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Lot 526: Detroit Electric Model 57 coupé

Grand Palais Sale, Bonhams (7 February 2013)

In the very earliest years of the automobile, during the period just before 1900, steam and electric vehicles vied with gasoline-powered vehicles for market supremacy. The relatively easy-to-operate and pleasingly quiet electric car achieved considerable popularity early on. Battery range was always an issue with the electric car, though. By 1910, it was clear the gasoline automobile would predominate. However, well into the 'teens, electrics continued to find some favor, often with women, as an ideal car for short city jaunts. William C. Anderson's company was one of the most successful of all similar ventures. Founded in 1884 as the Anderson Carriage Company, he moved his company to Detroit in 1895 and in 1907 focused his attention on building electric powered horseless carriages. Two successful years showed him that there was a market for such a car and at that point he wisely purchased the Elwell-Parker Company, who had previously supplied components to Baker for their Electric cars, allowing Anderson to build virtually the whole car in house. This put him at a distinct commercial advantage. As business boomed he renamed it the Anderson Electric Car Company, but it would become better known as its final company name which they took on after his retirement in 1918 of Detroit Electric. Charles H. Brown was arguably ahead of the curve when it came to acquiring this particular car. Of course, it was a natural fit in a collection that reflected his great interest in aesthetic and engineering design, and American automobiles, but his friends point to another motivating factor - he had recognised a potential loophole in the London Westminster parking regulations which allowed electric cars to park for free! The early 1990s preceded the current interest in hybrids and alterative power, so the choice of an automobile by which one could take advantage of this was relatively limited. The Detroit proved to be his way of enjoying this favorable law, a fact that he made clear to journalist David Tomlinson in one of his Motoring columns in Country Life magazine. The car is an example of the tall 'Brougham', an elegant closed carriage, which was considered a perfect conveyance for the woman-about-town. The fully enclosed, weather-tight body kept road grime out, while the high roofline accommodated the large hats popular at the time. Curved side glasses and ornate interior appointments lent to the drawing room atmosphere of the plush interior. The Electric was purchased by Mr. Brown at the dispersal auction of the Sullivan Collection, in May 1990. Although originally domiciled in Hawaii, all the cars were shipped from their exhibition home and sold under Malcolm Barber's gavel at the popular auction location the Royal Air Force Museum, in Hendon, North London. When acquired the car needed some freshening and re-commissioning which was handled by Alan Hancock for Mr. Brown. No fewer than 42 2Volt batteries were purchased to get the Detroit back on the road and it was set up to enable its owner to use the car as and when he wished. Today, the stately Detroit is best reported as being a well maintained example of a sympathetically restored car. Its paintwork remains in extremely tidy order and the well appointed interior in period style cloth fabric shows very little age. The Brougham benefits from wire wheels which give it a lighter presence than its later compatriot and a particular attractive detail feature are its elegant sidelights with beveled edge teardrop glass panels. Complete with full charging apparatus, and a copy of the period handbook for the model the Detroit will allow the next enthusiast to continue the trend set by Mr. Brown.

Lot Details
Auction Grand Palais Sale
Bonhams, Paris, France
Lot Number526
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price€42000
Hammer Price (inc premium)€48300
Condition rating2
Registration number
Chassis number7648
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors