1906 Tourist Model K Touring

The Tourist may be a relatively unknown marque today, but for a brief period before World War I, this was California’s most popular automobile. The Auto Vehicle Company of Los Angeles was founded in 1902 and experienced rapid growth, followed by an equally rapid decline. Annual production steadily grew from just 17 cars the first year, to more than 500 by 1906, and yet by 1910, it was all over. In those days, most of America’s auto production was concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast. Without an efficient transportation infrastructure in place, the concept of a localized car company made good sense. Things looked promising for the Tourist in the early years; however, by1909, the company reported trouble acquiring parts. That year, they reorganized as the California Automobile Company, and Tourist production continued. Unfortunately, the problems didn’t cease, and 1910 proved to be their final year. The remaining inventory was sold off at cost, and California Automobile Company stopped production and changed focus to be a dealer for Firestone Columbus, Warren-Detroit, and Columbus Electric automobiles.

The Tourist was a fairly conventional car for its time, with the earliest 1902 models featuring a single-cylinder 7-hp engine mounted under a rudimentary body. The quality and sophistication improved rapidly, and by the 1903 model year, the Tourist gained a second cylinder and a bump to 8 horsepower. The next year, output jumped to 12 horsepower, and again to 20 HP for 1905. For several years, the only body style available was an open 5-passenger touring. However, a runabout, roadster, and limousine did join the range in later years, as did a large 35/40 horsepower 4-cylinder model. For a few brief years, the Tourist offered motorists a stylish, high-quality automobile with a uniquely west-coast flair.

This 1906 Tourist Model K Touring is one of just a handful of known survivors from this fascinating marque. Another long-term member of the Frankel collection, Alvin purchased this car as a project in 1954. The extensive history file includes a few photographs dated from that year, showing the Tourist rather precariously perched atop a trailer, being towed home by a Willys Jeep! Judging from the photos, we can see the Tourist was complete, but in need of a full restoration. As a proud Californian, the home-market Tourist fit right in with other cars in Frankel’s collection. It sat quietly in his garage for several decades, as raising a family and tending to his other collector vehicles took precedent over the Tourist. Finally, around 2004, Mr. Frankel began the painstaking process of restoring the Model K from the ground up.

Much of the restoration process is well-documented through photographs and invoices. Over the years, Mr. Frankel had amassed a considerable amount of historical information on the marque, including club publications, period advertisements, and even a set of original photos used for the factory parts catalog; all of which aided in the nut-and-bolt restoration and remain part of the car’s history file today. The project began with the wood body sent off to a specialist in Arizona for a complete rebuild. Once the body was reunited with the chassis and carefully checked for fit, the mechanical aspect of the project began in 2007. By early 2012, the project reached completion and the charming little Tourist back to its former glory.

According to marque historians, Tourists were typically finished in bold colors with elaborate striping that reflected the company’s Southern California roots. Mr. Frankel selected an appropriately vivid two-tone color scheme of bright white with blue chassis, mudguards, and trim. The attractive colors are accented with plenty of beautifully polished brass, including acetylene headlamps, twin carriage lamps, body trim, and that lovely “Tourist” script radiator emblem. White button-tufted leather upholstery completes the color scheme and is expertly restored to a high standard.

The Tourist’s mechanical layout features the 196 cubic-inch horizontally-opposed twin mounted amidships beneath the body. The big twin drives a two-speed planetary gearbox, which sends power to the rear wheels via a chain-driven axle. Following a careful check and light service, the Tourist was found to run and drive very well and has seen little more than shakedown miles since it was completed. The 20-horsepower output is impressive for an early two-cylinder engine, with plenty of torque on hand to keep it motoring along nicely.

This is an ideal candidate for entry into organized tours with groups like the Horseless Carriage Club or Veteran Car Club, or for display in local shows and concours events, and casual ice cream runs with the family. It was undoubtedly loved by Mr. Frankel, who owned it for 66 years and delighted in its restoration. An exceptionally rare and immensely charming veteran motorcar, the Tourist is sure to charm its next keeper for many years to come.


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