It seems that in the last 100-plus years, we have come full circle. We now live in a time when just about anything imaginable can be purchased online from any number of megastores or online specialty websites. To a certain degree, the same was true at the turn of the 20th century. Chicago’s own Sears and Roebuck Co. produced a massive mail-order catalog that was the mainstay of many American households, particularly those from rural areas. Everything from housewares and books to tools and farm equipment was available from Sears. They even went so far as to sell automobiles and even pre-fab homes from the pages of the catalog! In 1908, they offered an automobile sold under the Sears name for the first time. The little “Sears Motor Buggy” was initially built in the Hercules Buggy Plant in Evansville, Indiana, but as demand grew, production was taken over by Sears themselves for 1909. These cars were simple and rugged, built to withstand the harsh rural conditions that many of Sears’ customers lived in. Initially, only one Sears buggy was offered, but by 1910 a full range of five models were featured in the catalog. Period advertising describes “a sturdy angle-iron frame, elliptical springs and Timken roller bearings on all four wheels”. Power was courtesy of a horizontally opposed twin-cylinder engine that produced 14 horsepower. Double chain drive put the power down through large buggy wheels. The Sears was capable of a healthy 25 mph! When a customer ordered a new Sears Buggy from a catalog, they could either pick it up in Chicago, or take delivery at the nearest railroad station. In that case, with a bit of minor assembly at the depot, they could add fuel and drive off in their new mail-order car. Ultimately, it was costing Sears and Roebuck more to build the cars than they were selling for, so in 1912 it was discontinued. Not until the AllState-badged Kaiser of 1952-1953 would Sears carry another car in the pages of their iconic catalog.
This fabulous 1909 Model K Runabout has been restored to a level rarely, if ever, seen on a Sears, and is well regarded as the best in existence. Recently part of the Sterling Walsh collection, a no-expense spared, fully documented restoration was lavished on this buggy to bring it to better-than-new condition. The body is finished in gloss black while the chassis and wheels are done in attractive dark green. Beautiful yellow pin stripe work adorns the wheels and frame. All paint work is to a very high standard, well above what is often seen on these vehicles. Brass lamps and exterior hardware have been beautifully polished. The steering tiller, brake lever and horn are finished in concours-quality nickel. The seat has been upholstered in leather, wool carpet was used to line the floor boards and the “windscreen” at the front of the cabin is made of beautiful patent leather. A minimal folding top of vinyl provides a bit of shelter from rain, provided you are stationary, at least. The whole presentation is gorgeous and jewel-like. With its 72 inch wheelbase and 36 inch diameter wheels, the Model K runabout sits tall and proud, earning the unofficial “highwheeler” moniker.
The beautiful restoration has not gone unnoticed by experts in the field. In 2012 it was awarded an AACA National 1st place award, followed by an AACA Senior award. This is far and away, the finest Sears Model K available. While this is a serious restoration, the Model K is also a charming reminder of a bygone era when a new motorcar could be purchased from the pages of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.