29 May 2013

Ill-Fated Indy Dreams: 1914 Rayfield-Hughes Special

If there was a Hall of Fame for the greatest race cars to not make Indy 500 history, the Rayfield-Hughes Special would be one of its oldest members. Innovative and powerful, this streamliner is nonetheless long forgotten, save for myths still circulating around Chrisman, Ill. — home of the Rayfield Motor Company from 1912 to 1915.

Founded in Springfield, Ill., in May 1910, the Rayfield firm relocated east to Chrisman in December 1911, bringing along chief engineer William Rayfield, who modeled his beloved automobile after France’s Renault, with its radiator mounted distinctively behind the engine. Rayfield also followed other automakers to the track, well aware of how much a race-winning reputation could help a small company get big in a hurry. After a failed attempt to take one of his cars racing outside Chicago in 1912, he went back to work on a second competition vehicle, meant this time to tour the bricks at Indy.

“My father spent a couple years up every night at his drawing board working on that race car,” remembered William’s son, George T. Rayfield, in 1992. Reportedly George T.’s father spent about $10,000 on his dream machine, part of that going to veteran Mercer team driver Hughie Hughes to both help build and drive it.

The 1,950-pound Rayfield-Hughes Special was powered by a 442 cubic-inch twin-cam six with inclined valves and dual Mea magnetos. Impressed with the car’s sleek form, Motor Age scribe C.G. Sinsabaugh touted it as the top example of wind-cheating design in the 1914 Indy field.

Expectations were predictably great when the Rayfield team headed east to Indianapolis on May 20, 1914.  “All are hoping that the car will carry off some of the big stake money,” wrote Chrisman Weekly Courier Editor C.L. Livingston. “If it does, it will certainly put Chrisman and the Rayfield Motor Company on the map.”

The map unfortunately wouldn’t have it. As George T. Rayfield recalled, he and his father were at breakfast on May 28, 1914, when “someone came running in, shouting we’d better run over and see what our crazy driver had done.” Showing off, Hughie Hughes had wound the racer’s engine beyond its limits, fracturing the crankcase, as well as William Rayfield’s heart.

Failing fortunes prevented a return to Indianapolis. Rayfield went into bankruptcy in October 1915, and all properties were sold off the following February. The repaired Indy car went to racing enthusiast Horace Benjamin of nearby Danville for $1,500. Benjamin then resold it in October 1916.

Two months later came news of Hughie Hughes’ death in a racing accident in Pennsylvania. No one knows the Rayfield-Hughes Special’s final resting place.

6 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Brian Adams Reno, NV May 29, 2013 at 17:06
    The "revolutionary" Andy Granatelli gas turbine car, driven in the Indy 500 by Parnelli Jones in 1967, led the race for 171 laps, but broke a $6 gearbox part on the 197th lap to finish 6th. By the next year's race the rules had been changed to exclude turbine engines. But seldom before or since was there more intense interest in an Indy 500 race.
  • 2
    Vince Rayfield Sydney, Australia November 4, 2014 at 03:09
    I found this article while researching my family history. There are very few Rayfields in Australia but the three original settlers seem to have come from the UK, most likely Kent. I am wondering if I am related to William Rayfield somewhere back there. George, William and John are all popular names for the early Rayfields.
  • 3
    Colin rayfield Brisbane February 6, 2015 at 00:57
    Vince Rayfield - you may want to contact me about the Rayfield history. Colin Rayfield One of the few Famous non-entity
  • 4
    John Pullen Villa Rica GA USA February 9, 2015 at 18:56
    No relation as far as I know. George T (I'm confused here about the quote as Geo. T was my grandfather - this must have been Bill's son, my granddad's nephew). Anyway, they came from Germany, Pomerania, I think, and settled in Wisconsin USA around Manitowoc. Lots of brothers, my mom had 32 FIRST cousins, so it's easy to get confused. Hope this helps.
  • 5
    Rick Rayfield Vermont USA February 6, 2017 at 23:58
    The five Rayfield brothers- my grandfather and four brothers, including Charles who invented the downdraft carburetor- were of German heritage and named Rahfeldt before changing their name ot Rayfield about 1910. They grew up near Oconomowoc Wisconsin, and developed the carburetor business in Chicago.
  • 6
    Rick Rayfield Vermont USA February 7, 2017 at 13:04
    The five Rayfield brothers- my grandfather and four brothers, including Charles who invented the downdraft carburetor around 1911- were of German heritage and named Rahfeldt or Rehfeldt before changing their name to Rayfield about 1910. They grew up near Oconomowoc Wisconsin, and developed the carburetor business in Chicago. Chrisman seemed a less expensive location to build cars. My grandfather moved his air compressor business, Champion Pneumatic, 120 west of Chicago to Princeton Illinois, where it still today. So they are not likely related to Australian Rayfields.

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