Man ships car from the United Kingdom to the United States. Man then takes wife and two mates to the United States to drive car from New York to San Francisco. What some might call an adventure of a lifetime, Robert Abrey calls a vacation. What makes his vacation more adventurous than most is his choice of vehicle- a 1913 Chalmers Model 17.
On June 4, Abrey and his wife, Jane, left Times Square in New York City along with two companions piloting a recreational support vehicle, Paul Stennett and Brad Webb. Their destination, San Francisco, is stenciled in ornate lettering on the vehicle, a declaration of Abrey’s intent to retrace the route of the Great Race of 1908.
On February 12, 1908, six cars, representing four nations, left Times Square in an attempt to drive from New York to Paris. An American team driving a 1907 Thomas Motor Company Model 35, dubbed the “Thomas Flyer” was the first to arrive in San Francisco, covering the distance in 41 days.
Though the car he is driving is more than 100 years old, admittedly with some modern modifications, Abrey expects to arrive in San Francisco by June 23rd, covering the distance in about half the time it took the racers in 1908, who sometimes had to drive on locomotive rails for lack of roads.
Given the state of roads (or lack of) in 1908, Abrey acknowledges he cannot duplicate the exact route of the Thomas Flyer. While his support vehicle forges ahead on major highways, Abrey, who drives the Chalmers solo for safety’s sake, stays to the backroads, with the assistance of a GPS. Had it not been for a breakdown near Cedar Rapids, he very likely would not have met up with his crew for breakfast at the La Porte City Bakery on Friday, June 12.
With its open carriage design, a refined frog hood ornament and spare tires strapped to the back, the Chalmers’ resemblance to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang definitely turn heads. Eight days into their adventure, Abrey noted the attention he and his crew have received has been warm, genuine and very helpful.
“We’ve found America,” he said, referencing his appreciation for the people he’s befriended along the journey.
When he’s not driving in a foreign country in a motorized antique, Abrey operates a third generation family farming business that specializes in root vegetable production and storage approximately 90 miles northeast of London.