748 cu in, T-Head Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Single Carburetor, 70hp
4-Speed Manual Transmission with chain final drive
Semi-Elliptic Leaf Suspension
*Well-known survivor of this behemoth iconic model
*Extremely rare 'Big Thomas'
*Restored for Harold Coker in the 1970s
*Former Antique Automobile cover car
*The Ultimate in Brass Era Touring cars
THE THOMAS COMPANY
Like so many of his pioneering contemporaries, Erwin Ross (E. R.) Thomas was in the bicycle business prior to manufacturing automobiles. During the 1890s, E. R. was the managing director for H. A. Lozier & Co. who produced the famous Cleveland bicycle. However, he recognized the huge potential in the newly evolving automobile business and left Lozier to take over the Buffalo Automobile and Auto-Bi company, which was known for its production of bicycles and motorcycle engines. In 1900 E. R. changed the company name to Thomas Auto-Bi, and by 1901 Thomas claimed to build more air-cooled motors than anyone else.
E. R. had bigger things in mind however, and the first Thomas automobiles were introduced in 1903; small runabouts described in the catalog as the happy medium between the cheaper and more expensive cars. By 1905 the Thomas Company was building bigger four-cylinder cars dubbed 'Thomas Flyers'. Thomas Flyers soon gained notoriety among the faster and more flamboyant Touring cars of their day. E. R. had an eye for flair and his huge powerful cars showed it - they were often finished in bright colors and loaded with many ornate brass accessories. The 1907 sales catalogue boasted "You can't go by a Thomas Flyer, so go buy one!"
The Thomas name endures and is most readily remembered for its most astounding victory in one the greatest automotive competition events of the time, the 1908 Le Matin sponsored 'The Great Race'. The route went from New York (in the dead of winter) across the U.S. to San Francisco, then by ship to Alaska, and across the Bering Strait, either by ship or by ice to Siberia. To be certain that the Yukon and the Bering Strait would be covered in ice, the race purposely began in the winter. Many of the dirt-covered trails had never been traveled by a motorcar.
E. R. Thomas made a last minute decision to enter a car and three days prior to the start, a stock 1907 model was selected from the factory lot. 13,341 miles and 171 days later, the victorious Thomas rolled into Paris and forever cemented its place in history.
The following year Thomas moved into 'six-cylinderism', the territory which luxury manufacturers were now pushing as the ultimate in performance and refinement, Napier, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls-Royce to name but a few. For Thomas they simply extended their existing four with two extra cylinders, but owing to their mammoth 5½ inch bore, this pushed the engine size out to 12.9 liters and provided more than 70 horsepower. At this point, this was by far the largest engine available and remains one of the largest enigne ever to be fitted to an American production automobile.
The new 'six' commanded the designation Model K or 6-70 for logical reasons and Thomas priced it at $6000 in Touring form, with options of Seven Passenger Touring, 'Tourabout' or 'Flyabout'. Of the handful of options for these chassis, the Flyabout was by far the most sporting and effectively a Thomas branding for a 'Toy Tonneau'. Sitting on a 140 inch wheelbase, it was a gargantuan car even among its peers. Yet, despite its scale, the 'square' engine dimensions of 5½ by 5½ inches and with four speed transmission provided a very tractable and lively engine performance, the engine revving higher and with a broader power band than many of its longer stroked contemporaries. Perhaps owing to lessons learned on their trials around the world, ignition came from a 'belt and braces' system of coil and magneto.
In the 6-70, Thomas had truly created a large and sporting car, in terms of performance it was hard to eclipse and for this reason it has remained one of the 'Greats' in folklore ever since. They have long been the ultimate for the serious collector and are prized for their looks, size, charisma and greatly appreciated for their driving characteristics.
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
This majestic Thomas is one of very few survivors of this golden age and one of only a handful of genuine 70hp cars that can chart their history back to that period as complete entities.
By 1910 it had become something of a struggle for Thomas to continue to build upon their 'around the world' reputation and sales were drying up a little. One source of business for the company was the wealthy 'light' or 'semi' commercial market to which Thomas delivered a number of their production cars. Similarly there were firms that specialized in appropriating them for such use. One of those was the Webb Company of St. Louis.
Period literature notes that in 1910 the city of Chattanooga took delivery of their new fire apparatus, it was progression that Fire Chief Thomas Wilcox had overseen. The Webb bodied Thomas would remain with them for nearly half a century, being retained as something of a novelty long after it had been retired from practical use.
In 1956 the city elected to part with the Thomas, remarkably selling it to Tommy Lynch, the grandson of Mr. Wilcox the gentleman who had originally acquired it for the city commission. The story was certainly newsworthy, as depicted in the contemporary free press, the Thomas from its striking radiator to massive engine can be seen. And so the Thomas left the buildings in Warner Park, Chattanooga for its first new owner.
At this point legendary collector Harold Coker, himself based in Chattanooga, joins the tale. As reporting to the Antique Automobile Club of America blog in 2010 he spent roughly 8 years negotiating with the Wilcox family to retrieve the car. Eventually his persistence paid off and this car became the first Thomas to grace the Coker Stable. Of course the Coker family and this famed marque would become synonymous over time, no fewer than 11 examples eventually passing through their hands.
Coker commissioned a comprehensive restoration of the car, carefully researching the model to ensure the accuracy of the rebuild. Its "Flyabout" coachwork was built using comparison with the car that he felt was the best representation of the model, that of Mahlon Patton of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The Thomas Flyer would emerge from its restoration in the early 1970s. At its show debut at one of the nation's most prominent Concours, at the Antique Automobile Club of America's Hershey Fall Meet in 1972 where it won a First Prize. The car was subsequently honored with presentation on the cover of the Antique Automobile. Viewing that cover today it is easy to see how impressive the restoration was.
This first Thomas was actually one that would 'fly' the Coker nest passing to noted collector David Noran, and later to the current owner, where it joined a prominent collection of truly sporting automobiles. In total this represents a remarkably simple chain of 5 owners in its 116 year life span.
Since arrival in the current custodian's stable, the car has received some refreshing of its 40 year old refurbishment at the hands of noted specialists in early cars. Most notably it has been properly re-commissioned and returned to the road at the hands of renowned North East company Holman Engineering. As part of this work an electric starter has been included and perfected, simplifying the car's use, such that today, it is 'on the button' and in good running order.
Of further interest is the fact that it has also been engineered to be fitted with the extremely rare optional twin-spark magneto connected to spark plugs on both sides of the engine. As a result the engine has three spark plugs per cylinder, resulting in a considerable increase over the already prodigious standard power output. It is believed that only two of its brethren are configured this way today.
Six cylinders, 70 horsepower, chain-drive, sports coachwork, from the original legendary American manufacturer of pre-teen era, and with known history from new this fabulous Thomas Flyer quite literally as they say today, ticks all of the boxes...