The Search for Henry Ford's Punchbowl Trophy

By: Unique Cars magazine

Presented by

ford punchbowl ford punchbowl

Ford chasing Holy Grail artefact

Ford Motor Company has put out the call to try and locate a cut-glass punchbowl won by its founder, Henry Ford in a car race, October 1901, according to an article by Daniel Strohl of Hemmings Daily.

The race win, punchbowl trophy and most importantly the $1000 prizemoney kick-started the Ford empire.

Ford had started the Detroit Automobile Company and built a handful of cars before it collapsed in January 1901, forcing the 38-year-old to move back in with his parents.
While there he hatched a plan to build a car and compete in the race run by the Detroit Driving Club.

Ford figured by winning the race investors would throw money at him.

Against long odds Ford lined in his 26-hp 538ci. twin-cylinder car named Sweepstakes, with many competitors not showing or making it to the start line.

One who did show up was race favourite Alexander Winton, who had been producing cars since 1897.

The race was organised by Winton dealers, who anticipated he would easily win, collect the cash and punchbowl.

It is claimed the punchbowl was selected by either Winton himself or one of his staff as it would perfectly capture the light in a bay window of his Cleveland home.

At first all went to plan with Winton racing away to a sizeable lead, however on the seventh lap, Winton’s car began to misfire and Ford pounced, passing Winton and charging to victory three laps later.

Ford was the unlikely victor and lore has it that the $1000 winnings went to the start of the Ford Motor Company. But not immediately.

With new backers Ford established the Henry Ford Company but in no time Ford and his investors clashed over whether race cars were a worthy pursuit. Fresh from his first and only race win Ford wanted to develop competition vehicles while the investors wanted a return on their investment and pushed Ford to forget racing and commence production.

Ford stormed out with his race-winnings and a promise that his backers wouldn’t use his name. One investor, William Murphy, turned to Henry Leland and, in 1902, proceeded to reorganize the Henry Ford Company into the Cadillac Automobile Company.

Ford did build a couple of race cars, the Arrow and the 999 and got coal baron Alexander Young Malcolmson to back his next venture, the Ford Motor Company.

When Ford launched the Bullitt Mustang last month, the re-emergence of the original film car renewed Edsel Ford II’s efforts to locate the punchbowl. Australians would be familiar with Edsel, who ran Ford Oz between 1978-1980 and was responsible for the Cobra and giving Dick Johnson a lifeline after he crashed into a rock while leading the 1980 Bathurst 1000.

The punchbowl remained with Henry and Clara Ford through Henry’s death in 1947 and Clara’s death in 1950. In 1951 it and many of the couple’s possessions went under the hammer at a New York auction.

The punchbowl sold for $70 to the now defunct New York store, The Garden Shop.

So far researchers haven’t turned up any trace of the punchbowl, and Edsel Ford II told Automotive News that he fears it may be gone forever. However, on the off chance it still exists, he – and many others, including The Henry Ford Curator of Transportation, Matt Anderson, who described the punchbowl as a "holy grail artefact"– hopes it does and that it makes its way back to Dearborn.

 

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition