Although Christie’s race cars look unusual to modern eyes, many of the features had already been seen on other cars. I want to focus here on Christie’s radiator design. Often described in the period as a horseshoe type radiator, it was a U-shaped device consisting of tubes and fins much like any modern radiator. Except that air didn’t flow through it as much as it flowed over it. So the horseshoe radiator was actually a radiator, it just radiated heat. When the car was moving, air did flow alongside the fins but not through the fins.
I believe Christie persisted with this design on all his race cars because it worked well enough on his large displacement, low revving engines.
Did Christie get the idea for his radiator from Renault?
Christie’s patent called for the motor to be placed between the front wheels (transversely on his early cars). With that engine position, it was difficult to place a normal radiator in front of the engine because airflow would be blocked by the engine. If Christie was looking around for an alternative radiator layout, he would certainly have seen the 1904/1905 Renault racing cars.
Notice the similarities between Christie’s later 1909 race car and the 1905 Renault racing car shown below -
Below is a beautiful period photograph by Spooner & Wells of Christie's 1910 radiator. The photo can be found in the Detroit Public Library.
The Renault first appeared at the 1904 Ormond Beach races with the horseshoe radiator. Christie was there too. The same Renault raced in the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup race held near Christie’s home base in New York City. Certainly Christie saw that race as well. Renault modified their race cars for 1905, increasing horsepower from 60 to 90, but retaining the horseshoe radiator. They entered 3 cars in the 1905 French Eliminating Trials for the Gordon Bennett races. This was a grueling 341mile race against the top French manufacturers of the time. The best Renault finished 5th. Only the top 3 moved on to the Gordon Bennett race and the Renault was sent to participate in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup, which Christie entered as well. The Renault only finished 5th again, but it did finish. Christie was involved in a wreck.
How did Christie cars do in long distance races of the period?
Christie’s finished at least 3 events completing over 200 mile distances in each.
1906 Vanderbilt American Elimination Trials – Christie finished 5th, good enough to qualify for the main event. He completed 8 of 10 laps, running approx. 237 miles.
1906 Vanderbilt Cup – Christie finished 13th of 17 cars. He was using one of his passenger cars, stripped for racing, against the cream of the world’s purpose-built racing cars. He completed 7 of 10 laps or about 207 miles.
1908 Ormond Beach – the Automobile Club of America trophy for cars under 2424lbs. R.G. Kelsey in a Christie finished 2nd completing the entire 256mile distance.