Just Cool Cars: 1911 National raced at Indy -- and still races

MONTEREY, Calif. -- For their day, they were expensive machines, but oh, they were fast.

They came from National, a car company that started with electrics and graduated to gas powered cars. And we came across one of the best examples recently -- a 1911 National that its owner, Brian Blain of Visalia, Calif., says driver Charles Merz used to compete in the first Indianapolis 500.

It was one of three Nationals in the race that year, he says, and this one came in a respectable seventh.

Best of all, it's still running. At the Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Mazda Raceway in Laguna Seca, old Number 20 was back on the track.

Hard to keep running? "It's always a challenge," he says. When we caught up to Blain, his crew was battling its share of leaks. "We have water coming out of places it shouldn't be coming out of," he told us.

National didn't last long. After achieving fame early, the faced a raft of automakers who undercut them on price. It disappeared during the 1920s.

"They were an expensive car, well built" and fast as a race car. He says Nationals were capable of 100 miles per hour, but don't depend on the brakes. "When you drive these cars, you avoid accidents with the (steering) wheel instead of the brakes," he says.

And sure enough, "It takes little getting used to," he says.


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