Monday, April 8, 2013

After the Great Race of 1908

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Much has been written about the famous, New York-to-Paris automobile race of 1908, including this nice synopsis. After reaching San Francisco, the plan was for the automobiles to be shipped to Alaska, where they would be driven from Valdez to Nome and over the frozen Bering Strait to Russia. Only the American team, driving a Thomas Flyer, actually made it to Alaska. After arriving in Valdez on April 8, the team realized that overland progress would be impossible because of deep snow. The race plans were changed, and the American team lost their lead as they backtracked to Seattle before sailing to Japan. Although they crossed the finish line in second place behind the German car, they won the race thanks to a handicap given them for their side trip to Alaska (and a penalty levied against the German team for having shipped their Protos automobile by rail part of the way).

The arrival of the Thomas Flyer in Valdez was a very big deal, as it was the first automobile to reach that town and probably the first one ever seen by many of the residents. The entire town, complete with a brass band, turned out to greet it. Women posed for photos in it. And then it was loaded back on a boat without ever having made it off the dock. This splendid car is now on display in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
So what became of the Protos and the only other car to complete the race, the Italian Züst? The Protos was restored by the Siemens family and now resides in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany. Surprisingly, the Züst appears to have spent some time in Dawson City.

After crossing the finish line in Paris on September 17, 1908, the Züst traveled to London. Shortly thereafter, it caught fire while its gasoline was being removed for rail transport, severely damaging the rear wheels and wooden body. The car suffered further indignity when looters vandalized it, and then it fell into obscurity.

In 1910, O.B. Perry, superintendent of Solomon Guggenheim's Yukon Gold Company, brought a Züst to Dawson City, where it remained until the 1950s. Collector Buck Rogers of Vancouver, British Columbia was its next owner, and he in turn sold it to Harry and Shirley Blackstaff of Vancouver Island in the 1980s. It was only after the Blackstaffs had begun its restoration that they discovered it was likely the Great Race car. Some pretty compelling evidence for this conclusion is presented in this article by Dr. Barry Patchett.

Images of the Züst courtesy
The Blackstaffs restored the Züst in time for the Great Race centennial (photos of the restoration can be found here). Shirley Blackstaff believes that the car ended up in Dawson because O.B. Perry was friends with famous American racer Barney Oldfield, who in turn was friends with Emilio Sirtori, one of the Züst's drivers during the Great Race. Whatever the reason, I find it amazing that all three of the Great Race finishers are still around today.

*Note* We will be hosting a special program about the Great Race on August 6. Watch for details!


  1. I only read your post now, and am intrigued by, "Some pretty compelling evidence for this conclusion is presented in this article by Dr. Barry Patchett." ... Where can I locate this article please ? Ced Pearce.

  2. You can click on the link in the article (the highlighted word "article) or go to


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