Death Defying Combat

This is one of my favorite automotive paintings ever, by Peter Helck. I’ve tried to buy an original print, but struck out so far. It just captures the essence of the automotive beast, the Ur-Racer, unleashed in Death Defying Combat indeed. And how’s that for an early version of an overhead cam on that 900 cubic inch (15 L) four cylinder? A description of the (reality defying) rendering follows.

Strictly speaking, this event never occurred. It’s a depiction of a grudge race that could have taken place between two of the most notorious racers of the 1903- 1905 period.

The “Green Dragon” piloted by the famous Barney Oldfield is a 60 hp Peerless that held numerous records on the borrowed horse-racing dirt tracks of the time. The other nameless monster was hurriedly built by the Premier Company with the intention of challenging Europe’s finest racers in the Vanderbilt Cup Series, the precursor to Grand Prix racing, on open roads.

Somehow, the memo restricting Vanderbilt Cup contenders to a maximum weight of 1000 kg (2204 lbs) was never received, because the huge 900 CID engine pushed it well beyond that limit. In a desperate move, owner Carl Fisher had the chassis drilled out as much as possible, but to no avail. The Monster only raced once, in a five-mile handicap race, where it handily won. Mr. Fisher went on to build his own race track: Indianapolis. But the Monster never bellowed again.