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1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car - Over 10,000 classic, collector and current cars and trucks at RemarkableCars.com

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car
AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $660,000

Est. 40bhp, 500 cu. in. inline four-cylinder engine, four-speed sliding gear transmission, full-floating rear axle, expanding and contracting brakes on rear wheels. Wheelbase: 124"

The Yellow Peril's saga is as much the provenance of a racing car as it is the life story of the man who gave it its name – its first owner, John Henry Greenway Albert. It is a story rife with fantastic, sometimes downright unbelievable events shaped, and even embellished, by a wealthy American eccentric. Four decades after his passing, several accounts exist, including an AACA article from 1976 and another by the late Beverly Rae Kimes' in Automobile Quarterly, published in 2001 (Vol. 41, No. 4), which itself enlisted the efforts of its current owners and other historians.

The year was 1911 and the Baltimore-born Greenway Albert was looking to go racing. He was born into privilege, the son of an established Maryland family with horse stables, an expansive country estate named Cedar Lawn, and distinguished ancestry that included military heroes and the upper crust of Baltimore society.

Upon finishing his schooling at the Virginia Military Academy, where his classmate was reportedly George S. Patton, Greenway either worked in civil engineering or banking, perhaps both. He had an interest in motor cars and his family's garage housed such notable American marques as Franklin, Marmon, Hudson and Cadillac. Kimes suggested his choice of a 1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat would have afforded him the bragging rights he so desired. Essentially a toned-down version of the Limited, the Autocrat was quite an impressive car, and a formidable performer thanks to its engine, one of the biggest four-cylinders in America at that time. In fact, it even fared well in the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup and at about $3,500, would have certainly been considered a status symbol.

With racing in mind, Greenway replaced the Autocrat's tourabout body with aluminum coachwork of his own design. Another particularly noteworthy feature was a rudimentary fuel injection system he developed with the family chauffeur and mechanic, Columbus Ridge. Worried it might explode, he tested it at the Cedar Lawn lake, where it promptly blew up!

Despite the inherent danger, Greenway installed this system on his Autocrat and set about competing at various East Coast events, from Delaware to D.C., supposedly never losing a race. He removed the car's fenders and headlights for competition and would replace them later, as he reinstated his Oldsmobile for sporting road use. Yet the race for which the man and his machine are most remembered, and questioned, occurred on September 6, 1915 – Labor Day. The first annual AAA event at Washington, D.C.'s Benning Race Track, this free-for-all race saw the relatively unknown, 28-year-old Greenway Albert sitting on the start-finish line with his modified Oldsmobile, alongside such names as Mercer, Simplex, and Buick. Despite early reports to the contrary, Barney Oldfield and Gaston Chevrolet were likely not in the field.

Leading the race, Greenway later said he hit a wet spot in the rain and skidded into the brush, losing precious time in the process. Rejoining the race with honeysuckle vines trailing the car, he caught up with the pack before his volatile fuel injection system sprayed gas onto the exhaust manifold and engine, starting a fire that billowed out from underneath the hood. Greenway charged on, however, and finished the race in spectacular fashion, although he did not beat the Stutz of millionaire sportsman Irving C. Barber.

Ever the adventurer, Greenway Albert subsequently intended to travel to Panama with his friend, Charles H. Tilghman to assist in building the Canal. These plans never came to fruition, however, and he instead embarked on a trip to Arizona, where he was to work in the copper mine of his uncle, General John Campbell Greenway. General Greenway famously rode with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and was one of two people chosen to represent Arizona in the U.S. Capitol Building's Statuary Hall. Although his uncle started him out as a lowly "mucker" at $2.25 per day, much to everyone's surprise, the privileged East Coaster thrived in the mines and moved up the ranks rather quickly before he was shipped back home after sustaining a knee injury.

Kimes concluded that the name "Yellow Peril" was probably given to the car around 1919, as earlier photographs suggest a darker finish. Photographic evidence also suggests the hood was replaced around this time as well with a longer one that covered the cowl, and perhaps any earlier fire damage. By 1920, however, Greenway's mother had died, Cedar Lawn was sold, and Greenway wound up once more in Arizona, where he succeeded in amassing a sizable fortune of his own. A sought-after mining consultant, Albert remained in Arizona for the rest of his life, settling in Tombstone where he built a home with his first wife, which they named Casa de Sueños (House of Dreams). So expansive was his property that it came to include an airfield, gardens, a tennis court, and a golf course, to name but a few extravagant amenities. Greenway brought the Yellow Peril to Arizona and it became the centerpiece of the wild stories he recounted to party guests who visited his home. Everything from the fuel injection system to the fateful Labor Day race all became part of the car's character. Having retired the car from its racing duties in 1919, Albert spent the next four decades enjoying his Oldsmobile as a sporting automobile for the street and various shows and events.

He married twice more, including once to a German aristocrat, but the Yellow Peril always remained in his collection, along with other prewar cars – grand American classics that he likewise bought new. A local philanthropist, Greenway Albert was a noted and respected member of his community and promoter of its economy – all the while, an eccentric with more than a few remarkable life stories. He died in 1968 after his car plummeted into a ravine on the highway between Tucson and Tombstone. It was the first and only automobile accident of his life.

After his death, Greenway's cherished Yellow Peril remained in the care of his widow and continued to participate in Tombstone's Helldorado Parade, of which he was one of the founders. In 1973 it was sold to Greenway's friend, Tom Hubbard, a noted Franklin collector. Thereafter it found its way to Curtis Graf of Texas in the early 1980s, who fully restored the car, replacing the fuel injection system and modified hood in the process. Graf competed with the Yellow Peril in the Great American race from 1984 to 1986, wherein it reportedly performed beautifully and finished in the top ten in 1985. The car then remained in Bill Lassiter's collection for most of the nineties, before eventually being acquired by its current owners about eight years ago from the Owl's Head Transportation Museum in Maine. Devoted enthusiasts, they have toured the car over 15,000 miles across North America and in such events as the 2001 Trans Con and the 2002 Red Rock, a 3,000-mile trip through the Canadian Rockies. Restored in early 2008 it was presented at the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance where it was honored with a Best in Class Award.

In the end, how much of the Yellow Peril's story is fact and how much of it was embellished by an enthralling conversationalist in his dinner jacket? Beverly Kimes's research, for instance, uncovered numerous inconsistencies, not the least of which was the Washington Post article following the Labor Day race, which never made mention of a fiery spectacle, or of Greenway Albert for that matter. Then again, restoration efforts decades later revealed not only an elongated hood but also a scorched firewall beneath it.

And what of his other racing exploits? Records of AAA-sanctioned races make no mention of his name, so it seems unlikely he exchanged paint with men like Oldfield or Chevrolet. It is far more plausible that the Yellow Peril's first owner was an ambitious young racing driver on the East Coast's amateur circuit whose exploits were matched only by his ability to recount them in spellbinding, if not embellished, detail.

Nevertheless, the Yellow Peril owes much of its known history to this colorful eccentric – the custom aluminum body, the early fuel injection system, and of course, the underground garage in the sprawling Tombstone compound where it was housed for many years. Now, decades later, with thousands upon thousands of successful touring miles under its belt and known provenance from new it remains as alluring as ever and is certainly one of the most fascinating cars from the glory days of early American racing.

RM Auctions
Automobiles of Amelia Island
March 14, 2009
Website: www.rmauctions.com
Sold at a price of $660,000
Lot #260

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car Additional Pictures

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car

1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car

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1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat Racing Car - Over 10,000 classic, collector and current cars and trucks at RemarkableCars.com