For the better part of a century, a well-worn Sears & Roebuck catalog was a much a fixture of the American household as the Bible. Whether you lived in the heart of a city or on a farm in the rural Midwest, Sears & Roebuck offered thousands of products, goods, and sundries delivered to your door. Clothing, rifles, livestock, machinery, and even pre-fabricated houses counted among the millions of products Sears offered through the years. In 1908, the same year that Ford debuted their revolutionary low-cost Model T, Sears & Roebuck added an automobile to their vast list of products. Sears was more than just a retailer; they designed and manufactured many of the products they sold. The new Sears Motor Buggy was a natural extension of their manufacturing experience; designed and (eventually) built entirely in Sears sprawling Chicago manufacturing plant. To create the car, the company brought in Alvaro S. Krotz, who had previous experience with an electric runabout sold under his name. Like many of the products that defined the brand, the Sears Motor Buggy was kept simple and robust. Early examples used a two-cylinder gasoline engine of ten horsepower, paired with a friction transmission, chain drive, and tiller steering. Later models grew to 14 horsepower, yet few deviations took place through the four-year production run, which appealed to Sears' conservative target audience.
The initial batch of Sears buggies was built in the Hercules factory in Evansville, Indiana. However, by late 1909, production shifted to Sears' factory in Chicago, and the range gradually expanded into several models, all based around the same basic design by Krotz (despite his hasty departure from the company). From a technical standpoint, all models were mainly the same, with the main differences being equipment and wheel type. The Model G was the most basic, while the Models H and J added such niceties as mudguards and a top. The $475 Model K features all the J had to offer and added large diameter cushion tires. Stepping up to the Model L got you pneumatic tires, and so forth. Between 1908 and 1912, Sears sold approximately 3,500 cars through their catalog. Customers raved about their simplicity and efficiency, many of them first-time automobile owners. But company accountants were considerably less thrilled. Sears was losing money on every vehicle they sold, and the arrival of Henry Ford's Model T was enough for them to see the writing on the wall. Sears left the car business in 1912 – but not for good. Forty years later, Sears teamed up with Kaiser Motors to market the slow-selling Henry J under the "Allstate" via the famous Sears catalog, although car buying had moved on and the project was a flop.
This 1911 Sears Model P is a rare four-seat model from the penultimate year of Sears Motor Buggy production. It is one of approximately 800 Sears cars built in 1911, offered at the catalog price of $495 – about $200 less than the cheapest Model T. Period advertising described the four-seat Model P as a "combination business and pleasure car." Advertising targeted the rural customer, claiming a Model P with its rear seat removed was ideal for taking vegetables or dairy to the market, or with the bench in place, perfect for taking your family to church on Sunday. Aside from the extended chassis, the mechanical specification is the same as the rest of the line, built around a central-mounted air-cooled two-cylinder engine of 14 horsepower, friction transmission, and twin-chain final drive.
This rare and charming Model P buggy has the distinction of being the only Sears ever owned by William F. Harrah. Registration records show this Sears joined his world-famous collection in approximately 1968 and remained a part of the museum for nearly twenty years until the dispersal of Harrah's collection in 1985. The Sears found yet another long-term owner in a large and diverse private collection. The owner bought the car directly from Harrah's, and it remained in his collection for the next 34 years. The history file contains numerous documents confirming ownership by Harrah's, including an official certificate issued by the collection upon the car's sale and the original placard from its time on display in the museum.
This Model P is well-equipped with period-correct fittings including twin Comet carriage lamps, bulb horn, and steel mudguards on all four wheels. It wears a lovely patina to the finish that suits the character of the car quite well, presenting in very good overall condition following many years of care and maintenance. Other details and fittings include a leather toe-board, polished nickel tiller and step plates, and a Ham Manufacturing tail light. The lofty seating position is very much carriage-like, and the large wheels allow for excellent clearance on rutted rural roads. The button-tufted leather benches have lots of character accrued through the years, with some cracking and creasing in the surfaces that are consistent with the overall patina.
Mechanically, this Sears is sound and complete, recently treated to a light refresh after a period of disuse, although additional sorting may be required. Two cylinders, air cooling, and tiller steering keep things remarkable simple – ideal for the rural farmer buying his first motor car. Piloting an early buggy such as this Sears Model P is a unique experience in the motoring world, offering a tremendous amount of fun with just 14 horsepower. This delightful example would be most welcome in the Horseless Carriage Club or with the Vintage Motor Car Club of America, who regularly hosts special tours for single and twin-cylinder motor cars. Sears built just 3,500 Motor Buggies in total, making any example a rare sight. This example, with well-documented history as part of the world's most famous car collection is sure to bring joy to any horseless carriage enthusiast.