- This Thomas Flyer is one of the most historic American-built automobiles.
- It won the 1908 New York to Paris Race covering 22,000 miles in 169 days.
- It was the only American entry.
- Never before or after has a race of this magnitude been attempted.
The roots of the Thomas marque began with the bicycle company of Erwin R. Thomas. He had built a good reputation for assembling lightweight, strong, fast and inexpensive bicycles. In 1896, Thomas began experimenting with engine building and designed a 1-cylinder, air-cooled gas engine that could be fitted onto his quality bicycles, calling the complete unit an “Auto-Bi.” But more important to automotive history was the appearance of his first one-cylinder, four-wheeled motor carriage in 1899. Thomas erected a factory especially for automobile production in Buffalo, New York, and promoted his product with advertisements, sales catalogs, and sales manuals.
The 4-cylinder model designated as “Thomas Flyer” had proved to be very reliable. When the company decided to enter the 1908 New York to Paris (Round-the-World) Race, a brand new 1907 Thomas Flyer was removed from the showroom floor. Extra gas tanks were mounted, spare tires strapped on, and some other minor modifications made. After traveling 22,000 miles in 169 days, the Thomas Flyer claimed victory in Paris.
Because of its victory in the 1908 New York to Paris Race, Thomas automobile sales increased for a time. Later models, though, were poorly designed and underpowered. Thomas Motor Company failed to live up to its inflated claims leaving customers dissatisfied. The debts from building its new factory and paying race expenses stretched company finances thin. After employee salary cuts in 1910, the company went into receivership in 1912 and was liquidated at auction in 1913.