While going through family photos a few years back, I found a tiny snapshot (2″ x 2″) that was most likely taken by a Great Uncle in the early 1900’s, at an annual race on the streets of Santa Monica, California. The print itself had nothing to identify the car, so I took to the web. Amazingly, I found Guy Prentice, who identified both the car and the driver, a Fiat first owned and driven by Ted Tetzlaff, Sr. Tetzlaff was a Hollywood stunt man at the turn of the 20th century and a race car driver. Guy places the date of my photo (on the right) as circa 1910-13.
He writes: “This car was owned by my family from 1919 to 1999. However, the car I grew up with looks considerably different as the only part of the original Fiat was the chassis. In late 1913 or early 1914, it got a new body and a Pope motor and Bert Dingley drove it. In 1915, Hughie Hughes drove it at the San Francisco Grand Prix. I have not found any record of where it was between 1916 and 1919. I’m attaching a photo of what the car looks like these days for your amusement.
“I have also attached three stills snatched from a Fatty Arbuckle movie from around the time of Tetzlaff’s win at the Santa Monica Grand Prix. These are definitely Tetzlaff’s Fiat, although I don’t think he is the driver in photo # 02-0.”
Guy continues : “I never had the pleasure (or abject terror according to those that did) of driving the car. I’m told that it had ‘hair-trigger’ steering and one slight miscalculation would put you in the ditch. My dad drove the car at the AAA vintage auto races, usually at the fairgrounds in La Jolla, CA from the late 1940’s through the early 1960’s. On a couple of occasions I got to mechanic for him during practice laps (They took a dim view of an eight year old being on the track during actual racing.)
“If I remember correctly, this was one of three identical cars that came over for the 1910 or 1911 American Grand Prix. I dug through my photo collection and found a picture that seems to be taken around the same time as your photo. It shows Tetzlaff and mechanic in the Fiat wearing the number 32. I believe this is from Santa Monica 1912.
Tetzlaff drove it through the 1913 season when he put a rod through the block. War was raging in Europe at the time, so there were no replacement motors to be had. That’s when Bert Dingley raced it as the “ONO” with the Babydoll Pope Toledo motor in it – only 389cid in 4cyls, considerably smaller than the Fiat block. Dingley and his mechanic were nearly killed when they rolled the car at Tacoma in 1914. Hughie Hughes drove the car in 1915. I have a picture of him racing at the San Francisco Grand Prix.
“As the family story goes, my granddad owned a storage garage in San Diego in 1919. The car, at the time, was owned by a naval officer who had a reputation for drinking and driving the car at breakneck speeds through the city of San Diego. The final straw was when he missed a turn, ran up on the sidewalk, took out a light pole and nearly ran over a pedestrian. The judge told him he could get out of jail when he proved to the judge that he had sold the car. As luck would have it, he stored the car at my granddad’s garage, so he offered the car to my granddad, and he accepted. At this time, the car was back in ‘street’ condition with fenders, running boards and headlamps installed. The car sat in storage until 1942 when my dad started restoring it. It wasn’t until the late 1940’s that my dad found out about the car’s racing history and he restored it back to racing trim.”