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Lot 224

1903 Stanley Solid Seat Steam Runabout (Model B)

Sold for $85,250

Specifications: 6.5hp twin-cylinder double-acting steam engine, solid front axle with full-elliptic springs, live rear axle with full-elliptic leaf springs and gear drive, differential brake. Wheelbase: 78"

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.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

Cameron Smyth

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Ontario, Canada

Cameron Smyth joined RM Sotheby’s as a Car Specialist in 2015, working out of our corporate office and providing assistance on c... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more