In 1902, Erwin Ross Thomas created the E.R. Thomas Motor Car Company, taking over the assets of Buffalo Automobile & Auto-Bi Company in the process. This news was hardly a surprise to anyone in the industry as Thomas owned both firms, and he did this purely so he could put his name on an all-new motorcar. The first car to wear the Thomas badge, a single-cylinder, 18 horsepower Tonneau, appeared in 1903. Engines and output quickly grew to a 24 horsepower three-cylinder unit in 1904, and by 1905, the famous Thomas Flyer made its first debut, with large 40 and 50 horsepower four-cylinder engines and a variety of body styles available. With the sudden increase in power came an equally sudden increase in price. The Model 18 Tonneau of 1903 was offered at $1,400 while just two years later; a 50 horsepower Flyer Limousine came in at a massive $4,500.
E.R. Thomas had an interest in going racing, so in 1905 he offered a select few clients the opportunity to purchase the mighty, six-cylinder, fifty-horsepower model. After some respectable showings in the grueling Vanderbilt Cup races, Thomas achieved its greatest success – winning the New York to Paris race of 1908 with a mechanically standard four-cylinder Flyer. The winning Thomas Flyer still exists in “as-raced” condition and counts as one of the most historically important motorcars in the world.
In early 1906, two veterans of Olds Motor Works – Howard E. Coffin and Roy Chapin managed to persuade E.R. Thomas to back their new venture, which was planning a new 40-horsepower car built in Detroit. The cars were constructed in a purpose-built plant in Michigan; they were shipped east to be marketed and sold by Thomas Motor Company in Buffalo. This new car would be an ideal size to supplement the big, prestigious 50 hp cars from Thomas while offering the familiar levels of quality and performance that Buffalo-built Thomas buyers expected. E.R. Thomas’ control over the process quickly began to challenge the partnership, and by 1908, Chapin and Coffin had teamed up with Hugh Chalmers to buy out E.R. Thomas’ share and create the Chalmers-Detroit. Ultimately, Thomas-Detroit lasted only from 1906-1908, with approximately 1,250 cars produced.
This 1907 Thomas-Detroit Model C is a stunning example and one of the very few known survivors from this short-lived marque. Recently from an extensive collection, it has been comprehensively restored over the past decade, with the majority of the work done by Concours Classic Motorcars of Macedon, New York. The early history is not known, although it is understood that the car was owned from at least the 1950s through the 1970s by Mr. J. Herbert Carpenter Jr. The history file shows that by the 2010s, Mr. Christopher Thomas acquired it in a partially-restored state. He soon commissioned a fresh and complete restoration.
Mr. Thomas unfortunately passed away before the project was completed, and it was sold via his daughter to the well-known collector Arnold Petsche of Arlington, Texas. Petsche would complete the restoration and retain the car until his passing in 2017. In the time that he owned the Thomas-Detroit, he displayed it at shows including the 2016 Concours d’Elegance of Texas where it was awarded Best in Class.
Finished in a splendid color scheme with black bodywork and contrasting green chassis and coachstripes, it remains in excellent condition throughout. Typical for the period, the body is constructed in wood, with brass hardware and steel fenders. The quality of the coachwork is excellent, and the black paint finished to a high standard. Similarly, the quality of the green color on the chassis and wheels is excellent. The body is nicely adorned with fine quality brass fittings and accessories, including a Gray & Davis acetylene tank, and matching Gray & Davis headlamps, carriage lamps, and tail lamp.
The interior is trimmed in tan, button-tufted leather which appears very fresh and shows almost no use since the restoration was completed. Era-appropriate linoleum lines the running boards and front floorboards. Controls and cockpit fittings are excellent, including the period correct Continental Motor Clock and Jones speedometer. Highly polished woodwork features on the cowl and door caps, appearing fresh and beautifully finished.
The big 354 cubic-inch T-head four-cylinder engine features two separate cast pairs of cylinders resting atop an alloy crankcase. An electric starter has been incorporated for convenience, while the rest of the engine presents in period-correct order. Copper plumbing and brass hardware contrast the gray-painted cylinders. While the Thomas-Flyer was one of the mightiest cars on the road, the Thomas-Detroit was still considered a potent car, making its power and prodigious torque at a just 1,500 RPM.
This is a rare opportunity to acquire one of the few examples from this fascinating and prestigious marque. Benefiting from a full restoration, this Thomas-Detroit is now ready for Antique Automobile Club of America events, Horseless Carriage Club tours, or however the next caretaker chooses to enjoy this delightful Brass-Era touring car.