Andrew L. Riker - pioneer race car designer


The Riker electric "Torpedo" racer (photo credit: Horseless Age, November 20, 1901)

Andrew Lawrence Riker (1868 - 1930) was a pioneer of the automotive age and much has been written about him. I won't try and retell him entire story here, but simply to illuminate his racing career. In believe Riker to be a bit unique in that he designed electric, steam, and gas cars over his storied career - serving as the first president of the Society of Automotive Engineers as well.

Riker started out as proponent of electric power and founded the Riker Motor Wagon Company in Brooklyn, New York. The company's name was soon changed to the The Riker Electric Motor Company and his racing career was born with a win at the Narragansett Park Track (Providence, RI) in 1896. The moved to Elizabeth, NJ and took the name the Riker Electric Vehicle Company in 1898. Riker would often speak of the supremacy of electric power for city vehicles and the bulk of his business was making commercial vehicles (today the Smithsonian holds one of these vehicles in its collection). Regardless, it seems his passion was speed and he built (to my knowledge) the first purpose-built electric racer in 1900 -
winning a 50-mile endurance race on the Merrick Road course on Long Island. This car was reworked into the "Torpedo Racer" of 1901 (seen herein) which unofficially set the mile record at Coney Island, NY - breaking the the mile-a-minute barrier. I believe the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine has recreation of this vehicle in its collection. 

Riker sold his company to Col. Pope's Electric Vehicle Corporation in 1901 (taking a position in the firm) and immediately set about designing a gasoline powered car. This attracted the attention of the Locomobile Company who was looking to transition out of its dated steam car into a new product offering. By 1902, Andrew Riker was a Vice President at Locomobile and the driving force behind the design of their cars for the next decade. It wasn't long before Riker has a chance to design another race car. Dr. H.E. Thomas of Chicago make request of Locomobile (through the company's Chicago agent) for a race car suitable for running the 1905 Gordon-Bennett race - to be held in France that year. It's said that company wasn't really interested and sent word back to Chicago that if Dr. Thomas really wanted a race car he'd have to pay $18,000 for it. An astronomical sum of money at the time, it was thought this would discourage Dr. Thomas. However, to everyone's surprise, Thomas said yes, and Riker got to work. Riker designed a car unlike anything the company had built previously - very much in the style of the competing European cars of the day. Riker must have poured himself into the job and the company seems to have championed the cause as well. Locomobile actually selected a driver and sent him to Europe to campaign DR. Thomas' racer car. Joe Tracy (1873-1959) was just the man for the job, but unfortunately Tracy stripped two of the four forward gears and the car was retired with only a couple laps under it's belt. Not to be deterred, the car and Tracy came home and entered the Vanderbilt Cup race in the same year. The car was improved (learning from their experiences in France) and Tracy (with Al Poole as his riding mechanic) handled her beautifully - finishing second in the elimination trials and third in the Cup race. This car was the first American car to place in an international motor race (wearing #7).

Dr. Thomas' Locomobile racer (photo credit: Horseless Age, May 10, 1905)

Inspired, Riker went back to the drawing board and created a masterpiece for 1906 - actually two Locomobile team racing cars to be campaigned by Tracy & Poole once again. One of these cars would win the American elimination race and, although favored, would place 10th in 1906 (wearing #9). These team cars would be upgraded over the next two years and as they challenged for the Cup. In 1908, one of these cars (wearing #16) - and driven by George Roberson (with Glen Ethridge as his mechanic) because Joe Tracy had retired - won the Vanderbilt Cup. The car lives on in its current home - the Henry Ford collection - as one of the most important American built race cars every made. This car was the first American car to win an international motor race - a very fitting tribute to its designer, Andrew Riker.

1906 Locomobile racer (photo credit: Motor Way, 1906)

The Locomobile team garage at the 1906 Vanderbilt races (photo credit: Motor Way, 1906)

1906 Locomobile racer that won the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup at the Henry Ford


The 1906 American team for the Vanderbilt Cup race (photo credit: Motor, October 1906)



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