The irony of the Thomas Flyer Company was that it was fostered by a man who never actually learned to drive a motor car. Founded in Buffalo, NY, in 1900, by Edwin Ross Thomas, the company began by building bicycles and motorcycles. Car production began in 1902, in a new factory; the first model was a light single-cylinder car, joined soon after by a twin-cylinder, and in 1903 by a three-cylinder car with a DeDion-type bonnet. When this example was discovered, it had an incorrect engine and transmission. It had what turned out to be one of only two 1904 Buick engines in existence - Buick only produced 37 cars in 1904. After much searching, a correct engine was located, and the restoration was completed after manufacturing several of the 'impossible-to-find' parts required.
Erwin Ross (E. R.) Thomas was in the bicycle business prior to manufacturing automobiles. He was the managing director for H.A. Lozier & Co. during the early 1890s, where he realized the potential for the newly evolving automobile business. With this realization, he left Lozier to take over the Buffalo Automobile and Auto-Bi Company, which was known for its production of bicycles and motorcycle engines. E.R. changed the company name to Thomas Auto-Bi in 1900. A year later, Thomas claimed to build more air-cooled motors than anyone else. In 1903, the first Thomas automobiles were introduced. By 1905, the Thomas Company was building bigger 4-cylinder cars dubbed 'Thomas Flyers'. Their 1907 sales catalogue boasted 'You can't go by a Thomas Flyer, so go buy one!'The greatest achievements for the Thomas Flyer was winning the 1908 Le Matin sponsored 'The Great Race.' The route traversed from New York across the United States to San Francisco, then shipped to Alaska, and across the Bering Strait, either by ship or by ice to Siberia. Three days prior to the start of the race, E.R. Thomas made the decision to enter a car. Using a stock 1907 model from the factory, the car traveled 13,341 miles in 171 days. The victorious Thomas rolled into Paris and into the history books.
This 1903 Thomas Tonneau 18 was built in Buffalo, New York. It is powered by a 106 cubic-inch, one-cylinder engine developing 8 horsepower. The Thomas Model 18 was the first car produced by the Thomas Company after E.R. Thomas consolidated his manufacturing into one division. His cars followed the French pattern of design, with a look similar to a Renault or DeDion Bouton and shared a similar mechanical design.
The car belonged to a Buffalo collector for many years. He bought it from a museum in Buffalo in the 1990s when it closed its doors. The car was in very original condition when purchased and a restoration began.His estate sold the Thomas to a collector in the state of Washington where it had a complete restoration that was finished in 2005.It was shown at a few local concours shows and driven about 300 miles in Single Cylinder Tours, including completing the Single Cylinder Touring Registry in LaConner, Washington. It is now ready for the London Brighton Tour in England.This was the first year of production for the Thomas and is one of only two known to exist. It sold for $1,400 when new.
The Erwin Ross (E.R.) Thomas Motor Company produced automobiles from 1902 through 1919. Production transpired in Buffalo, New York. The first cars produced by the company appeared in 1903 and were mostly small runabouts with seating for two. The company had begun like so many other auto-manufacturing firms at the time - through a bicycle business. Thomas had been building bicycles for several companies before making the switch to automotive production. The first E.R. Thomas Motor cars were powered by a vertically-mounted water-cooled straight-three cylinder engine that produced just over 20 horsepower. The engine was mated to a two-speed planetary gearbox. As times progressed, so did the E.R. Thomas Motor Cars. The Company did much to promote their vehicles and to attract customers, such as painting the cars in bright and attractive colors. The cars became more powerful and elegant and became renowned for their reliability and endurance.
In 1908, an E.R. Thomas Car was entered into 'The Great Race' which ran from New York to Paris. The decision was made at the last minute and there was little time to properly adapt the car for the race. Instead, the company pulled one from the production line and entered it into the race. The race began at New York during the winter and proceeded for San Francisco. The entrants then loaded onto a boat and traveled to Alaska and then Siberia. Once they arrived at Siberia, the race continued.
The race lasted 171 days and covered 13,300 miles. At the conclusion of the race, ending in Paris, it was an E.R. Thomas in first place, claiming the overall victory. Demand for the E.R. Thomas Motor cars increased after the heroic victory. In 1911, the company only produced six-cylinder cars. Within a year, the car had entered into receivership and purchased by C.A. Finnegan of the Empire Smelting Company. By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2008
The E.R. Thomas Motor Company began producing automobiles in 1903 after several years of selling motor-bicycles. The company became famous for the Thomas Flyer, one of America's most successful automobiles, which won the 1908 New York to Paris Road Race. The Model 18 was the more expensive of two Thomas models offered in 1903 and was only built in this body style with an 8 horsepower, single-cylinder engine. This 1903 Thomas Rear Entrance Tonneau is one of only three known to exist. It was purchased in 2014 from the longtime collector Johnny Crowell, who had bought the car from the Harrah Collection 38 years earlier.
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