The Overland Trail: Whitehorse - Dawson City
For years after the gold rush, the Yukon was a busy place both in summer and winter. River boats were the lifeline from Whitehorse to…
It’s not often that a car you probably never heard of may well be the most famous automobile ever to hit the Yukon. Ever heard of a Zust? No! Me neither, until I read about the greatest automobile race in history.
The Great Race from New York to Paris in 1908 inspired the 1965 slapstick movie with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and a cast of Hollywood characters. In the days when roads were wagon trails and automobiles were as rare as Mars landers, six cars embarked on a race from New York to Paris – wait for it - via Alaska, the Bering Strait and Siberia.
One of the six cars was a 1906 Zust, manufactured in Italy. On February 1st, 1908, the Zust arrived in New York City on a steamer. The great race began in Times Square on February 12. Six months later, just three of the six cars finished the race including the winner, a Thomas Flyer which reached Paris on July 27, 1908 and the Zust which finished a distant third, six weeks behind the Thomas Flyer. The incredible race covered more than 35,000 kilometres in 169 days.
After driving across North America, the cars were supposed to be shipped to Alaska by boat. The original route included driving across Alaska and the Yukon, including Dawson City, prior to crossing the Bering Sea on the winter ice. But the Strait was ice-free long before they could reach that destination, so they were freighted to Japan instead.
Excitement about the cars arriving in Dawson City was dashed. But amazingly, the Zust actually did end up in Dawson. According to the Daily News, it was delivered in mid-1910 for O.B. Perry, manager of the Yukon Gold Corporation. In early August the paper said "it was the only car in use."
By 1913, the "Guggenheim Automobile," as it became known, was still making news when it completed a winter journey on the overland trail from Whitehorse to Dawson. The ownership of the Zust from that time seems unknown, although it did stay in Dawson until the 1950's when Buck Rogers, an avid collector from Vancouver, bought it. By then, the chassis was in two pieces.
In the 1980's, the Klondike Zust was sold to Harry Blackstaff of Vancouver Island. For more than a quarter century, he worked on restoring the Zust and recently decided to go public with his prize after hearing about a 100th anniversary re-enactment of the historic great race planned for May 2008.
Blackstaff said the restored Zust will be identical to the original, right down to the brass cap on the gas tank and the leather wind screen.
An Edmonton video company is in the final stages of making a historical docudrama about the race called "The Greatest Auto Race on Earth" which is scheduled to appear on Super Channel in February.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.