Thomas Flyer at Pierce Arrow Museum

Thomas Flyer at Pierce Arrow Museum

1908 champion race car on display in Buffalo this summer
Elizabeth Carey
1908 champion race car on display this summer

Envision 115 years ago in 1908 when motor vehicles were just gaining popularity. People were in awe of the automobile and its freedom of mobility despite their lack of modern conveniences, like a roof or cruise control, that we take for granted today. AAA was already founded as automobile enthusiasts wanted to join clubs focused on cars, and driving became a sport for many who followed road races.

The Great Race of 1908 was announced with international contestants from New York City to Paris who would attempt to race around the world undeterred by the lack of paved roads much of the way.

The car that won that race is now on display in Buffalo. The original 1907 Thomas Flyer, Buffalo's World Champion, winner of the 1908 New York to Paris automobile race, is on loan to the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum from The National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.

Thomas Flyer champion race car

And there are many stories regarding the race that are tied to Western New York. For starters, the winning driver and the vehicle were both from Buffalo. “George Schuster drove from Times Square to the Eiffel Tower in 169 days covering 22,000 miles with the Thomas Flyer,” said Jeff Mahl, great-grandson of Schuster. “Buffalo can be very proud – the Flyer was built at 1200 Niagara St., which is the site of Rich Products today. George was born and bred in Buffalo and learned skills from his father’s blacksmith shop on Seneca St. In 1908, there weren’t auto parts stores or FedEx or UPS to deliver parts, it took ingenuity.”

The Great Race began on February 12, 1908, purposely in the winter because contestants planned to drive to Alaska hoping the Bering Strait would be frozen and serve as an ice bridge. Upon arrival in Alaska, the snow was so deep that the only way to continue would be to take the vehicles apart and transport them on dog sleds, so the race organizers allowed cargo ships to transport the vehicles from the west coast of the United States to Russia to continue the race.

AAA often conducted road contests and encouraged manufacturers to produce reliable vehicles that could withstand such trips, setting the foundation for the automobile to become basic transportation through long distance competition.

The arrival and unveiling of the historic vehicle at the Pierce Arrow Museum attracted the media and elected officials who enjoyed looking at the piece of automotive history.

A press conference was held to unveil the Thomas Flyer.

“If you notice something that’s very innovative, there’s a seat belt in that car,” said Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns.

“It’s going to be a phenomenal opportunity to bring people from all across the nation and the world to Buffalo to see this great vehicle,” added City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

The car is currently on display at part of the 115th anniversary of the Great Race. The week of July 24 - July 30, 2023, has been designated "Thomas Flyer Week." Thomas automobile owners, from as far away as Australia, are bringing their cars to Buffalo for this once in a lifetime gathering, according to Jim Sandoro, who founded the museum.

“We have 15-20 cars coming here in July,” he said. “We’re going to do a live remote here with Germany and the German museum.” 

If you’re looking to experience history and have a new appreciation for your modern vehicle, be sure to visit the museum this summer before August 6. Special general admission and guided tours can be arranged through the museum directly. Learn more at

Create your unique travel experience with AAA's travel experts. 

AAA Travel