Lot 117

Hershey 2014

1911 Kelsey Model M Motorette

Offered from the collection of John Moir


$49,500 USD | Sold

United States Flag | Hershey, Pennsylvania



  • Offered from the collection of John Moir
  • A fascinating, highly individual early American automobile
  • An AACA award-winning restoration
  • Exhaustively documented, including correspondence with C.W. Kelsey
  • One of the finest surviving examples

10 bhp, 72 cu. in. water-cooled opposed twin-cylinder, two-stroke engine, two-speed and reverse planetary transmission with chain drive, quarter-elliptic leaf-spring rear suspension, and mechanical brakes on both the driveshaft and rear wheel. Wheelbase: 74 in.

With a name as unforgettable as the cars he built, Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey set about building a unique automobile that would be less expensive than the Model T, and that he did when he built his Motorette with three wheels, rather than four. The Motorette’s rear wheel was driven by a two-stroke, twin-cylinder engine, which was air-cooled on early models and later water-cooled, with the radiator mounted behind the engine. Rather than mixing oil with gasoline, as on later two-stroke engines, the Kelsey’s oil and gasoline were supplied separately, with the oil supplied by a tank in the armrest to a four-way distribution center at the front of the driver’s seat. To keep the three-wheeler stable, Kelsey designed one of the first anti-sway torsion bars.

Kelsey and his Motorette were active in early endurance events. In 1909, he drove an air-cooled model up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. After the car overheated and Kelsey had to spend the night in a halfway house, he changed to a water-cooled engine, but this time with the radiator mounted behind the seat! In 1911, Kelsey’s brother-in-law and a mechanic drove a Motorette from the factory in Hartford, Connecticut, to San Francisco. It took them from February until August to make the trip, but they made it. As Mr. Moir points out, “They didn’t have many breakdowns; they just weren’t in a hurry.”

The Model M Motorette from the Moir Collection is perhaps the best-restored and most famous example of C.W. Kelsey’s engineering. It was acquired in the early 1960s by Robert Zlotoff, of New Hyde Park, New York, who set about restoring it to an exacting standard. To that end, he corresponded not only with Motorette owners and such authorities as Leslie Henry at the Henry Ford Museum but also with Mr. Kelsey himself. The elderly former auto manufacturer supplied Mr. Zlotoff not only with copies of period advertisements and an original brochure, which are included in the car’s considerable file, but also considerable know-how and expertise, which helped guide the restoration.

Mr. Zlotoff’s restored Motorette won its AACA First Junior and Senior at Hershey in 1964 and 1965. It was photographed by Henry Austin Clark Jr. for some of his famous picture postcards, copies of which are included in the file, and it was featured in Automobile Quarterly, Volume 13 Number 2, in an article by Beverly Rae Kimes, as well as in Bob Stubenrach’s book, The Fun of Old Cars. The restoration, aged by time but not by use, is still exceptional in its presentation. The black leather interior is still in good overall condition, and the red finish still has a nice shine, as does the bright metal trim. Numerous badges throughout attest to the winning ways of what may well be the best surviving Motorette.

It seems that even in the 1960s, C.W. Kelsey wanted his little Motorette to be remembered. Today, it most certainly is thanks to the efforts of Bob Zlotoff and the caring preservation of John Moir.