When Henry Ford began building “Sweepstakes” race car in 1901, he had a specific purpose in mind: publicity and recognition. Racing proved the worth of a builder’s engineering talent by demonstrating the speed and reliability of the product. In the Sweepstakes race car the engine was mounted in the middle of the car on the left-hand side, under the seat. It had two cylinders, horizontally opposed, with the crankshaft aligned transversely across the chassis. The cast-steel connecting rods reflected steam-power technology, with brass crank bearings as separate pieces bolted to the ends of the rods. The block and pistons were cast iron and with a seven-inch bore and seven-inch stroke, the total displacement was 539 cubic inches.
In late 1900, Henry Ford’s fortunes were at a low ebb. His first venture in auto manufacturing, the Detroit Automobile Company, was going out of business after producing 19 or 20 vehicles in a year of operation. The cars had not sold well and Ford wanted to develop a better one, but his stockholders decided to dissolve the company. The car Ford wanted to build would be mass-produced, uncomplicated, reliable, and sold at a price most people could afford. That was a revolutionary idea in 1901, when the automobile was still a novelty, and much too expensive for all but the very wealthy.