Packard Gray Wolf
Image of The Week
When I first started researching pre-WWI auto racing history several years ago, I came across this picture (at the bottom of this post) in a microfilm record of Horseless Age and it really caught my eye. The car was so sleek, so lightweight, it was a huge departure from the big, blunt, brutish race cars you typically see in photos of the era. Designed and built in 1903 by a French engineer with a German name, Charles Schmidt, the Packard Gray Wolf was based on the Packard Motor Car Company's model K chassis, but stripped to minimize weight. Schmidt, the chief engineer for Packard at the time, was determined to drive the car himself. Packard President Henry Bourne Joy probably approved Schmidt's racing to keep him happy because he was a world class engineering talent.
The car was Schmidt's baby and everything about it reflects the designer's obsession with lightweight design. The Gray Wolf had wire spoke wheels instead of the typical artillery wood and the chassis was made of lightweight compressed steel as opposed to lower grade heavier steel and wood construction of the Model K. The car was considered lightweight in the day at 1400 pounds. All of this was important as the engine produced only 24 horsepower.
Schmidt plowed through a fence in the car's first outing at the Glenville horse track near Cleveland in September 1903. Schmidt spent the next couple of months nursing cracked ribs. Healed, he returned to Ormond - Daytona Beach on January 2 & 3, 1904 to set several world records for lightweight cars and even cranked out the American mile record for any type of car at some 77 miles per hour. The car's biggest hurrah - and Schmidt's final race as a driver - came October 8, 1904 in the first running of the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island, New York. The Gray Wolf was in a surprising fourth place when the race was stopped due to crowds of spectators swarming the course.
A reproduction of the Gray Wolf constructed to the original plans exists today. The information at this link is a little shaky, I give it a "C." The photos, however, are an "A+."