What the Hell is a Riker Torpedo Racer?

by | Nov 16, 2020

This Week in Motorhead History: Riker Torpedo Racer sets the world speed record for electric cars

On November 16, 1901, the Torpedo Racer broke the world record for electric cars in Coney Island, New York. It was both built and raced by a man named Andrew Riker, who held onto the title of fastest electric car for a full decade, after the Torpedo Racer completed the one mile dirt track in just 63 seconds, at a remarkable speed of about 57 miles per hour. 

The important difference between the Riker Torpedo Racer and the myriad of electric cars also coming out during that era, is that Andrew Riker’s focus was not on the streetcar for the masses, but rather, on the ever-increasing draw of speed and power that even in the late 1800s and early 1900s called to the automotive enthusiast and builder. Riker didn’t just build electric cars, he built electric racecars, which helped him and the company to hold onto their lead in the electric car producing market and won them glory in both long distance and short track racing from the end of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th.  

Unfortunately, Riker saw the writing on the wall, and began his move away from electric cars not long after, eventually joining the team at Locomobile Company of America, where he worked on the internal combustion engine, a far cry from his battery powered race cars. The Riker Electric Motor Company he had formed in 1888 had evolved into the Riker Electric Vehicle Company in 1889 and was then absorbed by the Electric Vehicle Company in 1901. Andrew Riker died in 1930 at the age of 62.

What would Mr. Riker, and the numerous other electric car engineers, have to say about the automotive industry today? Is it fate, or the simple rise and fall of trends that we return, yet again, to the roots of classic car history in search of the future? For over one hundred years, electric cars have taken a backseat, ignored in favor of more speed, more power, more fuel. But we’ve come full circle, and now we must ask ourselves if this is yet another trend in the classic car chronology, or if this time, electric cars are here to stay.

Either way, we owe much to Andrew Riker and his Torpedo Racer.