You may recall the pleasingly bonkers story we reposted from Gizmodo yesterday about the forgotten early-motoring-era sport of Auto Polo.
While I was as distracted as anyone by the sheer lunacy and danger shown in the grainy old photographs, two questions popped in my head: First, how did those 40-horse Model T motors manage to haul around the massive, cast-iron balls of those guys, and second, are these cars showing off the very first roll cages?
The crude roll bar assemblies they've bolted on to those Model T chassis stand out because, well, they're pretty much the only thing on them that's not either meat or engine.
There's no seat belts, of course, so the roll hoops may be more intended to save the car rather than the player, but I'm sure they likely saved more than one Auto Polo player from a hot, oily crushing. The photos are pretty grainy, but the roll hoops look to me like they're constructed out of old leaf spring leaves.
That makes a lot of sense. There would have been plenty of them around, and they're certainly strong enough to do the job. It's a very different method than the tube-based ones used today, but one that makes sense for the time and the scavenged look of the rest of the equipment in the pictures.
Incredibly, after doing some research, the next oldest period photo I could find of a racing car with any sort of rollover protection wasn't until 1961, with this picture of a Maserati Tipo.
These cars were nicknamed the "birdcage" because of the tubular construction of the frame, which likely suggested the use of the tubular roll hoop. As the 60s went on, roll bars became more and more common, evolving into the cages we all know and love by the 70s.
So, the Auto Polo kooks may have been on to something, about 40-50 years ahead of their time! Not bad for a pack of lunatics.
UPDATE: Brian Lohnes found me a great brute of an example of a roll bar from the late 40s-early 50s, on his site BangShift. Thanks!