In 1902, Thomas automobiles were considered to be among the very best cars available. They were so good in fact, that the wealthiest man in America bought one for use exclusively on his estate in Maine. We recently added his marvelous piece of automotive history to our collection here at Grundy.
Like many early horseless carriage manufacturers, the Thomas Motor Company started life entwined with the bicycle craze. In 1896, Edwin Ross Thomas devised a gasoline engine that could be attached to a standard bicycle, and then began building powered bicycles under the name Thomas Auto-Bi. These were the first motorized production bicycles made in the United States. In 1902, Thomas began making automobiles. The first was the 1902 model 17, which could be bought as a runabout or as a rear entrance tonneau which could be removed if desired. Power was by a 2 cylinder 8HP engine mounted under the seat. The drive was by a 2 speed planetary transmission.
John D. Rockefeller built The Eyrie, a 100 room summer home in a huge estate on Mount Desert Island in Maine, and kept a collection of vehicles there for his personal use. One of these included our 1902 Thomas, which he drove exclusively on the roads he built within the estate. He used the car for only one season and then put it into storage in the estate’s coach house. Because of this, the car has only 500 miles on it and is totally, absolutely, 100% original except for the tires.
The Rockefeller family had the estate demolished in 1962, and around this time the car was acquired by the Glenn Gould collection. About 3-4 years ago, Stu Laidlaw of Laidlaw Restoration (http://laidlawantiqueautorestoration.com/) bought the car and stored it away. Jim Grundy found out about the car when he engaged Stu to restore his Thomas Flyer and was able to purchase it for his personal collection. It was a happy day when the car was delivered to our offices, and many people pitched in to get it safely placed in our lobby.
So how original is this car? In 2016, it won first place in the preservation class at Pebble Beach, the first place FIVA Award (Federation Internationale Vehicules Anciens) for best preserved vehicle at Pebble Beach, and the first place International FIVA Award for best preserved vehicle. This automobile is the only one to win all three of these prestigious awards.
If you visit us in Horsham PA, you can see this historic automobile and others on display.