Found and restored: Baby Vanderbilt racer

Once in a while, we are tipped off to a really special automotive find that just tickles us pink. This is one of those finds. A few years ago, Gary Faules wrote about San Francisco’s racing history. Sadly, a server crash since then lost many of the images from those stories and I haven’t gotten around to finding them at the San Francisco archives again. The car you see above is a Baby Vanderbilt racer from the Pan-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.

Californian Tom Keeble has just completed a full restoration on the motorcycle engine powered racer, contacted us recently to share the story.

While lost on Mines Road in Livermore, California, back in 2003, Bob Mibach came across a sign that read “motorcycles for sale”. Like any gearhead, Bob had to investigate. The owner directed Bob towards a few chicken coops that contained an assortment of cars and bikes. In early 2004, Bob, Tom and another friend who supplied the investment, went back to collect the baby Vanderbilt racer that Bob had found in one of the chicken shacks. At the time, the only image Tom was able to find of these cars was an old stereo opticon of the Baby Vanderbilt racers at the starting line of the 1915 race.

The 2 cylinder Indian engine and transmission were restored by Jim Troche in Vallejo, CA. A new hood, grille shell, belly pan and other body bits were fabricated by Jon Buddenbaum of San Carlos. Even the wheels had to be created, which was done by Al McRoberts in Michigan. The new wheels were then wrapped in tires from Coker. The new body was painted and assembled by Tom Traut before being turned over to “Real Ralph” of Boulder Creek for pinstriping and lettering.

The owner saw the car for the first time last week and has decided to have a set of small wheels like the ones in the 1915 photo created for the car. The car has been shown at one local event so far and appears to be destined for Pebble Beach next year. Wouldn’t it be great to see it on a race track again?

This video shows the first time the Indian engine was fired up following the rebuild.

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