After serving the Union Army with honors in the Civil War, Col. Albert Augustus Pope established a business that would eventually grow into America’s first automobile manufacturing conglomerate. Pope’s business began with a scheme to manufacture patented products for other companies, which proved to be quite lucrative. The firm’s initial foray into wheeled transportation came with the bicycle craze of the late 1800s. Col. Pope capitalized on the popularity of cycling first through a deal to import bicycles from England, then by using his manufacturing prowess to produce bikes for many different brands. The American Bicycle Company encompassed over 40 different brand names, including their flagship Columbia nameplate, which still exists today.
Pope was quick to react when the bike craze faded and the horseless carriage emerged. His engineers experimented with a petrol-powered motorcar prior the turn of the century, then settled on an electric as their first production automobile, first sold under the trusted Columbia brand name. In 1897, Pope Manufacturing Company established a motor vehicle division, placing Hiram Percy Maxim at the helm. In 1899, a New York financier by the name of William Whitney bought out the Electric Vehicle Company and approached Col. Pope with a proposed merger. The two reached an agreement, and the Columbia Automobile Company was born. Pope later added the Waverley electric to his portfolio as a series of mergers, takeovers, and name changes saw Columbia change hands several times. The firm soldiered on, offering a series of high-quality, upmarket electric and gasoline vehicles for their wealthy clientele. In 1910, the company became part of Benjamin Briscoe’s United States Motor, itself an attempt to emulate Billy Durant’s mighty General Motors Corporation. Unfortunately, in September 1912 US Motors failed, taking the Columbia Automobile Company down with it.
Stunning in every regard, our featured 1908 Columbia Mark LXX Victoria Phaeton is one of the finest of its kind extant and a marvelous example of an early American electric vehicle. This car was formerly part of the renowned Cedar Crossing Collection of James and Deborah Cousens. The Cousens’ once owned the world’s premier collection of significant early electric automobiles. James acquired this rare Columbia in an original and complete state, and then commissioned a full, ground-up, nut-and-bolt restoration finished to the highest standard. An interior designer by profession, Mr. Cousens applied his keen sense of style to this Columbia. The body features beautifully finished medium olive green paint, accented with furniture-grade blonde colored woodwork, black leather mudguards, and the proud Columbia logo emblazoned across the cowl in gold leaf. Details include a pair of nickel-plated Devoursney Bros. carriage lamps, single tail light, and exquisite nickel and brass body fittings.
Superbly crafted leatherwork and upholstery complement the body detailing. The Victoria-style top features nickel plated landau irons and beautiful little side windows. The shape is drawn directly from carriage building days, giving the Columbia a handsome, formal profile with the roof up. Other interior fittings include pyramid rubber floor lining, a button-tufted leather bench, and a gorgeous polished wood toe board, all presented in impeccable order.
The meticulous attention to detail continues on the chassis and undercarriage, with gloss black paintwork on the suspension, frame, and rear axle in excellent condition. The motor sits amidships beneath the seat, driving the rear differential via a chain. Virtually every mechanical component down to the brake drums is restored to the same standard as the rest of the car. The beauty of these early electric vehicles is their ease of maintenance, ease of operation, and dependable nature.
With provenance that includes one of the world’s preeminent collections of electric vehicles, this 1908 Columbia shines as one of the finest of the type we have encountered. The world-class restoration will surely allow it entry into premier concours events across the United States and Europe. The emerging popularity of modern electrics has renewed interest in pioneering electric vehicles such as this, with collectors, enthusiasts, and concours organizers alike taking notice. This jewel-like Columbia is presented in a condition seldom seen on similar early motorcars, and it is ready to take its place in virtually any prestigious collection.