1909 Cartercar Model H Touring - $34,900
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  • Overview & History
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This particular Model H spent the first fifty or so years of its life with a single family, and ultimately, today, 110 years later, it has had only three owners.

Depending on whether you believe the stories, we have Bryon Carter to thank for the development of the self-starter. Legend has it that Byron Carter was injured helping a stranded motorist in a winter storm crank start his Cadillac. The Cadillac kicked him and broke his jaw (or arm, depending on how you heard the story) and he died a short time later of complications related to his injury. His friend, Charles Kettering, vowed that no man would ever lose his life cranking a Cadillac car. Et voila! The self-starter.

Had that not happened, I think Mr. Carter would be equally well-remembered for the neat cars that bear his name, including this wonderfully original 1909 Model H touring. With an innovative friction drive system that eliminates the clutch and transmission, it's the automobile simplified to its most basic operation. This particular Model H spent the first fifty or so years of its life with a single family, and ultimately, today, 110 years later, it has had only three owners. It remains mostly original, although we believe the interior and top have been replaced—likely during the first owner's tenure—and even though they're "restored" they're probably coming up on 70 years old. The paint, engine, and other components are undoubtedly vintage 1909 and in remarkable condition. Sure, the paint is faded and flaking in places, but it would be a mistake to restore any of it. The gray bodywork with red trim and wheels looks dashing in an era filled with somber color combinations. Most of the touring body is wood, and as such it remains in outstanding condition with no signs of rot or damage thanks to decades in protected, heated storage. The steel components, including the fenders and hood, are in similarly good shape, with even the bright red pinstripe clearly visible and accenting the body’s unique curves. The two rear doors fit well and latch securely, the hood doesn’t vibrate or rattle, and the car still feels tight and well-assembled as it ambles down the road. The brass is tarnished but complete and again, polishing it would change the all-of-a-piece look. It's worth noting that there's still gas in the tank and the headlights blaze bright, and the cowl-mounted kerosene lights glow warmly at night. Even the taillight works!

The dash is a simple wood panel with four individual coils mounted in their own box. They have been recently rebuilt but not restored, so they look old but work like new. It's neat to hear them popping away as the engine idles. A functional accessory Stewart speedometer shows 3575 miles, which is likely a correct reading--it's not like this was a car for cross-country drives. There's also a fully operational rim-wind clock and bulb horn. Controls are simple: left pedal engages the friction drive, press it to go. Right pedal is the brake, press it to stop. There's a throttle on the steering wheel and the lever on the outside of the body to the driver's right is the "gear shift" which positions the drive wheel on the flywheel. Close to the center is low and the outer edge is high. There are a "thousand speeds" in-between, as the advertising said. Pull it backwards to move it to the other side of center, and that's reverse. Both pedals can be locked in position, the drive pedal for cruising and the brake pedal for a parking brake. Elegant, simple, and clever. In practice, it’s hard to make a mistake—let off the pedal and it stops. Need to stop faster? Press the brake. We’ve found that it’s typically best to set a single engine speed and adjust road speed using the transmission. The gas tank lives under the front seat, while the rear seat offers modest storage behind a matching wood door. Accommodations are comfortable for four, tight for five, and the commanding driving position makes this car a lot of fun to drive.

The 212 cubic inch 4-cylinder engine is original and I don't believe it has ever been opened. Priming cups are included but we’ve found they aren’t needed if you give the engine a few gentle turns with the crank before engaging the ignition, but in the dead of winter 1909, they were surely a lifesaver. It slept for probably 50 or 60 years, going into storage shortly after the second owner acquired it in the '50s and resuscitated in 2010 by noted brass car expert Dave Heinrichs of Heinrichs Vintage Car Shop. Today, it starts on the second pull, every time. Set the choke, turn on the coils, and give it a crank. It putts to life easily and you can slide behind the wheel, push the choke in to half, and adjust the throttle to get underway. It makes all the usual chugging mechanical sounds typical of an early brass car, and it’s remarkably smooth for such a simple machine. Like the Model T, cooling is by thermo-syphon, but it stays cool under most normal conditions and seems content to idle at low speeds almost indefinitely. The carburetor is gravity-fed and the valves are exposed making it a neat educational experience to watch the Cartercar idle.

The friction surface needs no maintenance and the paper-like drive wheel traction surface can be replaced if needed with readily available modern materials. Chain drive is conventional for the era and it appears that lubrication is a total-loss system, so expect it to leak and keep a careful eye on oil levels, although it does not seem excessive. Given the car’s modest performance, the braking system is remarkably effective with its combination service and parking brake setup. The frame is wearing its original red paint, and the ornate black pinstriping throughout is a wonderful throwback to the carriage trade. The original wheels wear Universal-brand tires that are surely decades old, and it’s quite possible that the spare (made by the Falls Rubber Company of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) is original to the car. Don’t drive on it, but we’ve never heard of Falls Rubber Company, have you?

There's a great deal of paperwork with this car, including several show boards, a copy of an original owner's manual (including a tantalizing section called “Trouble: How to Locate and Eliminate It” with wonderful verbiage like “Indeed, serious trouble with a Cartercar is a thing so remote that it need not be considered.”), duplicates of period advertising literature, and two or three pieces of actual 100-year-old Cartercar literature. It also comes with receipts for recent maintenance and miscellaneous tidbits from more than a century of life.

We've only seen two other Cartercar friction-drive cars, but this is the only one that is extremely authentic and totally right. It would be a crime to restore this car and it runs and drives so well that you'll be having too much fun to bother taking it apart. Given the simplicity of its operation, it would be a fantastic brass car for the first-time hobbyist, and will surely be welcome at any event where its condition will be the source of endless wonder and speculation. From an era when practically everything was an innovation, the Cartercar stands out as a truly unique machine whose only flaw may have been being born too early. Call today!

Vehicle: 1909 Cartercar Model H Touring
Price: $34,900
Stock Number: 116100
Mileage: 3574
VIN: H980
Engine: 201 cubic inch inline-4
Transmission: Carter Friction Drive
Gear Ratio:
Wheelbase: 100 inches
Wheels: Wood spoke with demountable rims
Tires: 33x4 Universal
Exterior Color: Gray
Interior Color: Black leather
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