DEARBORN, Mich. - As winter takes hold in Southeast Michigan, we reminiscence on a land speed record Henry Ford set on a frozen lake near Detroit that helped solidify the reputation of a fledgling Ford Motor Company.
In the months that followed his seminal racing victory with Sweepstakes, Henry Ford was hard at work on two nearly identical cars – one named 999, the other one Arrow – both with 18.5-liter engines making 80 horsepower. The high-powered race cars had one forward speed and their final drive gearing was completely exposed. Ford said the “roar of the cylinders alone was enough to half kill a man.”
While he had declared his retirement from racing after the Sweepstakes victory, Ford went on to achieve a new land speed record with 999 on Jan. 12, 1904, reaching 91.37 mph on the frozen surface of Lake St. Clair despite a bulge in the ice that sent him airborne at one point.
“The rush of cold air was so terrific,” he reported, “I had to keep my eyes almost closed.”
Sanctioned by the American Automobile Association, that blustery run quickly became fodder for advertising for the months-old car company. Though the record only stood for two weeks – W.K. Vanderbilt took his 90-horsepower Mercedes to 92.3 mph on a Florida beach on Jan. 27, 1904 – the endeavor helped to put Ford Motor Company on the map.