Early automotive rallies often were a test of endurance. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Expert to talk about 1903 auto endurance runs

TREMONT — Robert Selkowitz, director and project coordinator at Historic Automobile Endurance Runs, will present the lecture “From Devil Wagons to Mud Larks: The Great Catskills Automobile Endurance Run of 1903” at the Seal Cove Auto Museum on Friday, Sept. 2, from 6-8 p.m.

A wine-and-cheese reception will precede the presentation. The event is free and open to the public.

In 1903, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers sponsored an 800-mile endurance run from Weehawken, N.J., to Pittsburgh, Pa., to demonstrate the utility and reliability of the participating vehicles, many of which were still under development. Thirty-four cars carrying 125 drivers and passengers faced challenges such as historic flooding and rains along the way. Of the 34 cars that began the race, 24 eventually finished after more than a week on the road. Local newspapers followed the endurance run with detailed reports.

Edith Riker, the sole woman participating, was frequently remarked on by the media that closely followed the run. In her interview with “The Automobile,” she said, “O, isn’t this glorious? Afraid? No, why should I be? The car is true and tried and Mr. Riker is driving. Mr. Riker does love to drive fast, and I don’t care … . It is glorious, I think, to fly through the country night or day at railroad speed over all sorts of roads.”

Endurance races were held for cars across the country during this period. The first automobiles were loud and smelly and often broke down, making some question why anyone would bother to buy one. It was argued that the horse was far superior and more reliable. These endurance races were held to prove otherwise.

Drivers were challenged to pilot their automobiles for hundreds of miles, over rough terrain, to prove their reliability. As these races were closely reported upon by the media, eventually car manufacturers tried to use the races to market their brands. With high dropout rates, crossing the finish line was an accomplishment, and some winners went on to receive sponsorships from automobile companies. As automobiles became more reliable and popular, the endurance races were no longer necessary. Today, antique car enthusiasts are bringing back the tradition, testing the endurance of these first automobiles once more.

The mission of the Seal Cove Auto Museum is to tell the story of innovation and ingenuity in New England and America through the early development of the automobile. The museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from May 1 to Oct. 31. Contact the museum at 244-9242 or [email protected], or visit www.sealcoveautomuseum.org.


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