Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


EARLY TWENTIETH-CENTURY transport offered enhanced mobility in a multiplicity of ways. Balloons had been around for more than a century. Internal combustion gave them directionality despite whims of the wind. Aeroplanes promised even more speed aloft. But for years, land vehicles powered by steam were the fastest, whether by rail or, later, road. Here are tidbits of the art, utility, and play of transport.

The Fastest Venue. For a long time, land vehicles were the most rapid: At first, it was by rail. In the 1850s, the Bristol & Exeter Railway #41 posted a claimed 82 mph. In 1906, Fred Marriot reached 127.66 mph in the Stanley Rocket steam car at Daytona, the first time a railway speed record was surpassed.

Embossed book cover, mixed materials, 10 7/8 in. x 14 7/8 in., French, c. 1909. Image from The Motor Car in Art: Selections from the Raymond E. Holland Automotive Art Collection, by John J. Zolomij, Automobile Quarterly Publications, 1990.

It wasn’t until 1913 that a Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.4 aeroplane went faster than the Stanley Rocket with an (unofficial) 134.5 mph.

Toast Rack Transport. The British toast rack breakfast-table fixture gave its name to an automotive configuration with multiple-row seating, each row accessed from the outside rather than from a central aisle within.

Toast rack, Sheffield sterling silver, 3 1/4 in. x 6 in.; English, c. 1903. Image from “The Motorcar Affair,” Automobile Quarterly, First Quarter 1988, Volume 26, Number 1.

This toast rack comes full circle with its automotive styling. Such a vehicle was also known as a char-a-banc, a direct crib from the French word meaning “carriage with benches.”

For Kids. Cars for kids have carried bodywork of all sorts. The 1927 Bugatti Type 52 was an electrically driven scaled-down Type 35.

“Roadster” pedal car, mixed media, 27 1/2 in. x 64 3/8 in.; European, c. 1937. Image from The Motor Car in Art: Selections from the Raymond E. Holland Automotive Art Collection.

This pedal car “Roadster” from the same era as the Type 52 echoed the flamboyant lines of French coachbuilder Figoni et Falaschi.

Fenders in F1 Just as Mercedes-Benz dominates Formula 1 at the moment, it did so with its W196 during the 1954 and 1955 F1 seasons. The W196, piloted by Juan Manual Fangio and Stirling Moss, won nine of the twelve races entered.

Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix Car, pewter, 3 3/8 in. x 7 5/8 in.; English, c. 1990.

The W196’s streamlined bodywork was aerodynamically efficient and worked fine at France’s Reims debut. But at Silverstone, even the masterful Fangio couldn’t avoid mashing oil barrels marking the corners. Drivers came to prefer the open-wheel W196, though Fangio drove the streamlined car to two victories at Monza’s high-speed circuit as well as its Reims debut win.

Our Family Rocketship. To Wife Dottie and me, an artifact recently discovered deep within a kitchen cabinet is our Rocketship Cocktail Shaker. A bit of Internet research suggests it’s actually a Zeppelin airship, identified by its axle-supporting cupola.

Zeppelin Cocktail Shaker, silver-plated, 3 1/8 in. x 12 in., American, mid-century.

It’s silver-plated and we’re reluctant to remove its patina. What’s more, iconoclasts that we are, we believe it’s more artful to have one’s martini stirred, not shaken. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. Bill Jones
    October 17, 2019

    If you shake you bruise the gin.

    • simanaitissays
      October 18, 2019

      Agreed. I’ve heard of people shaking after too much gin.

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