Early automobile manufacturers used a wide range of tests to prove a car's strength, endurance and capability. Ranging in variety from factory proving grounds to the race track, these tests were often highlighted in factory sales literature. There were few better ways to highlight a vehicle's prowess than to subject it to conditions and abuse that the average motorist would never have to worry about. Two manufacturers, Metz and Velie, chose to show off their car's abilities by driving from the top of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River — a trip that would still make many hearts flutter even in modern cars today.
The 1921 Velie expedition is described in a 16-page booklet measuring 8" X 9". Illustrations are mostly black and white but a few are colorized with orange ink to emphasize the color of the canyon wall. In this booklet we quickly learn that the team launched from Los Angeles, traveled through the desert by making their own roads and arrived in Peach Springs, AZ with neither the car nor crew the worse for wear. According to the booklet, the 6-cylinder Velie Model 34 was pulled at random from a group of finished cars and boasts "What one Velie does, all can do."
1921 Velie Grand Canyon Brochure.
As the travelers started down the canyon trail under their 1600-lb load, they passed the Hulapi Indian Reservation where they were told it was "impossible to get a team (of horses) down to Diamond Creek, let alone the river." Undeterred, the crew left word that if they weren't back in four days the natives should send a rescue team.
Velie overlooking the Grand Canyon.
The Velie drove through passes so narrow that their hub caps were battered and continued on over boulders, "impossibly steep" grades and "every known species of cactus". They reached the Colorado River in two days, touched their wheels in the mighty river and started the battle back to the top. After two more days of travel the Velie made it to the top of the canyon having never had a mechanical issue or even needing to add a single drop of water to the radiator.
The Velie crew returned to Los Angeles, completing their 1,400 mile journey and "patted ourselves on the back, to think that we had accomplished a feat that everyone, including the Indians, said could not be done." Everyone, that is, except the members of a 1915 Metz Grand Canyon expedition!
Yes, six years before Velie accomplished the "unparalleled feat", a small Metz 22 accomplished the ride in 1915. It was documented in their 4-1/2" X 6-3/4" booklet titled "Through the Grand Canyon." The 30-page volume describes the exact same route from Los Angeles to Peach Springs, passing the Hulapi Indian Reservation and busting over and through arroyos, boulders, washouts and narrow passes. The Metz crew, however, did it in a smaller car, a 4-cylinder Model 22 that generated 22-1/2 horsepower. They also anticipated the trip taking a little less time as they asked the Hulapis for assistance if they didn't reappear in two days. (Apparently the Halupis forgot about the Metz trip when they told the Velie travelers that the trip was impossible.)
Metz Grand Canyon Brochure.
Metz overlooking Grand Canyon.
Like the Velie booklet, the Metz piece used the rough touring conditions to highlight the twisting and straining that the car's axles, springs and the frame endured. The booklet also brags about the "pulling power of the fiber grip transmission". The last four pages of the Metz booklet were dedicated not to the Grand Canyon roadster but the specifications and features of the Metz 22 models available in showrooms.
Both of these booklets include fantastic photographs of the cars in action. The photos really draw attention to adventurous Americans and some fun barnstorming tactics of the early 20th century. While the Velie booklet doesn't come right out and say they were the first to travel the Grand Canyon route, every sentence is structured to give the reader that impression. I wonder if the Metz crew ever saw the Velie piece. Also, I'm now left wondering if the Metz crew was indeed the first group to drive the Grand Canyon route by automobile.
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