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Jay Leno drives a 112-year-old race car

Today’s race cars are staggeringly complex, but simplicity was the rule in the early days of motorsports. Barely more than two seats and an engine mounted on a frame, the 1911 EMF Model 30 recently featured on “Jay Leno’s Garage” exemplifies the state of the art for race cars at the turn of the 20th century.

Named after the initials of its founders, EMF is virtually unknown today but was briefly the fourth most popular automotive brand in the U.S. Its other claim to fame was an unflattering nickname—Every Mechanic’s Friend.

Owner Dale Critz Jr. has researched this specific car’s history, and can confirm that it was taken straight off the assembly line for races in Savannah, Georgia. While the bodywork was stripped down and an extra oil tank was added, the flathead engine remained stock.

This car is a two-seater, and not just to maintain a connection to the road cars customers were able to buy. The passenger’s seat was occupied by a riding mechanic whose job was, among other things, to manually pump engine oil through a total-loss system that simply sprayed oil out onto the road once it had circulated through the engine. 

Safety was not a concern—both for drivers and spectators. The Model 30 lacks seatbelts, and most of the races it was built to compete in were held on public roads with no barriers to keep spectators from wandering into the path of oncoming cars, or stop crashing vehicles and debris from hitting bystanders.

The EMF Model 30 is still regularly driven today, providing a glimpse at the earliest days of motorsports—and a reminder of how much safety has improved in recent decades.

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