PORTLAND – Family heirlooms can range from things like big diamonds set in 14-karat gold to an expensive watch or maybe a antique china set.

But a cherished 1902 Autocar?

“From my understanding, there are about 20 or so (of the same car) that exist and none of those are owned today by the same family that purchased them originally,” Will Borders said, except for the model in his family.

Gregory Lange of Saginaw, Mich., took an interest in Autocars when he purchased his 1904 model in 1969. With the help of two other men, Lange has been able to track down a total of 56 varied models of Autocars worldwide.

He said Borders’ is the only one he is aware of to have been in the same family.

“I think that’s really cool,” Lange said.

The family’s Autocar was purchased new in St. Louis by James Campbell, Borders’ great-great-grandfather. Borders said it was one of the first gasoline cars in St. Louis and one of the first shaft-driven cars in the country.

The early model car, resembling a buggy with a wooden chassis and steel wheels, has been passed down through the family and is currently in the hands of Borders, of Chicago, and his aunt Nancy Williams and cousin Holly Atkisson, both of Florida. The Autocar was recently moved from a family friend’s garage in Biddeford, where it had been stored for nearly 20 years, to the Portland Motor Club.

“We’ve just been looking for a permanent home to have it in and some place accessible to the public, to appreciate the history of the car,” which is why the family is considering a museum in Maine and another in Wisconsin to display the car, Borders said.

Currently, the Owls Head Transportation Museum has a 1906 Autocar Type XII touring car in its collection, said Owls Head Transportation Museum Education Director Ethan Yankura. That model, priced new, cost $2,600, which he said was a lot of money at that time. Borders declined to disclose today’s value of his family’s 1902 Autocar.

The American-made car, which once topped speeds of 12 mph, is the oldest car sitting in Portland Motor Club’s storage right now, club membership director Kal Rogers said. Since people today look for “fine machines or an iconic car,” not many of the 100 vehicles in storage were made before 1950, he said.

The Autocar made its way from St. Louis to the East Coast when Campbell moved to Connecticut. The car sat in storage there until Borders’ grandfather, James Burkham, turned 18 and fixed it up.

From 1936 until Burkham’s death in 1994, the Autocar was his passion. The Autocar was kept in running condition so Burkham could show it off and give people rides.

It was brought to Biddeford Pool in 1970s, and Borders remembers taking rides with his grandfather when he was just 7 years old. He said his grandfather would shout to him over the noisy motor to explain the car’s mechanics.

“I look back at family pictures; the Autocar sort of was omnipresent,” Borders said.

There are pictures of his mother pictured with the car during her debutante party and family pictures with everyone in the car. Borders said his great-grandmother Lois Campbell even used the car to drive to and from school.

“Somebody would crank it up at the beginning of the day for her,” because the Autocar was difficult to start, Borders said. “And at some point during the day, someone would come over and help get it cranked up and ready to drive home.”

Borders called the Autocar “a neat piece of history.” One he hopes to showcase in an automobile or transportation museum by next year.

“It’s a tribute to my grandfather’s passion for the car and love of showing it,” he said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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