two 40-HP racers were built and competed in the eliminating trials,
April 1903, for the Gordon Bennett Race to be held in Ireland. Peerless won and was one of the manufacturers from the U.S. represented at the race. NOTE: There was an article listing the Peerless racer as an 80-HP that raced in Ireland. However, all the information that I have shows this to be a 4-cylinder 40-HP racer. There was an 80HP race car built in 1904, that had 2 40-HP engines tied together. It wasn't very successful. The car was a frame: 4 wheels, 2 seats, square hood covering the engine, a tube, radiatior in front & exhaust ports outside of the hood. It was painted green and belched fire like a dragon... hence the name, GREEN DRAGON. Peerless didn't do very well. Mooers killed the engine at the start and had several mishaps during the race. The Green Dragon didn't finish the race. He said they were out~classed by the
German & French cars and the American tires weren't designed for
road racing. On a sharp curve the tire would roll off the rim.
Louis brought the Green dragon back to Cleveland and made several changes to it. He built a new radiator that fit between the frame horns. He installed an aerodynamic aluminum hood. He changed the exhaust system and installed disc wheels with different tires. Louis realized that he was out~classed as a driver also and decided to hire a professional. Ridgeway & Tracy drove for Peerless but it was Barney Oldfield that Louis really wanted as his driver. Barney Oldfield was a National Champion bicycle racer. Tom Cooper was Barney's best friend and fellow bike racer. In 1900, Tom purchased an English gas powered tandem bike, he wanted Barney and himself to try and break a few speed records. They brought the bike to the Grosse Point Michigan track for an exhibition run. They were completely over shadowed by Henry Ford, who defeated Alexander Winton that afternoon with his 26HP race car. Barney
and Tom broke up and Barney took the tandem and put the engine in a single bike. He made a new carburetor and exhaust system and went on to set new speed records. Meanwhile, Tom Cooper had entered into a partnership with Henry Ford to build a pair of race cars. They were well into the project when they realized that they needed another mechanic. Barney was contacted and joined the team. They took the cars to the Grosse Point track for a test run. One car wouldn't start and the other would start but then die. Back to the garage. On the second attempt the same thing happened. Henry was discouraged and wanted out. He was about to manufacture an automobile for the general pulic and didn't want to
start out with a failed race car with his name on it. He sold both car's
to Tom Cooper for $800.00 and walked away.
Barney said that he didn't think they were getting enough gas to the
carburetors. He re-made the gas tank and gas lines. The car fired right off and ran well. They took the car to Dayton and ran an exhibition race, the car was very fast! The one mechanic said "she goes like the old 999", (the New York Central record breaking steam locomotive), and from then on "999" is what they called her. The following week Winton was taking on all comers with his Bullet and Cooper wanted to race him. He and Barney drove the 999 but Barney turned the fastest lap so he was the driver. He beat Winton and set a new track record. At once, Barney Oldfield became the most popular name in racing. Henry Ford went directly to the newspapers to claim credit for designing the race car and it became known as the Ford "999". Barney went on to set many records and won many races. He was the first person to go a mile a minute. In August 1903, Winton hired Barney to drive his new Bullet race car. In one accident Barney chipped several teeth. After that, he decided he would drive with a cigar in his mouth to act as a cushion between his teeth. He set new records with Winton and was earning lots of money. However, he was living a lavish life style and spent more than he earned. He started drinking and getting into bar room brawls, Winton didn't want a scandal so he didn't re~new his contract. On August 1, 1904, Barney Oldfield went to work for
Barney achieved immediate success with the Dragon, scoring a daredevil victory over Herb Lytles big 8 cylinder Pope Tornado that August in Buffalo, New York. He then appeared at Grosse Point track to vanquish 11 rivals in a winning exhibition that saw him lap the entire field including two Winton Bullets that finished 2nd and 3rd. On August 28 was the Louisiana Purchase Trophy race at St. Louis (a special event of theWorlds Fair). Barney had a green driving suit and a green helmut to match the Green Dragon. He lined up next to A.C. Webbs big Pope Toledo for the main event. On the straight away, Webb pulled ahead with the Dragon right behind him as they thundered into the 2nd turn. At that moment, a walnut sized rock kicked up by Webbs churning wheels, struck Barney in the face smashing his goggles. Blinded by the dust, he plunged through the fence, mowing down seven posts and splintering 100ft. of rail. His twisted machine came to a halt against a massive oak. Barney
was catapulted from the wreckage and received a deep head wound, a punctured lung, a shattered ankle and a crushed chest. Two spectator were killed and twelve injured. The Green Dragon was totaled and what was left was taken by the crowd as souvenirs.
Peerless built another race car, The Blue Streak. This was a stripped
down production model. Tracy, Ridgeway and Oldfield, drove the Blue Streak in other races. But it was the Green Dragon that broke the records. Green Dragon #2, was built with a more powerful 60HP engine and was ready to race on October 15, 1904. Barney healed and he beat the new Bullet in a match race. Later that month at Brighton Beach, he would race against the European champions for the World Championship. Barney and the new Green Dragon won.
1905 wasn't the best year for the Green Dragon. It was still winning
but a rear wheel collapsed in Connecticut, the car spun into the ocean at Ormand Beach, a blow out pitched him through a fence in Chicago and on August 9th in Detroit, the Dragon violently hooked wheels with the Reo Red Bird and crashed. That was the end of the Green Dragon #2 for a while. Barney took a job with the Green Dragon in a Broadway play called the "Vanderbuilt Cup". Barney at the wheel of the Green Dragon and Tom Cooper in the Peerless Blue on a tread mill with engines roaring and the scenery flying by, recreating a race on the stage. The play lasted until late spring 1906, and on May 1, Barney raced again at Lexington, Kentucky winning the 50 mile event. Barney still had a contract with Peerless and raced in several more events. The car was no match for the
newer race cars so Green Dragon #3 was built with a 90HP motor. Barney raced until his contract with Peerless expired in August. Peerless dropped out of racing and sold the Green Dragon #3 and the Blue Streak to Barney. He outfitted a railroad car, hired a promoter and went barn storming throughout the U.S., putting on exhibitions at country fair grounds. In April 1908, Barney sold both Peerless race cars.
Whatever happened to them? Wouldn't it be nice to open up an old barn or garage door and there sits the Green Dragon? I guess that's what keeps us opening up those old doors.
Credits: "Barney Oldfield" By William Nolen, The Automobile, The Motor World, Peerless Ads.
This great very early photo shows Barney Oldfield and
possibly his wife Beatrice posing in what is believed to have been his
first Peerless racing car. Barney started driving for Peerless in 1903
and the first event that we were able to find him recorded as driving
one, was a race meet in September at Grosse Point, MI., where he won a 5 mile race and finished second in a 15 mile race.
This car that Oldfield is posing in, appears to be very similar to
the Peerless that Charles Wridgeway is seen in during 1903 at the New York, Empire City track in just below. The Wridgeway car is stripped of its hood at that meet, but appears to have the very same shape on the wooden dash board, along with sharing many of the other details as the car Oldfield is in. There is a possibility that this is a promotional photo taken, when Oldfield started driving the Green Dragons for Peerless late in 1903. Oldfield was also driving for both Winton ( he quit on April 12) and Ford earlier in 1903.
The first photo comes from Mike Schultz who found it over forty years ago with other Peerless and White steamer photos, one
of which had a connection to Atlantic City, NJ. The second photo is from the Peter Helck Collection, and Racemaker Press.