Enthusiasm, imagination and determination were the marks of the automobile industry's pioneers. They persisted through setbacks both mechanical and financial, endured the booms and busts of the early 20th century economy and pursued their dreams of transforming America with internal combustion power. Some, like Henry Ford, the Dodge brothers and Walter P. Chrysler, were spectacularly successful. Others, perhaps equally talented and insightful, somehow missed making their mark on history.
Cadwallader ('Carl' as he preferred) Washburn Kelsey was one of the latter and if enthusiasm and vision alone had been sufficient to bring success he would be better known today. He built his first car in 1897 before entering college, his second as an undergraduate at Haverford College. He became the most successful dealer for Maxwell, eventually becoming Maxwell's sales manager. When he and Maxwell's Ben Briscoe fell out he returned to his passion, established the C.W. Kelsey Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut and introduced the Kelsey Motorette, a tricar powered by an opposed twin.
Over the next three years just over 200 Kelsey Motorettes were built, one of which is this beautifully restored 1911 model. It is reputed to have a 10hp engine with two-speed and reverse planetary transmission, chain drive to the single rear wheel, brakes on both the driveshaft and the rear wheel and righthand tiller steering. The radiator is the brass-trimmed slab behind the side-by-side seats and there is a starting crank on the side. The rear wheel is suspended on a pair of quarter-elliptical leaf springs which also locate the axle.
It is a 1997 AACA Senior National First Prize winner and the quality of the restoration and subsequent care it has received in its survival in show car condition today. The finish is black with gold coachlines on the body and the black painted wood spoke wheels. The two bucket-style seats are upholstered in black leather and it has its optional black folding top.
Kelsey's ads note that it has circulating oil lubrication, not the then-common full loss oiling. It really is a gorgeous, intriguing little thing that will always attract enthusiastic, positive attention.
The colorful story of 'Carl' Kelsey, which continued through another car company and culminated in the design of the 'Skycar' helicopter in the Sixties when Kelsey himself was in his eighties, only adds to its appeal and the many conversations it will start and introductions it will make to curious onlookers. There is a whole narrative about automobile pioneers wrapped up in this Kelsey Motorette.
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