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1903 E.R. THOMAS MODEL 18 TONNEAU Chassis no. 635 Engine no. 635

Estimate: US$225,000 - US$275,000
Lot 167
1903 Thomas 18 Tonneau

Chassis no. 635
Engine no. 635

Single Cylinder F-Head Engine
Single Updraft Carburetor
3-Speed Sliding-Gear Transmission
Rear Wheel Mechanical Brakes

*Brighton era car by one of Americas most revered manufacturers
*Freshly restored to a very high standard
*3-Speed transmission
*Attractive four-seat coachwork


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 4-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 Thomas Model 18 represents the first car produced by the Thomas Company after E.R. Thomas consolidated his manufacturing into one division. E.R Thomas continued following the French pattern of design that had served him well with his previous motorcycles, tricycles and quadricycles. The resulting new car looked quite similar to a Renault or DeDion Bouton and shared a similar mechanical design. Since the French had lead the motor industry for over a decade, this was certainly a safe and reliable model to copy.

The Thomas Model 18 proved a good car and a fairly successful product. Thomas would quickly begin to move towards a more American/German type design with his next motorcars. The limitations of the light French design would prove a bit frail for difficult American conditions.

Today, on our properly paved roads, the Model 18 is a delight and a fine American alternative to the ubiquitous French voiturettes. The Thomas Model 18 is well engineered and has the build quality that helped establish the company's excellent reputation. The strong 8hp single drives the car through an efficient 3-speed sliding gear transmission. The 3-speed is a big help in efficiently climbing rolling hills without having to resort to low gear. Equipped with a roomy and comfortable tonneau, the Thomas is an appealing four-up transport to Brighton.

This Thomas was discovered in largely complete and original condition and was subject to a comprehensive restoration to bring it up to a very high standard of presentation. Finished in an attractive and proper French grey, it has the jewel like look more common to French cars of the day. Equipped with a full complement of brass accessories and nice tonneau baskets, the car presents beautifully.

Offered here is a fine American London to Brighton eligible car made by one of the most revered brass era makes. A technically advanced car with a four-person body restored to a beautiful standard, anyone would be proud to make the trek from London to Brighton in such a fine machine.

Saleroom notices

Please note that this vehicle is titled under engine number 645, which is the correct engine number for this car and it doesn't have a chassis number.

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