Telling the Story

The Greatest Auto Race on Earth looks at this never repeated race through archival footage, re-enactments of key events, and approximately 2000 photographs, many of which have never been seen before.

Research was conducted in Germany, France, Canada, San Francisco, Vladivostok, Las Vegas, Reno, Buffalo and through countless emails and phone calls to archives around the world. It took seven years, but the producers believe that for the first time on film, the story of the Greatest Auto Race will be told from the point of view of the racers and the press that covered them for 169 days.

To help tell the story, Wadson’s Hot Rods and Shelmar Construction were enlisted to build exact replica picture cars of the Thomas Flyer and the German Protos (see the Machines section). We were fortunate enough to have Herr von Siemens in Munich give us a chassis drawing to work up a set of drawings for the Protos’ metal work. The Thomas Flyer was exhaustingly photographed in Reno at the National Automobile Museum. Measurements were extrapolated from the New York 1908 photos to find the exact dimensions of the car, as it appeared it New York. The changes made to the Thomas in Buffalo, Chicago, San Francisco, and Vladivostok were expertly created by Ray Fowler (Art Director) in the field.

The wheels were a study in themselves. The originals were artillery style wooden wheels, which were reproduced by Anderprop and Dale Anderson. The trick was producing hubs out of steel that would be strong enough for the punishment we were to put them through and still fit on the GM style disc brakes. Safety was always a key factor for us since actors were driving the cars for the most part.

Shot on locations around Alberta, two Super 16mm crews were employed to film the picture cars. Snow, mud, burning deserts, swollen streams, and bald flat prairie grasslands all appear in this film. Locations at Fort Edmonton doubled for the Mid-west, Chicago, Ames, Cheyenne, San Francisco, and parts of Mongolia and Russia. The 1908 teams endured 169 days of hell: our crews endured 25 days.

During one evening in High River, the actors playing the American and Italian teams, together with the art department, were up past midnight refitting the Thomas as it looked when it was put on the ship to Vladivostok. There was a huge sense that they were a part of a wonderful story that needs to be told to the world.

Period wardrobe was made, borrowed, rented, or found for the actors. Local car enthusiasts provided period tools and “pilot cars.” And some local celebrities like Nick Lees and Colin MacLean volunteered to come forward as actors.

The film is now complete. The two hour documentary is airing in Canada on Superchannel. Trion Pictures and Solid Entertainment Distributors are taking care of the rest of the world. DVDs available for sale here.