If I were to ask you who invented Canada’s first successful automobile with an internal combustion, who would you say? If you answered Henry Ford, you’d be wrong. In fact, it was George Foote Foss, a mechanic, blacksmith, bicycle repairman and inventor from Sherbrooke, Quebec.
During a trip to Boston, Massachusetts in early 1896, George developed an interest in automobiles after riding in an early electric powered vehicle. Inspired by his experience and the belief that he could construct a more efficient vehicle, Foss began working on a four-horsepower, single-cylinder automobile. He completed his prototype in the spring of 1897. This automobile, later dubbed the Fossmobile, was the first of its kind to be built in Canada.
Foss drove his car in and around Sherbrooke, Quebec for four years. He later moved to Montreal, Quebec, where the car sat idle for a year before he sold it for $75 in 1902. Foss had previously turned down an offer to partner with Henry Ford who went on to form the Ford Motor Company. He turned down the offer as he believed Ford’s vehicle to be inferior to the Fossmobile. He also turned down financial backing to mass produce the Fossmobile, citing his inexperience to do so.
Now, more than 120 years later, Foss’s grandson, Ron Foss, along with Legendary Motorcar Company in Halton Hills, are working to build a tribute replica of the original Fossmobile, thus recognizing his grandfather’s achievement and cementing its place in Canadian automotive history.
“It’s a Canadian first that very few Canadians know much about and we felt it was important to get that story told,” remarked Ron. “The build of the tribute car is primarily to help tell that story.”
Since the original is lost in the sands of time and no blueprints or technical specifications of it exist, the only references they have are the 19th century photographs to help tell the story which Ron has determined to be enough to reverse engineer the vehicle.
“You take what you know,” Foss said. “If there’s a particular measurement you can determine (from photographs), you start with it, and scale with it to the next connecting part.”
This project has been a labour of love for Ron. Overseeing the build, researching and investigating potential parts, drumming up publicity and monetary support from a GoFundMe page and corporate sponsorships, it’s basically become a full-time job.
Once completed, Ron is working to have it shown in 3 or 4 major venues across Canada, with the ultimate goal of placing it in the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa to “bring to greater light this significant chapter of Canadian history.”
For more information about the Fossmobile project, visit Fossmobile.ca.
Article by Jason Stacey
Photography from Foss Family Archives