1913 Michigan Model R Touring Fetches $120,000 at 2014 RM Motor City Auction
Kalamazoo built tourer offers rare glimpse into a piece of unique automotive history at St. Johns
July 28, 2014
By: Carl Malek
While the city of Detroit has often been credited with being the birthplace of the modern automobile, It is easy to forget that other areas of the state also played a big part in shaping and creating this piece of complex technology. One of these locales was Kalamazoo Michigan which was a prominent automotive city during the Brass Era. Many automobiles were produced there by small independent companies that strived to make their mark in the developing marketplace. One of these companies was the aptly named and ambitious Michigan firm.
Created and launched in 1904 by three horseless carriage manufacturers Victor Palmer, Henry Lay and George Lay, the company would experience seven years of false starts and erratic production runs before the firm finally stabilized itself in 1911 building its first offering a four-cylinder 40 horsepower vehicle designed by veteran period designer W.H Cameron. The Michigan Model R Touring aimed to provide buyers with a "middle of the road" offering that brought balanced levels of style and luxury in their purchase but without spending top dollar to achieve it. An interesting marketing tactic that emerged with this car was that it was touted to be the only "over-tired" car in America during its time in production, however the car didn't suffer from sleep deprivation nor was its loud and raucous 40 horsepower engine underpowered. Rather, the phrase was coined to describe its bigger tires which were larger than usual to accommodate the overall weight of the car (a revelation for Brass era cars.) The interior of the Michigan is a typical representation of 1900's car design and features a minimalist design and ergonomical quirks. However, the padded leather seats look inviting and work together with the wood trim on the steering wheel and dash to invoke a luxury oriented character.
Alas, as is the case with many car companies formed during the Brass era, the Michigan company experienced a swift and abrupt demise which was mostly due to the questionable financial decisions and over the top lifestyle enjoyed by its upper management. One executive for instance received two years in jail for stock market fraud, while another went bankrupt at the local horse track blowing his fortune on several bad bets. Despite the efforts of several would be rescuers to help steer it into the right direction once again, the company was beyond repair, and it finally faded away in 1915.
It is unclear how many Michigan sedans were indeed produced, but many experts have estimated that number to be less than 1200 units with even fewer surviving the ensuing years of historical wear and tear. The Michigan featured at Saturday's auction was first discovered in Iowa by the late Dr. Art Burrichter in 1991. Burrichter was a well known automotive enthusiast who found the car in storage after a 66 year slumber which began in 1925 due to a family argument. During its time in storage, the car managed to stay in surprisingly good condition and was eventually sold to John Mcmullen a Michigan collector who had the car meticulously restored. Unlike many Brass era restoration projects, the car's exceptional condition made the work easy and many of its original pieces were retained (a rare feat especially for a vehicle this old). The $132,000 fetched by this particular Michigan was slightly under initial estimates, but despite that, its still an excellent bargain for the new owner who will have a chance to enjoy this unique piece of Michigan and automotive history for many years to come.