1907 Thomas-Detroit Model C “Forty” Runabout
Chassis No. 7138
Engine No. 7166
40 hp, 354.4 cu. in. (5,807 cc.) L-head inline four-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, two-wheel mechanical brakes with propeller shaft brake. Wheelbase: 112-1/2 in.
Erwin R. Thomas, a Buffalo, New York, bicycle manufacturer, began building motorized bikes, trikes and quads before 1902, under the name Buffalo Automobile and Auto-Bi Company. That September he changed the company name to his own, and the E.R. Thomas Motor Company began turning out single-cylinder touring cars. These were followed by a three-cylinder model in 1904, and four- and six-cylinder cars a year later. Thomas is best remembered, however, as the winner of the epic 1908 New York-to-Paris Race, in which George Schuster and Montague Roberts drove a 1907 Thomas Flyer around the world in 169 days.
Thomases were big 50- and 60-hp cars, but in 1906, two veterans of Olds Motor Works, engineer Howard Coffin and salesman Roy Chapin, convinced Erwin Thomas to finance a smaller, 40-hp car that Coffin had designed. The pair set up the E.R. Thomas-Detroit Company in that city, selling their output to the Buffalo-based Thomas company for distribution and sales. By July 1907, slightly more than 500 cars had been shipped, with runabout, touring, limousine or landaulette bodies. The geographic separation, however, was cumbersome, so by 1908 Chapin and Coffin had convinced Hugh Chalmers to buy out Thomas’s share of their operation. Production continued through 1910 as the Chalmers-Detroit, but by then Coffin was hard at work on a smaller, lighter car that saw production as the Hudson. Total Thomas-Detroit production did not exceed 1,250 cars.
This jaunty Thomas-Detroit runabout has spent most of its life with a single family. Purchased as a used car by young William B. Bolmer in northern New Jersey around 1915, it moved to Ohio with the family in the 1950s. The Bolmers did not discard their possessions lightly, so William’s eldest son Gordon became the car’s next keeper. Gordon became a partner with his grandfather-in-law in the Capital Tire Shop on South Main Street in Findlay, Ohio.
In 1962, Findlay celebrated its sesquicentennial, and the Bolmers decided to refresh the Thomas-Detroit for participation in the July celebratory parade. Capital Tire sold Goodyear tires, so as part of preparing the car mechanically and cosmetically Gordon painted it Goodyear Blue, with Goodyear yellow on chassis and wheels, the colors it wears today. Here is a link to the parade in 1962. Pay close attention to 4:20
Following the parade, Gordon kept the car in operating condition, driving it occasionally until his passing in June 2010 at age 79. This past year, after a century of one-family ownership, his children finally decided to let the Thomas-Detroit move on to a new owner.
Thomas-Detroit automobiles were rare when they were new. The odds of finding another one in the market today verge on infinitesimal. For finding another with such a long family history, restored or not, the probability is almost certainly zero.