100 Years Ago, Henry Ford Would Have Been The Only Driver on Texas’ New 85 MPH Highway

Texas’ new highway will have a speed limit of 85 mph

100 years ago
100 years ago, this would have been the only car fast enough to drive on Texas’ new highway. The Henry Ford

Texas is ramping up highway travel with a new toll road that carries a speed limit of 85 miles per hour, 10 mph above the nation’s normal highway speed, says the Associated Press. From Austin to San Antonio, this 41-mile stretch will be the fastest in the country.

In fact, the new road will encourage travel at speeds faster than the mythic German autobahn. Though many stretches of the autobahn have no true speed limit, they do have an “advisory speed limit” of 130 kilometers per hour, or 81 mph. But just because Texans will be allowed to drive at 85 mph doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be able to or that they should. The new speed limit could prove to be a daunting task even for some of today’s production cars, such as the 2013 Land Rover Defender or the Nissan Leaf, which each sport maximum speeds of just 90 miles per hour. And the shift in speed limits has raised some safety concerns stemming from research a few years ago that showed increased highway speeds were associated with increased highway deaths.

Let’s pretend just for a moment that highway speeds had always been so high. Were that the case, then the first person who would have actually been able to drive the speed limit would be none other than Henry Ford, who in 1904 set a land-speed record of 91.37 miles per hour driving “a four-wheel vehicle, dubbed the “999,” with a wooden chassis but no body or hood,” across a frozen Lake St. Clair.

It took more than 20 years for production cars, rather than custom-built machines, to catch up, with the 1928 launch of the 100 mph-capable Mercedes ‘S’ Type.

Even as recently as the 1980s, says a guide to restoring Corvettes, the Chevrolet-built racers had speedometers that capped out at 85 miles per hour (though they could easily exceed this speed).

More from Smithsonian.com:
Wow! A Mile a Minute!
One Hundred Years of the Indy 500

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