High bid of $300,000 at 2007 RM Auctions. (did not sell)
ALCO, short for American Locomotive Company, was a builder of railroad locomotives in the United States during the early 1900s. It was formed in 1901 through the merger of several smaller locomotive manufacturers that included at least eight companies, to form on large entity. Headquarters were located in Schenectady, New York. This monopoly continued to grow in size and eventually put many other competing companies out of business.
By 1906 they began experimenting in other areas such as the automobile. They purchased licenses to produce the Berliet design of automobiles. The French based Berliet was formed around 1894 by Marius Berliet who began experimenting with automobiles. He produced a single-cylinder automobile in 1895 followed by a twin-cylinder model in 1900. This led to a four-cylinder version and eventually into larger production quantities. By 1905 he was creating 300 cars annually and employed a staff of 250.
The Company of Marius Berliet of Lyons, France was the city's leading producer of automobiles, and France's second largest motor city behind Paris. In 1906 a plant was created at American Locomotive's Providence, Rhode Island facility. Alco imported parts from France and assembled the Berliets at their facilities. These were upmarket machines and carried a hefty price tag of $5,000 - $9,000. This was a sizeable fortune for the time.
Alco used the license for two years, after which they produced automobiles of their own design. The Alco automobile was ready for production in 1909. It was a 40 horsepower machine that utilized chain-drive. A 60 horsepower six-cylinder version was also available, selling for $6,000.
In the early years of automotive production, sales were fueled by racing accomplishments. It was said that a good finish on Sunday meant great sales on Monday. The Alco Company, initially, was reluctant to enter motor sports. The companies test driver, Harry Grant, pleaded with management to fund a racing endeavor. After being repeatable denied, he left in 1907 to work for Park Square Automobile Station, run by C. F. Whitney. Whitney provided a 4-horsepower American Berliet which Grant used at races such as Readville. He won the five and twenty mile heats but came in second in the 50-mile race due to a blown tire. The car was entered in various other local racing events and quickly made a name for themselves. Alco also took notice and granted Grant's request for a factory backed racing team. Grant and his riding mechanic Frank Lee, were given a stock six-cylinder Alco.
The car was entered in the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup for 1909. The Cup race was run on Long Island and was the brainchild of William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. The Long Island Motor Parkway course was a nine-mile toll road formed part of the course. The winner would be presented with a cash prize and a cup, similar to European competition. Engine sizes were restricted to 301-600 cubic-inches.
Grant and Lee drove their car in the 1909 race. They were not the fastest in the field, but that did not matter as many of the faster cars were sidelined due to mechanical difficulties. On lap 19, the Alco took the lead after passing the leading Chalmers-Detroit when it overheated. When the Alco crossed the finish line, it was a full five-minutes ahead of Ed Parker's Fiat which sat in second place. The same Alco returned in 1910 and ran another steady race, taking the lead at lap 18. Just twelve miles from the finish line, the Alco had a flat tire. Repairs were made and managed to finish with a comfortable 25-second margin.
In 1911 they entered the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, but their glory days were a thing of the past. By 1913 the only car in the Alco catalog was the six and within a short time, quit the automobile industry. The business venture had proven to be 'unprofitable'.
The car driven by Grant was become known as the Bete Noir, meaning Black Beast. Though it was mostly stock, it is believed that a few modifications were made, including removing some of the springs from the suspension, removing the body, and moving the engine back a few inches. All non-essential items were removed and a larger fuel tank was adapted.
This car has been treated to a comprehensive restoration since new. Missing components were re-manufactured. During the restoration, the engine displacement size was found to be 690 cubic-inches instead of the 600 cubic-inch limit of the Vanderbilt Cup. This is believed to be the Vanderbilt Racer of Grant.
This car has a six-cylinder engine that measure 690 cubic-inches and is capable of producing an estimated 100 horsepower. There is a four-speed transmission and chain drive. Two wheel inboard mechanical drum service brakes, and transmission mounted mechanical drum hand brakes were used to keep the car in the drivers control. This 1909 Alco Six Race Car was offered for sale at the 2007 RM Auctions held in Meadow Brook where it was estimated to sell between $350,000 - $500,000. Bidding reached $300,000 but was not enough to satisfy the reserve and the vehicle was left unsold.By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2007