Model Ts on the pier in Cobourg, Ontario
Model Ts on the pier in Cobourg, Ontario. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery: Horseless Carriage Tour

Cobourg, Ontario – I’ve always appreciated the history behind the early days of the automobile. I know the stories behind the names, the innovations behind the designs. And yet, they often fail to hold my interest when I see them “in the flesh”, which is usually tucked away in some dusty museum where they’ve sat silent for many decades.

Ah, but that was before I was introduced to the Horseless Carriage Club.

My friend Tom Huehn, who owns a number of older vehicles, called me one day and told me about the club’s week-long tour, which would be based around Cobourg, Ontario. Come out for the day, he said, and we’ll get you in some cars. So I said yes, and embarked on the journey that would give me an entirely new appreciation of cars and car folks.

1910 Mitchell Model T, owned by Tom and Fran Wozniak of Bohemia, NY; the cars were made in Racine, WI
1910 Mitchell Model T, owned by Tom and Fran Wozniak of Bohemia, NY; the cars were made in Racine, WI. Click image to enlarge

The Horseless Carriage Club is for vehicles built or manufactured before January 1, 1916. There are many theories behind the selection of the date; tour committee member John Smith, who owns a 1913 Ford Model T, says he believes it’s because manufacturers were moving away from “reliability tours” – endurance events meant to convince the public that the sometimes-persnickety vehicles were worth buying – since cars had gotten much better and most were getting perfect scores. Others have speculated that it was around the time that cars became more like modern automobiles, and less like motorized buggies.

No matter the reason, what makes it fascinating is that in those early days, there were hundreds of car companies, most turning out cars in relatively small numbers. So while Fords are common due to their high volume, the average tour will also include such names as Paige, Flanders, EMF, Columbus, Columbia, Winton, Overland, Stanley, Mitchell and Reo, among others. Many well-known brands were still well into the future: in 1915, Pontiac was only the name of an Indian chief, and Lincoln was still just a president.

1905 Stanley Steamer owned by Ron Fawcett of Whitby, Ontario
1905 Stanley Steamer owned by Ron Fawcett of Whitby, Ontario. Click image to enlarge

In those fledgling years, automakers were also trying different methods of propulsion, and steam and electric cars were popular; in particular, electric cars appealed to women, since Cadillac didn’t introduce the self-starter until 1912, and gasoline cars had to be cranked by hand. The earlier models also have right-hand drive, even though they’re North American vehicles, and the oldest ones steer with a tiller, rather than a wheel.

When I arrived at the host hotel early on a Wednesday morning, owners were out in the parking lot, polishing brass trim and putting on their period-correct duster coats. Rather than a static show for the benefit of the public, the tour is put on for the owners, as a chance for them to drive their cars. This tour started in 1977, as an annual international friendship tour between the Southern Ontario and North Jersey chapters of the club. Participants came from as far away as Florida, Georgia, Kansas, and Wisconsin to attend; 79 cars were registered for the tour, and about 100 were present for a get-together in the afternoon.

The cars arrive by trailer, but once at the “home base” in Cobourg, they’re on their own. This is where I gained new respect for these vehicles: of the five days of touring, only one day was less than 80 miles (128 km), and that was because it included an afternoon at the waterfront; the longest day was 101 miles (162 km). Two of the cars that drove the entire tour – a total of 396 miles (637 km) – were over 100 years old.

Jerry Chase demonstrates cranking his 1905 Stevens-Duryea
Jerry Chase demonstrates cranking his 1905 Stevens-Duryea. Click image to enlarge

Regular use is the best medicine for these vehicles: they all ran smoothly, very few emitted any tailpipe smoke, and most started up on the first or second crank.

Then, as now, there was a range of cars to fit all wallets, and some were huge and luxurious, including Pierce-Arrow, Cadillac, Buick and Stanley.

I started my day in Tom and Janet Huehn’s 1909 Ford Model T, and now I’m hooked. We did an average 25 mph (40 km/h), but when you’re up that high, in a car that open, it feels like you’re going much faster. People on the street don’t just look, they wave. The spindly T was built for the poor dirt roads of the day, and so while it lacks the solid feel of the bigger luxury cars, it rides quite smoothly even on bumpy pavement.

At a coffee stop, Tom procured me a ride with Joyce and Jerry Chase of Middletown, Connecticut, in their 1905 Stevens-Duryea. The Duryea company is usually credited with producing the first car in America, when Charles and Frank Duryea produced a single-cylinder buggy in 1892; the Chases’ Massachusetts-built four-seater features an aluminum body. It also tackled the modern roads easily; Jerry drives it from the right-hand side, shifting its gears sequentially with a lever.

1912 Wolseley 6-cylinder is believed to be the first sold in the British company's Toronto depot
1912 Wolseley 6-cylinder is believed to be the first sold in the British company’s Toronto depot. Click image to enlarge

Some of the cars share priceless history, although, to their credit, the owners keep them in running condition and in regular use, rather than locked away in museums. Charles and Georgina Neville of Whitevale, Ontario brought a 1912 Wolseley, one of five Charles found abandoned in a farmer’s field in 1968 – he still has them all – and believed to be the first or second sold through the British company’s depot in Toronto; it was purchased new by the founder of the defunct Toronto Telegram newspaper. Neil and Betty Butters showed a 1910 McLaughlin-Buick believed to belong personally to GM of Canada founder Sam McLaughlin; it was featured at his 90th and 100th birthday parties.

Peter and Lise Fawcett drove a 1905 Stanley Steamer that is the earliest-known 20-hp Stanley, and may be the only Model F remaining; Peter’s parents Ron and Huguette Fawcett showed a 1903 Columbus Electric that is the last remaining in its body style. Motorcycle fan Peter Emmans of Woodstock, Ontario showed a 1903 Kerry, in his family for 74 years, that is one of only four Kerry motorcycles left in the world, while his 1905 Riley is the oldest authentic Riley worldwide.

1903 Ford Model A, owned by Dennis and Stephanie Huron of Port Perry, Ont, is the world\'s oldest Ford still in its original family
1903 Ford Model A, owned by Dennis and Stephanie Huron of Port Perry, Ont, is the world\’s oldest Ford still in its original family. Click image to enlarge

And from Port Perry, Ontario came a little red machine, a 1903 Ford Model A belonging to Dennis and Stephanie Huron (not to be confused with the better-known Model A of 1928; Henry Ford went through much of the alphabet before returning to the beginning). Built in the company’s first year of production, and bearing serial number 103 out of 1,708 made that year, the car has been verified by the Ford Motor Company as being the world’s oldest Ford still in its original family. Dennis’ great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Lick, bought it new and took it home, where it was the first car in Whitby, Ontario; it was stored in a barn for almost 50 years, when Dennis’ father married his mother, found the pieces, and kept them for another 25 years. The car was restored in time to lead the procession of automobiles at Ford’s 100th anniversary in Dearborn in 2003, although the leather seats, in perfect condition, are original. It also carries its 1907 license plates, the first year they were required in Ontario.

Cars stop at Tim Horton's in Cobourg
Cars stop at Tim Horton’s in Cobourg. Click image to enlarge

At the Cobourg waterfront, a parade of 19 vehicles went across a viewing stand, each one receiving a commemorative medal in honour of it being at least a century old. Almost all were turned off on the stand, so that the audience could see how they started, and each one did so right on cue, from a 1902 Oldsmobile to a 1907 International.

It’s not often that one gets a chance to experience such history firsthand, and my thanks go out to everyone at the Horseless Carriage Club for their hospitality, and for their dedication to their hobby. As Jerry Chase put it, “We don’t really own these cars. We preserve them for the future.”

For more information on the club, visit

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