Today, a flight from New York to Paris is a mere seven-hour journey, but when this 1907 Thomas Flyer Model 35 set out from the Big Apple, the journey was far more challenging.
Plucked from Thomas’ showroom in Manhattan a mere three days before the race, the 60-horsepower, $4,500 car stood for years as a testament to the Buffalo, New York, automaker’s high quality engineering. Now, the car has been entered into the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Historic Vehicle Register, which means that documents relating to the Flyer will be stored permanently at the Library of Congress.
The HVA has also done the same for cars like the Shelby Cobra Daytona prototype, the original Meyers Manx dune buggy, and the Marmon Wasp that won the first Indy 500.
As for the Flyer, its story is among the most intriguing.
The New York to Paris race was inspired by the Peking to Paris race a year prior. Racers had to make it to the West Coast of North America for ship passage to Asia, and then they continued their overland journey through remote stretches of Asia and into Europe. Six cars eventually lined up on the morning of February 12, 1908, for the race, including the Thomas Flyer that represented the United States team. One rival each represented Germany and Italy, while three French cars were entered.
The journey would be nothing like today since roads, even for wagons, were rare. At times, the cars used balloon tires to drive for days at a time on railroad tracks.
Forty-one days later, the Flyer was the first to arrive in San Francisco—a journey that takes about 42 hours today—where it was put on a ship to Valdez, Alaska. However, Valdez in the dead of winter was no place for a motorcar, so the race was rerouted from the original plan to trek through the Bering Strait. Racers were sent to Vladivostok, Russia.
Only three racers made it as far as Vladivostok, but the journey became ever more difficult thanks to spring rains that turned any semblance of terra firma into mud before the Thomas arrived in Paris on July 30. Technically, the German Protos racer was there first, but it was penalized for skipping the Alaska jaunt and because the team moved the car by rail at one point.
The winning Thomas Flyer was piloted by George Schuster, who had worked as one of the engineers at Thomas. Schuster was integral in identifying the Flyer after it was purchased by Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah’s Automobile Collection and Harrah’s Hotels & Casinos, in 1964 from a private collection. Major identifying marks on the car included places where the team had actually welded its chassis back together. As part of the Harrah’s Collection, it was restored to the condition as it appeared after finishing the race, including the weathering and mud. The car is still owned by Harrah’s today.