The first decades of the 20th Century were a dynamic and exciting period in automotive history, one characterized by start-ups, mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations. In particular, the story of the Chalmers Motor Car Company provides a fascinating glimpse into those heady days and includes some of the top executives who helped shape the early days of Detroit’s rise to worldwide “Motor City” fame.
Beginning in 1907, Roy Chapin and Howard Coffin recruited Hugh Chalmers, a vice president of the National Cash Register Company to join the Thomas-Detroit Motor Company. Soon, Chalmers bought out the ownership stake of company president E.R. Thomas, who continued to produce Thomas motorcars in Buffalo, New York. Thomas-Detroit then proceeded to market a four-cylinder car designed by Coffin and a pair of the new cars, now renamed Chalmers-Detroit, scored a one-two win at the Long Island Jericho Sweepstakes race in 1908, earning the company a high-profile competition pedigree. The following year, the three-car “Chalmers Bluebirds” team proved dominant, scoring four wins, three seconds, and three thirds in just seven races.
The 24-horsepower Model F and 40-horsepower Model E were the initial Chalmers-Detroit models for 1908, superseded in 1909 by the Model 30 on a 110-inch wheelbase chassis and 112-inch wheelbase Model 40 – both four-cylinder models and logically named after their factory-rated power output. The Model 30 was the mainstay Chalmers-Detroit line for 1909-12 with open body styles only offered for 1909, followed by the addition of closed models for 1910-12. In addition to its racing successes, including the 1910 Glidden Trophy, Chalmers-Detroit motorcars were favored by members of the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller families, America’s Cup sailor John Herreshoff, and engineer Jesse Vincent, who would soon become Packard’s celebrated chief engineer.
Despite popularity, and noted customers during those years, the company suffered a devastating blow when both Chapin and Coffin left Chalmers-Detroit to form the Hudson Motor Car Company with backing from wealthy Detroit merchant J.L. Hudson in 1909. Late in 1910, “Detroit” was dropped from the name and the company was reorganized as the Chalmers Motor Car Company. Chalmers continued to build two sizes of four-cylinder cars and added a 54-hp Six in 1912. Strong product placements included presentations of Chalmers cars to the baseball player in each major league with the highest batting average and the most valuable player, as chosen by sportswriters.
Despite offering quality cars that were well-proven and quite popular, Chalmers’ fortunes suffered like those of many competitors with cratering sales during the lean WW I years and a difficult postwar economy. A merger with Maxwell in 1921 seemed promising, yet soon led to the demise of Chalmers in 1923 and Maxwell in 1924. However, the elements of the combined enterprise soon provided the foundation for auto-industry veteran Walter P. Chrysler to establish and grow his own company, which of course continues today.
Utterly delightful, this sporting 1911 Chalmers Model 30 roadster continues to benefit handsomely from a quality older restoration. Well detailed all around, it features a nice red and black color combination and captivating brass accents and components. Power is delivered by a 226 cubic-inch ‘T-head’ inline-four, factory-rated at 30 horsepower with updraft carburetion and Chalmers’ signature “Ram’s Horn” curved exhaust manifold. The engine’s exposed valvetrain is yet another fascinating mechanical feature of this Brass Era roadster. It is a strong-running and powerful car that is an absolute thrill to drive, making it an ideal choice for Horseless Carriage Club tours.
According to known history, this example was sold new in Los Gatos, California, remaining in the possession of the original owners until 1959. Subsequently owned by a string of passionate vintage motorcar enthusiasts, it has been restored as needed through the years, and as offered, it presents in excellent condition with appealing colors and a pleasing light patina. Excellent brass details include the Chalmers “30” radiator script, original Chalmers-branded headlamps, dual cowl-mounted carriage lamps, and a single carriage-type taillamp, plus the split/folding Brass windshield frame, irresistible trumpet-style bulb horn, and hub caps. Other exterior highlights include elegant pinstripe accents and twin spare tires strapped to the rear of the car. A black folding top provides characteristically limited weather protection in 1910s fashion.
While indeed showing some signs of touring use, the passenger compartment remains quite attractive nonetheless with black diamond-tufted leather seating, black door panels, nice black flooring, and brass sill plates. Other interior features include a brass steering column mounting a wood-rimmed steering wheel, brass control pedals, a brass-accented gearshift quadrant, plus a floor-mounted, period-type speedometer with brass housing. An irreplaceable Chalmers Motor Co. cloisonné emblem remains affixed to the radiator shell, proudly announcing the arrival of this exceedingly rare and engaging Brass Era roadster wherever it goes.
Having obviously lived a charmed existence, this 1911 Chalmers Model 30 roadster is very nicely presented and ideal for Horseless Carriage Club touring events, or simply for unforgettable motoring enjoyment as desired. As offered, it celebrates the many joys of Brass Era motoring and simpler times with fascinating heritage to boot.
Offers welcome and trades considered