Winton Bullet No. 1 (1902) and No. 2 (1903)

Alexander Winton’s Pioneering Bullets

At the turn of the twentieth century, Cleveland car manufacturer Alexander Winton became one of America’s best-known race car owners. Winton’s Bullet No. 1 (1902) and Bullet No. 2 (1903) represent the rise of American auto racing as a sport and manufacturers’ efforts to improve overall mechanical performance through racing.

Robert Allison driving the first Winton sold Image from division files.

Winton thought that racing was essential to developing and testing technologies for his production cars. In the November 13, 1901, issue of the car industry trade journal Horseless Age, he was quoted, “Racing not only stimulates public interest in the automobile, but furnishes data to the manufacturer which can be obtained in no other way; and I believe that every manufacturer should take out his machine at intervals and subject it to such excessively severe tests to locate its weak points.” Winton production cars developed a reputation for rugged reliability and durable construction. The first car to cross the United States, H. Nelson Jackson’s 1903 Winton touring car, also is in the Museum’s collection.

Bullet No. 1

In 1900, the automobile was considered a curiosity and a plaything for wealthy driving enthusiasts, who often challenged each other in speed contests. Winton built his first race car for the inaugural Gordon Bennett road race in France in 1900. Two years later, Winton’s new Bullet set an unofficial record of 70.3 miles per hour on a straight-line mile of Cleveland’s newly paved Clifton Boulevard. On September 16, 1902, at a Cleveland horse racetrack, Winton drove the Bullet 10 miles in 10 minutes and 50 seconds, averaging 55.38 miles per hour. One month later, Winton suffered defeat against Barney Oldfield in Henry Ford’s 999 race car at the Grosse Pointe, Michigan, racetrack after the Bullet engine began misfiring.

Winton Bullet No. 1 in a test run, Cleveland, 1902 SI Negative #42,828-F

Winton rebounded to win the first sanctioned automobile race in Florida, driving his Bullet in the Florida Winter Speed Carnival on hard-packed Atlantic sands at Ormond Beach in January 1903. On March 26, Winton and H. T. Thomas, driving automaker Ransom Olds’s Pirate, competed in Ormond’s first timed trials, though in separate classes. Winton drove his Bullet one mile in 52.2 seconds, averaging 68.96 miles per hour. On the Carnival’s last day, Winton and Thomas faced off in the first Ormond Challenge Cup. It was a close race, but Winton won by a fraction of a second.

Many people declared the sand at Ormond Beach and nearby Daytona Beach to be perfect for auto racing. Ormond and Daytona quickly became known as the “Birthplace of Speed.”

Postcard of the Winton Bullet No. 1

Alexander Winton in Bullet No. 1, Ormond Beach, March 1902 SI Negative #42,828-C

Bullet No. 2

Postcard of the Winton Bullet No. 2 Image from division files.

Winton built the Bullet No. 2 in 1903 to compete in the Gordon Bennett road race, held in Ireland that year. Built to withstand the rigors of 327 miles of rough roads, Bullet No. 2 was more powerful and had a heavier chassis frame than Winton’s previous racer, which became known as Bullet No. 1. The Bullet No. 2 had one of the first in-line, eight-cylinder engines consisting of two in-line, four-cylinder engines bolted together. After a promising start, mechanical difficulties caused Winton to drop out of the race. Upon his return from Ireland, he announced his retirement as a race car driver.

Winton continued to race both Bullets with hired drivers behind the wheel. With Winton’s financial support, renowned race car driver Barney Oldfield traveled across the United States performing automotive feats with flamboyant style and his trademark cigar clenched in his teeth. Between 1902 and 1918, at the wheel of well-known race cars such as Winton’s Bullets, Ford’s 999, the Peerless Green Dragon, and Harry Miller’s Golden Submarine, Oldfield raced into stardom and perfected his macho image as a roguish daredevil. At the second Florida Winter Speed Carnival in January 1904, Oldfield drove Bullet No. 2 one mile in 43 seconds, a rate of 83.7 miles per hour, which was close to the world record at the time. After setting numerous world records, his name and the popular phrase, “Who do you think you are, Barney Oldfield?” became synonymous with speed and speeding tickets.


Winton setting in the "America on the Move" exhibition

As the automobile age progressed through the 1910s, Winton began to lose his competitive edge in business and racing. In 1924, he ceased Winton car production. The Winton Engine Company, established in 1912, concentrated on making diesel engines for ships and locomotives, but General Motors purchased the company in 1930. Before the buyout, the Winton Engine Company donated Bullet No. 1, Bullet No. 2, and the first Winton production car sold (an 1898 runabout) to the Smithsonian Institution.