12 October 2007
1903 Stanley Solid Seat Steam Runabout (Model B)
Sold for $85,250
When F.E. and F.O. Stanley sold their automobile business to John Walker and Amzi Barber in 1899, they signed an agreement not to compete for one year. Their arrangement as general managers for Walker and Barber didn’t work for long, and F.E. and F.O. sat out their exclusion period while conceiving a new steam car design.
It was late in 1901 before it was complete. First mentioned in The Horseless Age for January 29, 1902, the car had four full-elliptic springs, one on each corner, and a small seat in front that doubled as a compartment for tools or other belongings. Major changes were made to the engine, fuel system and boiler, resulting in higher steam pressures than the Locomobile they had sold to Walker and Barber.
Within months they were sued for infringement of a patent granted to George Eli Whitney, a Boston inventor who had become an employee of Locomobile. Whitney’s patent made extensive claims, most of which did not apply to the new Stanley car. However, the brothers’ drive chain tensioner became a matter of contention, so they abandoned the chain entirely, gearing the engine directly to the differential. Most chain drive Stanleys were later retrofitted to gear drive.
For 1903, the body was redesigned, the front compartment given a more gradual slope on its leading edge with a sultry curve that created a conveniently located toeboard when lowered. It was not until 1904, however, that Stanley adopted model designations, A, B and C, depending on the seat configuration. A car with a solid panel driver’s seat and an open front seat was given the name “Type (or Model) B,” and this is usually retroactively applied to 1903 cars.
This 1903 Stanley runabout is a very rare example of an original, unrestored car. Much of what has been learned for restoration and reconstruction of cars has been from similar undisturbed “finds.” The wood body of the car is straight and generally solid, although the rear suspension has torn loose and a repair attempt has been made with angle iron. This will need more expert attention. The car has leather fenders, somewhat unusual since most were fitted with simple cycle mudguards. The leather has deteriorated but the supports are intact. The seat leather has numerous holes and a tin cover has been fitted to the rear of the body where a wooden lid once sat. Inside the front compartment is the original, much deteriorated, leather curtain that kept small possessions from rolling under the passengers’ feet.
Mechanically, the car is largely complete, with its 6.5 hp gear-drive engine, fuel and water systems basically intact. Missing are the control valves usually on the right edge of the driver’s seat and the boiler sight glass that accompanies them. On the dashboard are pressure gauges marked “Stanley Brothers” and “Howard,” the former an interim name used before the Stanley Motor Carriage Company was incorporated in 1904.
The cars were first manufactured by the Stanley Dry Plate Company. The gauges, like most all Stanley gauges, were manufactured by Ashton Valve Company of Boston.
The chassis number 180, while not in the prescribed location on the car, fits the sequence for 1902. It may be spurious, since the car is replete with 1903 design features. Although requiring a complete restoration, this car is a remarkable, nearly untouched example of a very early Stanley. It should be thoroughly photographed, documented and the information archived before restoration is begun.
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