Former resident behind bringing Rocket car back to Batavia

Feb 11, 2016

BATAVIA — Charles Thomas’ “car of tomorrow” is in Batavia, today.

The Thomas Rocket Car, as it’s known, was one of the most advanced and sexy cars of its time — and one is here in Batavia being restored.

Charles Thomas was a resident at 3 Ellicott Ave. in Batavia and attended the General Motors Institute of Technology in Flint, Mich.

Upon graduation, he came back home and began designing the Rocket Car.

“‘The car of tomorrow’ is a two-door sedan, seating six passengers comfortably,” as a story in the May 7, 1940 edition of The Daily News described. “It does not have a rear-view mirror. The Batavian prefers a periscope after the fashion of the submarine sights.”

Yes, the car had a periscope — more or less the 1940s version of a rear camera that modern cars have.

That wasn’t the only thing that made it ahead of its time.

The car had no axles. Each wheel swung on independently mounted, single roller-bearing arms.

The frame was one solid piece of metal welded together.

It had a brake system that, if the front brakes went out, the back brakes would continue to operate and vice versa.

The gearshift was on the dash, not the floor. It had hanging pedals, something that didn’t become standard until the 1970s.

Probably the coolest innovation, though — that isn’t even seen in cars today — was that if a tire popped, the car didn’t need a spare to keep driving. Rather, it could balance itself out and keep driving on only three wheels.

The car boasts an 80 horsepower engine and got 15 miles to the gallon — numbers that weren’t seen in its day.

The Daily News described the car ride as “akin to floating on air.”

It added: “passengers had no sense of passing over the worst bumps, the car seeming to absorb the entire brunt without passing it onto its cargo. It’s adherence to the road was next to unbelievable.”

Thomas told the paper at the time that the car was designed and built for “the super highways of tomorrow.” He was preparing his car for highways that “will allow for unlimited speed,” he said.

In his anticipation, he designed the rocket car to max out at a speed of 80 mph.

While the future didn’t include speed-limitless highways — except in Germany — it did include many of his innovations being implemented in modern cars.

And all of this innovation happened right here in Batavia. Thomas made the cars in a shop right on Main Street.

And with that, we can Dick Moore.

None of this would be known — and this article wouldn’t be happening — without the help of the former Batavia resident.

Moore, who currently resides in Lansing, Mich. was born and raised in the area.

His 89-year-old brain vividly remembers being a 10-or-11 year old boy in Batavia and seeing Charles Thomas cruise around Batavia. He remembers the moment he saw it — the car was on West Main Street near the Walnut Street Bridge and it was riding on three wheels.

Charles Thomas waved to the young boy watching in awe.

“I have never forgotten that experience,” Moore said.

Moore always had a fascination with cars. He used to collect and restore antique cars but no longer has the space or tools to do so.

One day, while reading Hemmings Classic Car magazine, Moore spotted the Thomas Rocket and decided he wanted to track one down.

Being that he’s located in Michigan, he began calling other restoration aficionados in the area to help in his mission.

He finally tracked down a car located right in western New York — Lockport to be exact.

Some friends made the trek to Lockport and called Moore saying, “We have to buy this car.”

This was in April of last year.

Moore decided that, since the car has deep roots in Batavia, the car should be donated to the City. The City of Batavia agreed to accept the car once its restored.

So in the fall, Moore’s buddies, Dick McClurg, Dave Howe, Ken Witt, Dave Salaway and Norm Wright, picked up the car and brought it home.

It’s now at Old World Collision on Main Street in Batavia.

The car has since been gutted and doesn’t look like the futuristic, stylish car in the photos. It’s being funded by private donations and the group is taking any help it can get to restore the car.

Ironically, the man behind this entire project hasn’t even seen the car.

Moore says he talks with his McClurg regularly but hasn’t made it down to western New York to see the car.

The friends hope to have the car up and ready to go by July — and Moore plans to make the trip then.

Although it’s taken a lot of hands to bring the piece of rolling history back to Batavia, Moore was the catalyst behind everything.

The Thomas Rocket Car is deeply rooted in Moore as much as it is in Batavia and he’s excited to see it complete.

But, rest assured, it will be just as beautiful as the day Charles Thomas rolled down Main Street with it.

If you have an interest in funding the restoration project, contact Dave Howe at Charles Men’s Shop in Batavia.

UPDATE (11:45 a.m.): Those looking to donate should contact: Thomas Car Restoration, c/o Jeff Ackerman; 4964 Paradise Road, East Bethany, NY 14054. Include your home address, email address and phone number. Restoration assistance from volunteers to work on brakes, motor installation, transmission installation etc. is needed.

_____________________________________________

by Joe Leathersich, The Daily News (2/11/2016)
For online article, click here!