Stahls Auto Collection

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 10/2023
  • posted in: Great Garages

This Michigan car museum has a Tucker and a turbine, electrics long before Teslas, a Civil War-vintage stagecoach, historic organs and automobilia that will make you sing praises for the old times.

The collection at Stahls Automotive Museum in Chesterfield, about 30 minutes north of Detroit, comprises 220-plus cars; staff alternates about 100 in the showroom.

Ted Stahl purchased the first car for the collection, a 1930 Ford Model A Roadster, from a local resident in 1995; it’s still on the floor. Stahl was invited to show it at a local show, “Eyes On Design”; he met other collectors and saw many beautiful cars, explains Terrí Coppens, the museum general manager.


The earliest vehicle in the collection is an 1860 Abbott Downing Stage Coach. The newest vehicle is a 2000 golf cart converted into the “Whoville Family Sedan” for the Jim Carrey Grinch movie, the newest production vehicle a 1974 BMW R90/6 Motorcycle and the newest production car is a 1970 wrought-iron VW Beetle.

The collection even has a mechanical elephant and movie cars.

“We don’t limit ourselves to certain genres or makes; we choose cars because of their story,” Coppens says. “We have over 100 different car models that many have never heard of. We also have automated musical instruments and large dance hall organs, including a 1920 Wurlitzer theater organ. Our neon and porcelain signs along with gas pumps also add to the experience.”


A Century-Plus of Classics

Trey Brand, the historian for Stahls Auto Collection, takes us for a quick ride, stopping at the oldest car first and continuing into the future:

1905 Columbia XXXV Open Drive Brougham — The oldest electric vehicle in the collection demonstrates how early car design was heavily influenced by carriage builders.


The Electric Vehicle Company manufactured it. “The limited range and need for charging meant most electrics stayed in or near major cities,” Brand says, adding that because they required an electrified home, the cars mostly went to the wealthy.

This Columbia is a brougham, which was originally a style of carriage, in which the driver sits in the open, position at the front. This was not a problem for the owners, as most had chauffeurs.

Prominent early collector and historian Henry Austin Clark Jr. owned the car first. He displayed it in his world-famous Long Island Automotive Museum for many years until another prominent collection stewarded it from 1982–2018.


This Columbia features a recent exterior and mechanical restoration, but the interior is unrestored. The leather seats, door panels, carpets and sunshades are also probably original.

“It’s an imposing machine, with massive artillery wheels and solid rubber tires of 38 and 42 inches in diameter,” Brand says. He explains that rather than a single motor driving a shaft or chain to the rear axle, the Mark XXXV features an unusual dual-motor layout with the two huge electric motors powering ring gears affixed to the inside of each wheel.

1910 Thomas Flyer Model M 6-40 — This Thomas Flyer was purchased on May 5, 1910, as a gift for Ernest K. Sachreiter from his father, who was enamored over the Flyer after its famous win in “The Great Race” in 1908, when a 1907 model won the global endurance race from New York to Paris. Teams competed to be the first to cross the continental United States, sail to Japan, cross Asia and Europe to arrive in the French capital. Only three teams finished the race, with the Thomas Flyer first.


Sachreiter drove his Thomas until 1918, when he left for WWI. On his return to the States, his father gave him a Marmon, and the Thomas was stored.

In the 1950s Sachreiter entrusted Horseless Carriage Club of North America members Jack and Barbara White to recommission the Thomas. In 1958, it made its first appearance at a tour in Reno, Nevada. The younger Sachreiter and his wife Lillie Anne toured the car throughout the next decade, earning numerous dash plaques, which have remained with the car.

In the 1960s, the Sachreiters’ Thomas interested Bill Harrah, the well-known collector whose Reno, Nevada, car collection became the National Automobile Museum. Harrah befriended the Sachreiters and toured with them regularly and eventually purchased the car from them. Following Harrah’s death in 1978, a prominent European collector displayed and maintained the car for the 30 years. Stahls Auto Collection became the fourth owner in 2014.


The Thomas Flyer was produced in Buffalo, New York, by the E. R. Thomas Motor Company. Erwin Ross Thomas founded the company and would lead it until 1911. The first Thomas automobiles appeared in 1903, small runabouts in the medium-priced field. Production quickly shifted to a larger chassis in 1904 which was branded the Thomas Flyer. The larger and more luxurious cars attracted more buyers.

The massive 440-cubic-inch engine produced 64 horses @ 1,500 rpm. Even when new, it was a pricey $3,500, equal to today’s $106,358, Brand explains.

1913 Edison Electric — In the mid-1950s, this early electric was discovered behind a garage on London’s North Circular Road, either by Reg Taverner of the Vintage Car Collector or the Sharpe Brothers of Gables Garage at Raleigh in Essex, England.


After the death of the previous owner, Terry Sharpe, and its sale to Bob Burrel of Chelmsford in Essex, Dave Unsworth repaired it in 2002, body-off-frame. He replaced the driver’s seat and rear seat cushion, cleaned the rest of the interior and replaced the rusted-out front trunk with an aluminum panel. He also changed the original artillery-style wheels with wire wheels.

This car was built by coachbuilder Offord of George Street, near Portman Square in London. The chassis bears the stamping “Edison 1” by Arrol-Johnson, and the wheel-hubs are cast with that name.

This Edison resembles the Arrol-Johnston-Edison electric described in The Autocar of December 1913, with its long cantilever rear springs. However, the forward driving position and transmission layout are entirely different and the batteries are 15 12-volt 950 Ah batteries which have replaced the long-gone original Edison NiFe units.


The 3,300-pound car attains 25 mph. The transmission is a shaft drive to live rear axle. The front suspension is beam axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs. The brakes are drum.

1921 Chevrolet 490 Roadster — In 1912, ousted General Motors founder William C. “Billy” Durant started Chevrolet and tried to regain control of what would soon become the nation’s largest car manufacturer. Chevrolet joined the General Motors family in 1915, which was competing with Ford. The 1921 Chevrolets totaled 76,370 cars, while then-leader Ford sold 1,437,061 Model Ts. In 1927, GM surpassed Ford.

The brand honors Swiss-born race car driver and mechanic Louis Chevrolet. Early cars were designed by Chevrolet and French engineer Etienne Planche. The OHV 171-cid inline engine has 21.7 horsepower through a 3-speed transmission. This fully restored car is painted in the only color offered in 1921, black. New the car was $785.


1936 Stout Scarab — It was an automobile like no other in its day, with a wide, all-encompassing beetle-like body. Designed by William B. Stout, an aeronautical and automotive engineer who also helped to design the Ford Tri-Motor airplane, the Scarab was designed to minimize wind resistance and maximize aerodynamic efficiency, Brand explains.

“No fenders, headlights, or running boards provide drag, unlike contemporary cars of the period,” he says. “Instead of a separate body mounted on a frame, the Stout utilized a unibody construction, with the structure of the car being partially provided by the skin. This allowed the car to be much lighter, like Stout’s airplane designs.”

Ford’s 221-cd 85-horsepower flathead V-8 provided the power, which is taken to the rear wheels by a 3-speed transaxle of Stout’s design, with a custom chain transfer case. Maybe eight or nine were built and possibly four exist.

1963 Chrysler Turbine — The Chrysler turbine engine program began during the late 1930s. Multiple prototypes completed long-distance trips in the 1950s and early 1960s. The A-831 engines that powered the 1963 Turbine could operate on many different fuels, required less maintenance and lasted longer than conventional piston engines, although they were much more expensive to produce, he says.

The Italian Carrozzeria Ghia prepared the bodywork, and Chrysler completed the assembly in Detroit. A total of 55 cars were manufactured: five prototypes and 50 cars for a public user program. The test cars were painted in “Turbine Bronze” paint.

When the user program ended in 1966, Chrysler reclaimed the cars; Chrysler preserved only nine and kept three. The rest had their engines disabled and were given to museums across the United States.

This chassis #991231 was donated to Harrah’s Automobile Collection of Reno, Nevada. The car would stay in original but inoperable condition while owned by Harrah. When he died in 1978, it was sold to Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza and former Detroit Tigers owner.

In the late 1980s, Monaghan sold the Turbine to Frank Kleptz of Indiana, who returned the engine to operational condition with the help of GE Engine Services and Chrysler. The engine originally used to power Turbine Car #991231 was damaged while used by Kleptz; it has been replaced with another operational engine, #831-2-044. Stahl’s Auto Collection acquired the Turbine Car in 2021.

1968 Gen 11 “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” — The “Chitty Beta,” was built for and used during the filming of the 1968 film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Eight cars were built, which included “Chitty Prime,” the car used for most driving scenes. “Chitty Beta” was only used in short scenes and features in only three minutes of screen time. Chitty Beta was also supposedly built slightly smaller than the “Prime” car. This “Beta” car was used in the American promotional tour for the film’s release.

The car was eventually purchased by and displayed at the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in 2000. In 2011 “Chitty Beta” was sold to Michael Dezer of the Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection. Stahls Auto Collection acquired it from him in 2022.

The museum is open to the public every Tuesday 1–4 p.m. and the first Saturday of the month 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  “Cruise Nights” are held in the summer and various other events throughout the year. The largest are “Autos for Autism” to raise funds for a local autism charity and Veterans Day Open House. Donations received are given to a veterans charity. On public days, the museum does not charge admission but accepts donations at the door.

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