During the infancy of automotive history, consumers were skeptical of the reliability of automobiles. So, to prove their products’ capabilities on the road, many automakers sponsored coast-to-coast trips.
Dennis E. Horvath Collection
The journey started with an idea formed by several wealthy Premier owners, mostly from Pennsylvania and New York. They wanted to show that previous sponsors of transcontinental races had overplayed their victories by describing the roads as more treacherous than they were.
12th vehicle to carry baggage for the participants
Copyright © National Automotive History Collection
So, 40 travelers out of the group set out from the Atlantic Ocean on June 26, 1911, and headed west to report their findings. Premier supported the effort by supplying the caravan’s 12th vehicle, a mechanic, and factory test driver to accompany the travelers. Nicknamed the “millionaire auto party,” the caravan made headlines across the route.
The cars reached Indianapolis on Sunday, July 2, 1911, after the longest one-day leg of the journey – 236 miles from Zanesville, Ohio, to Indianapolis. The next day, Harold O. Smith, Premier’s president, treated the motorists to “a clam bake and picnic, lasting all day, at beautiful Broad Ripple, where boating and swimming are chief diversions.” The travelers also visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Several impromptu races have been arranged among the amateur drivers,” The Indianapolis Star reported.
They stopped each night in the best hotels available in the location and traveled in relative luxury for the time. Each vehicle traveled about 4,617 miles with mechanical troubles amounting to only four broken springs. After 45 days, the group concluded their journey by dipping their wheels in the Pacific Ocean.
“There is a general feeling that the Pacific and Atlantic coasts have been brought closer together,” according to Motor Age, “and transcontinental touring by pleasure parties is now expected to become common since the first tour of this kind has been such an unqualified success.”
How’s that for a transcontinental twist on the phrase “California or Bust?”
This story was excerpted from Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana.