Imagine driving from New York City to Paris. Now, imagine doing so in 1908—long before the establishment of interstates, service stations on every corner and even reliable maps. That’s just what the latest vehicle added to the National Historic Vehicle Register underwent as it completed the journey from the U.S. to France in an unprecedented 169 days. Read on to learn more about this fascinating achievement and other amazing facts that make the Thomas Flyer worthy of being recognized as one of America’s most historically significant automobiles.
At the start of the 20th century, the automobile was in its infancy and still competing with the horse and even the bicycle on roads that were sorely lacking. Back then, simply driving from one town to the next was considered high risk. So only the most adventurous souls sought to embark upon extended automobile journeys, knowing full well they would be required to perform countless repairs throughout, find themselves at any number of impassable roads and facing the very real prospect of running out of fuel.
In 1908, driving a car around the globe was flatly inconceivable; yet, a handful of hearty souls set out from New York City to do just that. Of those who competed, none proved better suited for the sheer endurance required than this 1907 Thomas Flyer, which completed the 22,000 mile race in 169 days, finishing a full 26 days ahead of its closest competitor.
Associative Value – Event (A vehicle associated with an event or events that are important in automotive or American history)
As mentioned, the 1908 New York to Paris race was an unprecedented event that seemed a nearly impossible challenge. Still, the Thomas Flyer managed to not only complete the epic competition but also best its competition by nearly a month, arriving on the Champs-Elysees a mere 169 days after rolling down Broadway. The first of its kind and arguably the most impressive given the lack of precedent, the race was an astounding historical achievement that still captures the imagination of automotive enthusiasts well over a century later.
Design or Construction Value (A vehicle that is distinctive based on design, engineering, craftsmanship or aesthetic value)
Featuring a 4-cylinder, 60 horsepower engine, the 1907 Thomas Flyer Model 35 might not seem all that impressive now, but at the time it was a remarkable vehicle that managed to maintain its integrity throughout the grueling race. Despite a handful of repairs along the way, the car rolled into Paris largely as it had left.
Informational Value (A vehicle of a particular type that was the first or last produced, has an element of rarity as a survivor of its type or is among the most well-preserved or thoughtfully restored surviving examples)
When hotelier Bill Harrah purchased the Thomas Flyer in 1964, the vehicle itself was in rather sad shape. Harrah sought out George Schuster, the then 91-year-old who had driven the Thomas Flyer to victory in 1908. Schuster was able to point out cracks in the frame and repairs made during the race, which helped confirm the vehicle’s authenticity. Aiming to preserve the car as an eternal reminder of Schuster’s accomplishment behind the wheel of the Thomas Flyer, Harrah decided against restoring the vehicle to a pristine, better-than-new condition. Instead, he had the car lovingly and accurately restored to its condition at the end of the race.