Early American Sports Cars

Sports cars are often thought to have appeared in the United States after the conclusion of the Second World War. Soldiers who were exposed to British and other racing and sports cars returned stateside and created a market for American-produced vehicles that larger auto manufacturers were happy to serve.

Although it is true that the sports car market really did not mature in the U.S. until the late 1940s and early 1950s, it is not entirely accurate to peg that moment in time as the birth of American sports cars. Sports cars, albeit in very limited numbers, did exist prior to the 1940s domestically. Some even predated the First World War.

These often-forgotten pioneering sports cars deserve attention. Their performance was startling for the era and many of them competed and fared favorably against their better-known French and British counterparts. Here are three early American sports cars that deserve to be rescued from the dustbin of history.

The Stutz

Stutz Motor Car Company, which produced vehicles from its plant in Wisconsin, produced an assortment of exceptional sporting cars. Stutz cars won the American Road and Track Championship in 1915 and were capable of reaching average speeds well in excess of one hundred miles per hour.

The Stutz featured a 4 cylinder, 4-valve motor with a compression ratio of 5 to 1. Stutz competed admirably in races for an extended period of time, placing second in the 1919 Indianapolis 500 and winning the then-prestigious New Zealand Cup on three separate occasions during the 1920s.

The Mercer

The Mercer Raceabout is sometimes described as the true first American sports car. Mercer, a New Jersey company, hand-built top-performing sports cars featuring a T-Head motor. The success of the Mercers in major races made the Runabout nearly famous and made a minor hero of its driver, Eddie Pullen.

Raceabouts were capable of traveling over 80 miles per hour even on the horrible roads of the day. Those who currently operate Mercers will argue they perform nearly as well as many modern cars, with the noted exception of the unrefined braking system.

Raceabout existed only in very limited numbers and the company ceased production outright in the mid 1920s after a series of disasters, accidents and personnel changes.

Winton

Alexander Winton was one the earliest racing car manufacturers in the United States and was, for some time, the most successful. Winton’s Sweepstakes model was popularly considered the marvel of its day and was successful in many exhibitions and races.

The Winton Sweepstakes, however, is probably best known for a famous racing loss. Henry Ford, a young automaker who had seen his new Detroit auto manufacturing business go under, challenged the impressive Winton Sweepstakes to a race in 1901.

The Sweepstakes took an early lead on Ford, but developed mechanical problems and lost the race. The highly publicized event thrust Henry Ford into the limelight and gave him sufficient cache to revive his automotive career.