Since its inception in 1983, the Great Race has visited forty-six of the forty-eight continental states in the United States plus locations in Canada and Mexico. For 2021 (a reschedule of the 2020 festivities), the route meanders from San Antonio, Texas, to Greenville, South Carolina.
This year the entirety of Day 4, June 22, was spent in Missouri. The group started the morning in Joplin, in the southwest part of the state near the Oklahoma state line, and spent the morning traversing portions of Old US 66. Lunch was in Rolla (population 20,000 and pronounced Rah-luh) in the Ozark foothills with the second half of the day finishing on the east side of the state in my birthplace of Cape Girardeau. As Rolla is only a little over an hour south of where I live, it seemed like a good time to skip a day from work and go look at some vintage cars.
I knew it would be a good day when I parked behind this non-participant Mercedes. If memory serves, it was a 220.
According to the race’s website, the cars range from two 1916 Hudsons to a pair of 1974 models – a Peterbilt 359 and a Plymouth Fury – with nearly everything in between. This is one of the two 1916 Hudsons, the car that won in 2019 plus two prior years. It’s a beast and hails from New York State.
This year all cars must be from model year 1974 or earlier.
As this race is a time/speed/distance competition, efforts have been made to level the playing field given the vast difference in abilities between the Hudsons and the Fury, seen here. Thus a multiplier is incorporated into the score to accommodate for the older model year participants. The routes driven are also typically lower speed routes to allow for the more modest capabilities of the older cars. Cruising speed is 50 miles per hour.
All cars must have the factory speedometer and odometer covered. The only gauges allowed are these certified clocks and speedometers, as seen here in the 1972 AMC Javelin from the lead photo. The routes are not conveyed until the day of the race; even then, the directions are vague, giving travel times and not always providing road names. In some of the information I found, one participant called the directions “cryptic”.
This Javelin is indeed the real thing, having been purchased new by the Alabama State Police. The car is equipped with an AMC 401 V8. Seeing this against the Nash illustrates why the scoring contains a multiplier.
Some limited deviations from stock are acceptable, for instance four wheel brakes, radial tires, and fuel tanks large enough to ensure 200 mile trips. Engine transplants are also not forbidden, however scoring may reflect the change. For instance, if a participant puts a 1957 vintage Chevrolet 283 into a 1955 Chevrolet, the car is scored as being a 1957 model.
From what was stated in a video posted on YouTube after the race began, this 1948 Oldsmobile falls into this category as it reportedly has a 1949 Olds V8. Hailing from New Braunfels, Texas, this Olds was scored as a 1949 model due to its engine.
Hot rods and other deviations are reviewed on an individual basis and are ultimately allowed providing they coincide with the spirit of the event. Obviously the ones who participated were viewed favorably. This is the previously mentioned 1974 Peterbilt; it is arguably the most deviated from stock of anything present that day. It was a sight to behold.
Perhaps due to favorable logistics, there were a number of participants from Missouri. This 1937 Lagonda LG6 calls St. Charles home and it was the first car to arrive at the lunch festivities. Quick research found this is one of only 85 produced from 1937 to 1940.
This 1950 Lincoln came from Cape Girardeau. The announcer at this venue said several participants were jealous as this driver and navigator were able to sleep in their own beds during the middle of the competition as the entourage was staying in Cape that night.
I drove to these festivities from Jefferson City. This 1934 Ford produce truck did also, but he had done so by way of the starting point of San Antonio.
There were a variety of Model A Fords. A thought provoking statement by the announcer was how a Model A is a nearly ideal car for a rally such as the Great Race. It is reliable, easy to work on, parts are plentiful, and its top speed isn’t too far off from the 50 mph cruising speed of many rallies. This 1929 example had traveled from Ohio.
The number of prewar cars was amazing. Seeing what is otherwise in a museum being used as intended is exhilarating. Perhaps most exhilarating of the prewar field was this 1918 American LaFrance speedster. With absolutely no exhaust system, it has the most ferocious sounding four-cylinder engine I’ve ever heard.
Of course I’ve never heard a 9.5 liter four banger before hearing this one. Some online information I found about this car says it did start life as a fire fighting machine, was converted into a speedster in the 1950s, and its chain drive is due to its estimated 800 ft-lbs of torque. How accurate the torque rating is I do not know, but I do believe the statement of it having 90 horsepower.
If the Hudson was a beast, this is a monster.
The American LaFrance almost overshadowed the other 1916 Hudson in attendance. But not quite. According to someone I spoke with who is familiar with the competitors, both Hudsons have the same drivetrain.
Following the second Hudson was this 1917 Peerless, a car which has been in every Great Race since 1997. This and the Hudson were almost in a convoy with the American LaFrance. The sounds of the engines, the smell of the exhaust, and the sheer sight of such old iron coming down the street was almost sensory overload. Words really cannot describe it adequately.
Upon getting a closer look at these three cars, I realized these participants are some mighty adventurous people.
Another adventurous driving team was composed of the gentlemen from New York who were running this Dodge Power Wagon. Some of the terrain along the journey is a little rough; this old Dodge would certainly be up for such surfaces.
While a sizable number of the entrants were in prewar cars, not everything was prewar. For instance…
There were family cars, such as this 1967 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser from Ohio.
Plus there were some former rental cars such as this 1966 Mustang GT-350H. Yes, it is indeed the real thing. The owner has verified this car started life on the Hertz lot at LaGuardia airport. After its tenure there it was used as a drag racer and hill climber; now it blasts across the United States. This Mustang hasn’t yet retired as it was officially a rookie in the Great Race. However, it is has moved to a much better climate in Florida.
There were also sleeper cars, such as this 1969 Ford Galaxie. It has a 429 V8 backed up with a four-speed manual.
No type of road rally would be complete without an AMC, this being a 1965 Rambler Ambassador from Indiana. For some indescribable reason this was one of my favorites of the day.
Speaking of Indiana, we cannot neglect the Studebaker drivers. Here’s a 1964 Daytona from Santa Clarita, California.
Also representing South Bend was this 1956 Sky Hawk from Abilene, Texas.
The program I purchased lists drivers and navigators along with their town of residence. Looking at the participants, it doesn’t take long to realize many of the teams are likely composed of a husband/wife combination or two good friends. A few others are father/son duos or a father/daughter team in a couple of cases. There were even two sisters in a 1932 Ford – they were reported as both being in their teens and they ultimately won Day 4, having the best overall time.
However, there is one combination we haven’t considered – a mother/son.
This 1963 Falcon convertible was serving a mother/son combination from Florida.
I neither know nor care if this color combination is original or not. All I will say is this makes for perhaps the best looking Falcon I’ve ever seen. Oh, yeah, it’s a convertible, also. I was so enamored with the color it took a while to notice.
The Great Race also visited Rolla in 2015. That year several teams came from Japan, bringing their cars with them. As the announcer stated, none of the Japanese teams spoke English; nobody with the race spoke Japanese, however they had a lot of fun together despite the language barrier.
This year there were no teams from outside North America. However, that doesn’t mean all the cars were American as evidenced earlier with the Lagonda. So here are a few more immigrants.
This Saab has relocated to McLean, Virginia.
It seems any type of road rally must contain at least one Volvo. This P1800 is fulfilling that contract requirement.
Oh wait. There was a second one, this one from Vermont.
Coming to us from England is this 1961 Metropolitan. It has moved to Tennessee, which seems to be a reasonably popular destination these days.
The race started off with 150 cars. The Texas heat, followed by rain in Oklahoma, wreaked havoc on many participants as the census was down to around 105 or so from what was reported.
My original plan had been to see these cars in Rolla and mosey my way to Cape Girardeau so I could see the cars when they were displayed near the Mississippi River. As my parents live about two miles from where these cars were to be staged, lodging would have been a zero cost affair. However, I couldn’t make it and told them about the event. They went and loved it. It was made all the better as one of the routes to the display area goes right down the street in front of their house. They were able to see the American LaFrance from their living room before seeing it again downtown.
Also seen from their living room was this 1962 Chevrolet Nova from Michigan. My mother purchased a lower trim Chevy II in 1967 or 1968. She enjoyed seeing this.
The ride of another team also hit home for them. Coming from Bend, Oregon, this 1965 Ford Fairlane is a sister to the one my father purchased new. When I told my mother about the Nova and Fairlane, she was rather incredulous about both being present as this pairing sat in their driveway when they were first married.
This year’s race had a higher than normal number of rookies. That’s a good thing. There was also a class for teams having participants under the age of 21. That is a great thing, as it stimulates the love of old automobiles in the younger generation.
I took pictures of more cars than what can be shown here. As you can tell the street bordered between sun and shade while the parking lot simply had too many people, thus not all my pictures are ready for primetime. So I shall close with a few more cars that are worthy of inclusion, despite not finding a good place for them elsewhere.
Packards should never be overlooked. This is a 1940 120 from Michigan.
This 1936 120-B is from Penn Valley, California.
Prewar GM cars are highly unusual sightings. For instance…
When was the last time you saw a 1940 Cadillac convertible? This Caddy lives in Alabama.
People are correct in stating how quiet electric vehicles are. But they’ve likely never heard this 1936 Buick run, either. And you won’t likely hear it run as it is so amazingly quiet. It almost glided down the street.
Nearly as quiet was this 1939 Buick four-door convertible. Those straight-eights are amazing engines.
A huge round of applause goes to the team in this 1953 Pontiac Chieftain. Built specifically for this event, this Pontiac was piloted by a team who were in the category for having navigators under the age of 21. Drivers have to be over 21, but seeing each of their pictures indicates there likely isn’t a huge age gap among the two drivers and two navigators. All four are from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and all looked ecstatic in their program picture.
They are the future of this type of competition. I hope they did well and had fun doing it.
In pieces like this, it’s always nice to end on a note similar to how it began. So with that in mind…
Here’s a 1971 Javelin.
The route for 2022 has been announced and it will be covering the last two states in the lower 48 that has not seen the Great Race – Rhode Island and North Dakota. If you get the chance to view or participate in any such event, it certainly looks like a lot of fun that is mixed in with very hard work and serious competition.
What a great selection! Two Javelins in one event – and the second one is the fairly rare AMX variant – the only one that looks really right to me.
I can only imagine the thrill of seeing those gnarly pre-1920 cars. I did the math and that American LaFrance’s 9.5 liters rounds to 580 cubic inches. Some four, where each cylinder is good for 145 cubic inches all on its own.
The variety is incredible, and every one of them is interesting. Oh, that 69 Ford Galaxie is actually an XL, which was its own separate model for a few years. And the rare Stude Sky Hawk is the only hardtop hawk without the fins until the GT came along in 1962. The only thing missing was a certain 1963 Galaxie 500 sedan. 🙂
This event was oddly hectic. The cars had started one minute apart in the morning in the theory all would still be spaced one minute apart at lunch. However, they bunched up. In turn, each car had 40 minutes for lunch, potty breaks, and any repairs. So there were cars leaving before others arrived as I was there for two hours watching arrivals. Going to see one up close would have precluded the next surprise of the bunch.
I say all this in regard to the Galaxie. Your mentioning it being an XL reminded me it was stated it also had a mere 45,000 miles on the odometer.
Had other life events not cropped up there may have been a Galaxie along the path they took from Rolla to Cape G.
Theres an American La France speedster that regularly turns up at Art Deco weekends in Napier it still shows fire dept livery on some of the body work quite a weapon
WHOA! Great photos! Thanks.
A very eclectic collection of vehicles.
How accurate the torque rating is I do not know, but I do believe the statement of it having 90 horsepower.
FWIW, that estimated torque rating of 800 ft.lbs. undoubtedly is too high, as a naturally aspirated gas engine making significantly more than one ft.lb. per cubic inch is rather rare. And in this case, it would much more, given its 590 cubic inches.
But as R-R used to say, the torque is undoubtedly “sufficient”.
Thanks for mentioning the torque rating; I think I found that statement in the linked article.
Even if it’s only a mere 400 ft-lbs, for no more than that car is pulling, it would indeed be sufficient.
Also in the event, although I didn’t include any, were a record number of Corvettes.
Incidentally, the teenage girls who won Day 4 ultimately won the entire event.
On top of Paul’s point above, that 800 lbs-ft of torque estimate makes no sense if the engine only produces 90 hp. For this to be possible, the engine would have to make it’s peak torque at no more than 590 RPM. At that 590 RPM, the engine would produce about 90 hp. If it produced 800 lbs-ft at any RPM higher than that, it would produce more than 90 hp. Long story short, the numbers don’t make any sense.
First place goes to Art Moderne in the perfect proportions of that 1940 Cadillac, every phone, kettle, radio, heater or couch from then somehow melted invisibly into it: behold, an entire year on wheels.
Next, the slightly older European cousin Lagonda, barely less lovely but in a more reserved way, a bit more Homes Counties country house than streamlined NY penthouse.
Both a bit unimportant, however, because of that La France, after the noise of which no praise for any others could be heard anyway. Sure, it’s a ’50’s cobble from fire-engine bits, but that’s long enough ago to be history itself. And if the Caddy is a year, this thing is the entire early era of motor racing, and suitably, with each cylinder big enough to power Rolla for a week but sans front brakes, it is probably unable to stop before Peking, once fully wound up.
What a delight, Mr Shafer.
Thank you. That Cadillac was quite the contrast with the ’60 Cadillac convertible which was also in the race.
The drivers of the LaFrance were the only people wearing Tyvex suits. And ear protection. And goggles.
I didn’t inspect their teeth for any bugs caught from grinning so much.
What a great event with such a variety of interesting machinery. I’d love to spectate one of these days as well. It would be a dream to participate but likely one that is not likely to be fulfilled.
The race will end in Fargo, North Dakota next year. Still not close for you but definitely closer than it generally is!
I passed some of those guys on I-44 between Joplin and Springfield. Sadly, traffic was such that I didn’t get much of a chance to gawk.
Understandable. I followed a participating ’48 Plymouth (from California) out of Rolla and traffic on 44 was such I wasn’t about to attempt any pictures.
Thanks for sharing this post Jason. What a wonderful event. I have heard of the great race but never looked much into it before. It must have been really interesting to see all those old cars, especially the pre-war cars. One day I will have to partake in one of these old car rallies. I much prefer to drive an old car, than to park it at a car show.
The speedometer thing really had me intrigued. I was interested on how they worked. After reading more about the race, it seems it’s all about extreme precision. I learned that the cryptic driving instruction require a very precise speedometer, especially since you can’t use an odometer. So the precise speedometer with 1 mph increments can be used to figure out distances base on time driven at speed. Even a small speedometer error can cause significant time inaccuracies, which costs points. This article here explains things in detail:
Years ago, sometime between 2001 and 2005, I encountered the great race but had no idea what it was. I simply remembered the name but the basic concept is a terrific one.
If you are curious, the participant and automobile rules are quite complex and rather fascinating to read. I read the link; it’s fascinating information. The participants understandably mean business.
Super assortment!! The silver Javelin lured me in, but I had no idea there would be another black one! I love the Midwestern town feel of your pictures of this race. Very evocative of warm weather months. A signal of the return of things like this that we all live and missed. Nice one, Shafer.