1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622
Lot 227
1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout
Sold for £ 37,083 (US$ 48,568) inc. premium

Lot Details
1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622 1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622 1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622 1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622 1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622 1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622 1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622 1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout  Chassis no. 71622
1903 Eldredge 8hp Runabout
Registration no. BS 8515
Chassis no. 71622
* One of the first left-hand drive, wheel-steered American automobiles
* Formerly part of the Dr Samuel Scher Collection
* Purchased from the Richard C Paine Jr Collection sale
* An older restoration
* Regular London-Brighton participant since 2009


  • In the beginning there was no automobile industry. No one knew what an automobile was, or even what one looked like, let alone how to build one. Manufacturing technology was breaking new ground almost daily in a self-energising cycle of innovation, commercialisation, profit and reinvestment.
Some successful industrialists recognised the potential of individual transportation, frequently proceeding from successful domestic or industrial products through bicycles and motorcycles before starting to manufacture automobiles. One of these creative individuals was Barnabas Eldredge. He established the National Sewing Machine Company in the years following the American Civil War. Although he was from Cleveland, Ohio he contracted with the Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts to build his machines.

Eventually Eldredge's sewing machine assembly line migrated West following America's population, first taking its tools, patterns and dies to the June Manufacturing Company in Chicago. By 1899, now under Eldredge's control and consolidated with National Sewing Machine, the company had outgrown the Chicago labour market and moved yet again, to Belvidere, Illinois. Eldredge had already begun bicycle manufacture and shortly after the turn of the century National Sewing Machine designed and built its own automobile, sometimes known as the National Road Car.

    While typical of the runabouts of the time, with an atmospheric intake valve, horizontally opposed twin-cylinder engine making around 8 horsepower, the Eldredge was prescient in other respects. Most noticeable at the time, Barnabas Eldredge recognised the practical aspects of left-hand drive in the USA, where the convention had vehicles driving on the right side of the road, and placed the Eldredge automobile's steering on the left side from inception. After the first few Eldredges were built, the company replaced its original tiller steering with a steering wheel in 1903, perhaps the first left-hand drive American automobile so equipped. At a time when most automobiles used simple planetary transmissions, the Eldredge employed a sliding gear transmission with shaft drive and chain final drive, probably also a first in a lightweight, low cost automobile.

National's business, however, was firmly grounded in sewing and other household machinery. Competition in automobiles heated up quickly and after only four years it ceased building the Eldredge automobile to concentrate on its established business. Only some 600 examples of these pioneering runabouts were built.

    Previously forming part of the private collection belonging to Richard C Paine Jr, this example is an Antique Automobile Club of America National First Prize Junior and Senior winner in 1962. Finished in black with red accents and wheels, it is one of the important left-hand drive, wheel-steered Eldredges. It is fitted with a single acetylene headlamp, kerosene sidelights and a Dietz kerosene taillight. The rear suspension is of the semi-elliptical cross-spring platform design like that employed by luxury marques such as Rolls-Royce. The five leaf springs are artistically re-curved like an archer's bow. It has both a contracting band brake on the rear axle and a foot-operated drum brake on the transmission.

    No information about this car's origins was contained in the Paine collection's files other than that it was one of 41 automobiles which Richard Paine purchased in 1967 from pioneering collector Dr Samuel Scher. Clues may be found in its previous, Pennsylvania DMV-assigned identification number, mirroring the Eldredge number found on the rear of the chassis frame. There is also a plaque on the dashboard identifying the National Sewing Machine Company as the manufacturer.

    On the Scher schedule, the Eldredge was listed as being a 1903 car and it was titled as such. On file is a copy of a 1904 advertisement for 'The Eldredge' showing the car with wheel steering, and it should also be noted that the two other known survivors both have wheel steering and are said to date from 1904.

    The current vendor purchased the Eldredge at Bonhams' sale of the Richard C Paine Jr Collection at the Owls Head Transport Museum in September 2008 (Lot 849). At that time it was said that little appeared to have been done either with or to the Eldredge for several years, and its condition was described as typical of a well maintained museum-displayed restoration of the period. Since acquisition by the current vendor the Eldredge has taken part in several London-Brighton Runs. Accompanying documentation consists of sundry restoration invoices and a UK V5C Registration Certificate, and the car also comes with a 2009 London-Brighton finisher's medal.

    Its combination of minimal mass and an 8hp engine combining to give it sprightly performance, this Ejdredge is an attractive and entirely practical automobile incorporating significant features like left-hand wheel steering and sliding-gear transmission. Its restoration has aged well, indicative both of quality materials and workmanship, and of consistent maintenance while in the Paine Collection. This car occupies a significant place in the evolution of the American automobile and the industry that it established, and would be an important addition to any collection.
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  1. Rob Hubbard
    Specialist - Motor Cars
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
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