The road leads back to Savannah for historic barn-found racer

The road leads back to Savannah for historic barn-found racer

Atlanta concours will feature 1911 EMF with Georgia racing history

When they were youngsters growing up in Savannah, Georgia, Dale Critz Jr. and Richard Papy lived just down the street from each other and just around the corner from Julian Quattlebaum, a doctor by profession but also a car enthusiast and historian. He not only took the boys for rides in his 1908 Buick but was the author of the definitive book about the early and important motorcar races held in Savannah.

Quattlebaum as a child was among those who had attended those races, including the International Grand Prize Race in 1908 and the Vanderbilt Cup that ensued as Savannah emerged as the early home for international auto racing in the United States.

Racing in Savannah in 1911

Papy’s grandfather was among the stewards for the 1908 race, and his family traces to the town’s first mayor in colonial times.

“My grandfather moved here in 1938,” Critz said. “We’re newcomers.”

Critz’ grandfather moved to Savannah to establish a car dealership. Critz is the third generation to run what now includes Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Buick/GMC stores. The Critz family also has been involved in historic preservation in the historic city, so when Papy, who helped launch the Oglethorpe Driving Club that brought racing back to the community in recent years, learned that one of the cars that raced in Savannah back in the day was going to auction, he suggested that Critz buy it.

That car was one of the three EMF factory racers, a 1911 30-model two-seater, which helped the Detroit automaker sweep the top three places in the Tiedeman Trophy race that was part of the 1911 Savannah Grand Prix and Vanderbilt Cup competition. On September 31 and October 1, that car will be among those showcased at the second Atlanta Concours d’Elegance at Chateau Elan in Braselton, Georgia.

EMF trio on the starting grid

Of the few surviving cars that raced in Savannah in the early years, most are in museums. The EMF is the only one that has returned to reside in Savannah, Papy said.

The car often can be seen in the Mercedes dealership showroom and frequently is driven to various events around Savannah. It has won awards at the Hilton Head, Keeneland and Amelia Island concours since Critz acquired it at Bonhams auction at Amelia Island in 2015.

Coachbuilder and Wayne manufacturer Barney Everitt, star Cadillac salesman William Metzger, and Walter Flanders, production manager at Ford, launched their own automotive brand in 1908. Their cars featured a combined transmission/rear axle, a mechanical mishmash that would give their customers fits.

Nonetheless, they sold more than 15,000 cars in 2010 and decided to further promote the brand by going racing in “light car” class for production-based vehicles. The biggest of those events would be the 1911 Tiedeman Trophy race at Savannah, and they sent three specially built 30-horsepower machines to Georgia, where the cars finished first, second and third.

Critz gives a ride to the then-mayor of Savannah

Papy notes that the car Critz now owns was the third-place car, primarily because the other two had been equipped with special “non-skid” Firestone tires and didn’t have to make pit stops for tire changes during the 175-mile race. However, Critz’ car is believed to be the only one of the three still surviving, which EMF did only for a few months beyond the race before being absorbed into Studebaker.

Long-time car collector Gordon Matson acquired the EMF in 1983.

“He went to buy another EMF and this car was disassembled but in the same barn,” Critz said. “He bought them both and planned to restore the other one. But six months later, he looked at this car and got the chassis and engine numbers and started researching and found out what he had (the historic Savannah racer).

“He forgot about the other car and restored this car.”

Matson, a New Hampshire resident, raced the car in New England hill climbs and “drove it a lot” before taking it in 2005 to David Steinman at the Waitsfield Motor Car Company in Vermont for restoration back to its Savannah race spec and livery. The restored racer was shown at Pebble Beach in 2006.

With Gordon in ill health, the car went to Bonhams for sale in 2015, with Critz getting involved in a bidding battle that resulted in a record price for an EMF. While feeling he probably overspent to buy the car, he’s proud that it has returned to the place where it raced successfully.

Critz and Papy drive to Amelia Island awards stand

He’s also proud of the fact that it remains mechanically sound —thanks in part to a local Ferrari mechanic — and is frequently driven, a fact that meant a trophy rather than a ribbon in the Pre-1935 Race Car class at the Amelia concours.

Seems the judges had awarded the car runner-up status in its class at the Florida concours, but when the class-winning car — a car some 25 years newer than Critz’ racer — was unable to drive to the awards stand under its own power, concours officials changed their mind and awarded the best in class trophy to the historic Savannah racer.

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6 Comments

  • Mark Boyer
    September 11, 2017, 3:18 PM

    T hat was awesome article

    REPLY
  • Paul Pflaum
    September 11, 2017, 3:21 PM

    Proofread….proofread your article before printing. Proofread, wait 15 minutes, proofread again, then wait another 15 minutes….and then read again and go to print after no mistakes found. Otherwise, you’ll have your brand launched in 1908 with some problems……but still sell 15,000 cars in 2010.

    REPLY
  • Stuart England
    September 11, 2017, 4:07 PM

    Wonderful story, fabulous history, would by just perfect if the restorations had kept in the original condition.

    REPLY
  • Pete Phillips
    September 11, 2017, 6:45 PM

    All I can say is, who does your proof-reading? Probably no one. So EMF sold more than 15,000 cars in 2010!

    "Nonetheless, they sold more than 15,000 cars in 2010"

    REPLY
  • Harold Moffatt
    September 11, 2017, 6:51 PM

    Very interesting story. Would like to learn more about the early racing years in Savannah. The Scharf family
    Of LaRiviere, Mb. Canada had a 1911 EMF touring, that was bough new and used for years. It was quite a thrill as there were few cars here at that time.

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