Simplex '50' Racing and Touring Car, 1912

This Simplex '50' is an early example of a type of car marketed as a touring car that could also be raced. Thus it is an example of what came to be termed, in the 1940s, a "sports car."
American automobile racing is characterized by many widely divergent types of racing, each type having its own distinct history. Many aspects are/have been unique to each racing type: the general design of its participating cars, its sanctioning organization, its funding sources and owner-participants, the types of courses raced on, the different designated classes within an overall design, the official rules governing design details of the cars (rules that usually change every few years), and an enthusiastic base of fans who are often uninterested in the other types of motor racing. A century-long and complex history explains these distinctions and their genesis. A "fascination with speed" is only the seed of the story of each type and explains very little of what was seen in the past, or what is seen today, on race tracks around the United States.
"Sports cars" came to the US as a post-World War II phenomenon. Ex-servicemen who had been based in England began bringing British sports cars to American soil in 1948. Auto dealerships selling such makes as MG, Triumph, and Jaguar - and Porsche from Germany and Ferrari from Italy - opened in the US for the first time. These cars were typical of European engineering for two-door performance cars: light, agile, many with small or medium-sized engines compared to general US custom, and right at home on curving, twisting roads where a driver could test his or her cornering skill.
The provenance of this Simplex is not known in detail, nor whether it has a racing history. In 1922, it was registered to a Dunbar Adams of Bay Shore, Long Island; in 1929 it was given to the Smithsonian by a Mr. and Mrs. John D. Adams of the same town. The car has a stock Simplex '50' chassis with a 'skeleton' body - meaning, a sporting as distinct from a commodious body - by the Holbrook Co. (A customer purchasing a chassis-and-engine from an auto manufacturer and a body separately for fitting-on by a body manufacturer was a common practice in the first decade of the 20th century, though a rapidly declining practice by the mid-1910s.) The car is red (the semi-official color for American cars in international races of the time), with a four-cylinder engine and chain drive.
The car was repainted and reupholstered by a contractor to the Smithsonian in 1950. At that time, Harvey Firestone, Jr., donated the seven 33-inch x 5-inch tires now fitted
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Firestone, Jr., Harvey S.
King, George S.
Simplex Automobile Co.
overall: 5 5/16 ft x 5 1/2 ft x 15 1/2 ft; 1.62458 m x 1.6764 m x 4.7244 m
overall: 61 1/2 in x 68 1/2 in x 180 in; 156.21 cm x 173.99 cm x 457.2 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Sports & Leisure
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Adams through George S. King

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