Q. Were automobiles ever manufactured in Ann Arbor? If so, do any of those vehicles survive?

A. Automobile manufacturers proliferated in the early years of the industry. In 1908 there were 253 U.S. manufacturers.

The Huron River Manufacturing Company, located on Wildt St. just north of Summit, was Ann Arbor’s first and only automobile factory. In 1911 and 1912 it built and sold seven of what was known as “the Ann Arbor Car.”

The Webster Township Historical Society has posted online a thorough description of these vehicles. The car was designed to be dual-purpose. There were three rows of buttoned leather seats. By taking out the two rear seats and removing the folding top, the car was transformed into a pickup truck.

Only one is known to have survived. According to a 2015 Observer article by Shelley Daily, it has been in the French family since Ben French bought it at auction in Chelsea in 1965. At Ben’s death it passed to his cousin Art, who thoroughly restored it and showed it at many events until his death in 2019. Historical society president Thelma Tucker reports that the car now belongs to Art’s son, Chandler French.

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