Milestones in Speed - Power

Don Sherman Matthew Phenix David Yochum
Ian Dawson Getty Images IMS Photo
David Johnson

Gottlieb Daimler earned the German patent for supercharging in 1885, eight years after Nicolaus Otto patented the four-stroke engine and a few months before Karl Benz rolled forth his three-wheeled car. Pennsylvanian Lee Chadwick was the first to exploit this technology. The racer he constructed for the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup competition had an eight-inch fan, driven at five times crankshaft speed, providing pressurized air for the engine. The following year, Len Zengle won the inaugural ten-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a Chadwick, demonstrating what reporters called hair-raising performance. Mercedes offered the first supercharged production models in 1921 with 60 percent more power than the cars' normally aspirated counterparts.

If you want to sound like an insider, you don't call it Indy; you call it the Speedway, without specifying which one. Indianapolis has been the Promised Land - and the Valley of Death, on dozens of occasions - for American racers ever since the first 500 was staged in 1911. The 2.5-mile rectangle is the world's oldest racetrack in continuous use (aside from hiatuses during World Wars I and II). Nowadays, it hosts races for stock cars, Formula 1 (maybe), and even motorcycles and balloons. But the Indy 500, a.k.a. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, remains the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

> Harry Miller
The passion for precision drove Harry Miller, whose legacy extends throughout the automotive realm. It comprises the cars of the board tracks, the dirt, the paved ovals, and, of course, the dry lakes (and their offshoot, the street-rod scene). He experimented with dual-overhead cams, supercharging, front- and four-wheel drive, and aerodynamic design. He used alloyed metals for carburetors and pistons, formed aluminum panels into streamlined body shapes, and inevitably bested Duesenberg's straight-eight designs and set new standards. Miller was the comprehensive genius of the American custom automotive scene.

> Vittorio Jano
Like American race car builder Harry Miller, Vittorio Jano was a soup-to-nuts race car designer who developed engines, chassis, and everything in between. During his remarkable career, he was credited with the revolutionary Fiat 805; the Alfa Romeo P2, which dominated GP racing in the mid-'20s; Alfa's P3, which did the same through the mid-'30s; the Tipo 158 Alfetta, the greatest monoposto of the postwar era; and the Lancia D50, the most intriguing F1 car of the mid-'50s. But that's not all. He also was responsible for the glorious Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 (Le Mans, right), the Lancia Aurelia, and the V-6 engines found in various Ferrari road cars.

New Car Research

Find vehicle reviews, photos & pricing

our instagram

get Automobile Magazine

Subscribe to the magazine and save up to 84% off the newsstand price


new cars

Read Related Articles