Century-old car highlight of Cruise-In

Friday, September 4, 2009

A 1910 Sears Motor Buggy was on display at the Cruise-In last weekend for the first time, and might have been one of the rarest vehicles there, as well as possibly the oldest.

Owner Paul Roberts of Lewisburg says he hasn't driven the Motor Buggy yet - he only recently bought it in a small town in Alabama. He transported it to the square on a trailer.

Roberts is no stranger to vintage vehicles. He has a 1947 GMC truck, and a 1951 Plymouth two-door hardtop, but both of these have been in the family since they were new.

Between three and four thousand of the motor buggies were built for the Sears-Roebuck Company, and sold through the Big Book between 1908 and 1912. They could be picked up in Chicago, where they were built by the Lincoln Motor Car Company, or delivered by railroad to the customer's closest depot. The prices ranged from $325 for the bare bones Model G to $495 for the Model L that included such amenities as fenders, a top, running boards, and pneumatic tires.

This classic horseless carriage was tiller-steered, had elliptical spring suspension, friction pad brakes, and was powered by an air-cooled two-cylinder engine. Developing 12 hp for a top speed of about 25 mph, the mid-chassis engine transferred power to the rear wheels by a dual chain drive.

The Sears Motor Buggy was cheaper than its competitor, Ford's Model T. Perhaps Henry Ford had a better idea of how to price his product, because the Sears car was never economically viable and was last offered in 1912. Sears-Roebuck is reported to have lost $80,000 on its brief venture into the automobile business.