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Humorist Stephen Leacock doesn't appear to have been one of Canada's early "car-guys" or he'd surely have managed to work the rescue of an early auto from muddy axle-deep ruts by inept Mariposa townies into his comedic classic Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town a century ago.

He certainly wouldn't have lacked for inspiration. Almost 100 Canadian car makes were introduced in the early 20th century, including the Tudhope in Orillia, Ont., the town Leacock in part based fictional Mariposa and its residents on.

None of these early ventures survived, but examples of the cars they produced remain to recall those heady pioneering days. Among them are a trio of Tudhopes that will share top billing with literary legend Leacock in this weekend's Sunshine City Festival in Orillia whose actual place in the sun is on Lake Simcoe, 100-kilometres or so north of Toronto.

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Two of the Tudhopes will celebrate their 100th anniversaries as part of the city's annual car show Saturday, which is expected to line the main street with more than 400 cars dating back to the earliest days of the last century.

Other events, which get underway Friday and conclude Sunday, are tied to the 1912 publication of Leacock's comedic literary work and include a period fashion show and a heritage carnival.

Not only is there no mention by Leacock of Tudhopes trundling around streets of Mariposa, but apparently no record of his driving or even having had a ride in one. But with the first appearing in the fall of 1908, he was almost certainly among the locals interested in this foray into automobile fabrication by the local carriage works.

Tudhope Carriage Co. had been created in the 1800s by blacksmith and wheelwright William Tudhope. By the early 1900s, its management – led by his son James. B. Tudhope – began to see the inevitability of tire tracks replacing hoofprints and that joining this new-fangled transportation trend seemed a better idea than being run over by it.

Tudhope decided to build a car of his own and, for its twin-cylinder air-cooled engine, two-speed transmission and chain drive, turned to W.H. McIntyre Co. of Auburn, Indiana, incorporating them into a buggy-like high-wheeler with a rudimentary body that was being tested by the end of the summer of 1908.

Production began soon after and Tudhope-McIntyres, priced at about $550, were sold across Canada through the company's network of carriage dealers – Bell Telephone Co. was an early customer. But this early success didn't last long.

Fire gutted the factory in 1909, and although it was promptly rebuilt and began turning out carriages again, Tudhope felt a more modern car was needed, and reached an agreement with Metzger Motor Car Co. of Detroit to produce a version of its up-to-date Everitt 30.

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To build it, he established Tudhope Motor Co. and the 1911 models that emerged from this new undertaking were sold starting at about $1,500 under the Everitt 30 and Everitt-Tudhope names and were powered by four- and six-cylinder engines.

In mid-1912, Tudhope's plans were sideswiped by a takeover of Metzger and the termination of the agreement. Tudhope carried on and by 1913 was offering updates such as electric lighting and a starter on cars sold under the Tudhope name alone, but their high-ish price, stiff competition and resultant slow sales meant all was not well financially.

Tudhope was taken over by a Walkerville, Ont., group, headed by local Studebaker plant manager Frank Fisher and the brand name changed to Fisher, although the cars were still built in Orillia. This effort wasn't to last long either and, with the start of the First World War in 1914, car production ended, the plant using up the last parts to produce ambulances.

Tudhope still made carriages, and in the mid-teens bought McLaughlin Carriage Works allowing "Colonel Sam" to concentrate on building McLaughlin Chevrolets before becoming General Motors of Canada.

Just over 500 Tudhope-McIntyres and perhaps a couple of thousand of the later Tudhopes were built, making it remarkable that any have survived. That three are located in Orillia – one still linked to the Tudhope family and the others owned by the Orillia Heritage Centre – is largely due to the efforts of the Smith family.

Relating that tale is retired school principal and long-time vintage car enthusiast John Smith, chair of the heritage organization that owns the 1909 Tudhope-McIntyre and one of the 1912 Tudhopes. The other is in the care of Tim Spencer of Lions Head, a great-grandson of J.B. Tudhope.

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Smith says his father, an early old car enthusiast, acquired the 1909 from the original bachelor-farmer owners in 1950 and sold it in the 1980s to an Orillia-expat in British Columbia whose father had worked for Tudhopes back in the day. Smith and the heritage group managed to repatriate it about three years ago and it's now chuffing along Orillia streets once again.

Smith's father also had a 1912 Tudhope and, as part of the scaling-down of the family collection, sold it to the then-fledgling heritage group. But a decade later his other son, Paul, came across a basket-case Tudhope in Moose Jaw and the Smith family were Tudhope owners once again.

It was soon restored to show-winning condition and, after a deal from which Smith says everybody emerged winners, it is this car that now belongs to the heritage centre group, with its original 1912 now a cherished member of the Spencer/Tudhope clan.

The two 1912 Tudhopes, just 100 serial numbers apart in age, plus the 1909 Tudhope-McIntyre will be on display in Orillia's Couchiching Beach Park for the official celebration of their first century.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Back in 1912

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  • It was a good year for showbiz births with actors Karl Malden, Gene Kelly and Jay Silverheels (Tonto), singer Perry Como and producer Carlo Ponti making their debuts.
  • The first official 100-metre world record set in at the Olympics in Stockholm by American Donald Lippincott who ran the distance in 10.6 seconds. Jamaica’s Usain Bolt won the gold medal at the London Olympics this month with a time of 9.63 seconds
  • The 8th Vanderbilt Cup race is held in Milwaukee and won by Ralph de Palma in a Mercedes. Founded in 1904 by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the race was cancelled during the First World War, ran once in 1936 and three times in the 1960s sponsored by Cornelius Vanderbilt IV.
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