Fossmobile, Canada’s first car, has its unveiling in Burlington – replica will be at its forever home in Oshawa in autumn

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Published April 28, 2022 at 3:21 pm

A labour of love several years in the making came to fruition Wednesday night when a replica of the first gas-powered internal combustion car ever built in Canada was revealed to the public at Hagerty Garage + Social in Burlington.

The Fossmobile, which was built by George Foss in Sherbrooke, Quebec – the man who taught Oshawa automotive pioneer Sam McLaughlin how to drive – in 1897 from bicycle and horse-drawn buggy parts, spent just four years on the roads of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, scaring kids and horses alike before it was sold for the princely sum of $75 and never seen again.

George’s grandson Ron took it upon himself three years ago to re-build the car as best he could and spent much of that time sourcing period parts and figuring out how to reverse-engineer the vehicle, based solely on old photographs.

He then brought on automotive historians and experts on that period, as well as restoration specialists like Canadian Wood Craftsman (Chatsworth, ON), Custom Touch Upholstery (Burlington), Wolfe Worx (London) and Dendoff Springs (Surrey, BC) to craft the wood body, hand-make the seat cushions, refurbish the wheels, spokes and tires and custom-make the spring suspension, respectively.

Foss said he took on the project for two reasons – to honour his grandfather and ensure his legacy will be remembered; and to educate Canadians about a huge part of their automotive history that has largely been ignored.

“I did this for my grandfather, because he needs to be recognized,” Foss said. “And I really think Canadians need to know that it was a Canadian who achieved this.”

“We just don’t wave our own flag as much as we should. It’s part of our culture to be more laissez-faire about stuff and, yet the automobile has become such an important part of worldwide society—why are we not celebrating or at least acknowledging this Canadian effort?”

Powered by a one-cylinder 3.5 horsepower engine, Canada’s first car was never marketed by George Foss, though he did meet several times with Henry Ford but never struck a deal. A prosperous mechanic, blacksmith and bicycle repairman by this time, Foss did have a big impact on a young Sam McLaughlin, the future founder of General Motors of Canada in Oshawa. While working as a car salesman in Montreal he sold McLaughlin his first car and even taught him how to drive. The rest, as they say, is automotive history.

Ron Foss said the restoration is not 100 per cent complete – “we felt we were far enough along to go ahead with the unveiling” – with just some engine component work to finish. That work will be done over the next couple of months, in time for the car to be displayed at three shows this summer: the Burlington Downtown Car Show in July, the 125th Anniversary celebration of the Fossmobile in Sherbrooke – a three-day event in August – and the cherry on top, the rarefied air of Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance on the shores of Georgian Bay in September.

After that the Fossmobile will come to its forever home at the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa this fall.

Foss said it was only yesterday at the unveiling, while clutching a certificate from his MP, when it finally felt real.

“I was thinking, you know what, we did it,” he said. “There were times over the past three years I didn’t think we could make it to this point.”

 

 

 

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