1908 Stanley Steamer Model K

1908 Stanley Steamer Model K 1908 Stanley Steamer Model K Semi-Racer
The Stanley twins, brothers Francis and Freelan, made their fortune by inventing and manufacturing dry photographic plates and later selling their firm to Eastman Kodak. In 1897, they found their second great success by producing Stanley steam powered 'motor carriages.' Two years later the brothers sold the car company to the publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine, who named the car the Locomobile. The Stanley's soon re-entered the auto industry, naming their new car the Stanley Steamer.

Built by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company of Newton, Massachusetts, this is one of only three surviving Model Ks in the world and the only one that has been carefully preserved. It is the road-going version of the famous 1906 Stanley that set a land-speed record. On January 26, 1906, at Ormond Beach, Florida, the rocket-shaped Stanley broke the two-miles-in-one minute barrier at a speed of 121.6 mph. In the one-mile trials that followed, the car did thee mile in just over 28 seconds, or 127.66 mph. The steam-powered Stanley Rocket held the record as 'The Fastest Car in the World' from 1906 to 1910, when Barney Oldfield broke the record in a gas-powered Mercedes. Stanley built 25 of these 30 horsepower Semi-Racers, which sold for $1,800 each.

1908 Stanley Steamer Model K 1908 Stanley Steamer Model K 1908 Stanley Steamer Model K Semi-Racer
In 1908, this car was driven by Fred Marriott in the Giants' Despair Hill Climb at Wilkes-Barre, PA, and in June, 1910, it was bought from the Stanley agent in Philadelphia, by the young dealer, T. Clarence Marshall, Photographed that summer alongside 'Auburn Heights,' the Marshall family home in Yorklyn, DE, it was also driven five miles in four minutes by its new owner on a paved road near Quarryville, PA. Buying the car in 1913, the Foote brothers of Avondale, PA dismantled it and threw the parts in the corner of their cluttered machine shop, where most of these parts were discovered by Marshall and Hyde Ballard in 1945. Ballard restored the car in the late 1970s, working from the 1910 photographs and using many of the original parts. A copyrighted drawing showing this car in front of the Ormond Garage appears on the jacket of the new Stanley book by Kit Foster. Ballard sold the car to Tom Marshall, son of the 1910 owner, in 1986. Although all 30-HP Stanley's of 1907-09 had 3-nozzle burners, this is the only one in operation today.
1908 Stanley Steamer Model K 1908 Stanley Steamer Model K 1908 Stanley Steamer Model K Semi-Racer
Chassis #: 3810
Engine # 22388
Sold for $93,500 at 2014 Bonhams Quail Lodge Auction.
The early years of automobile production was progressive with various types of technology being explored and tested. Steam technology proved promising as they were clean, virtually silent, and relatively easy to operate once they warmed up. This fuel source proved promising, until the evolution of the gasoline engine and electric starting made them obsolete, even with the invention of the flash boiler - which almost eliminated slow startups.

Perhaps the best known manufacturer of steam cars came from Massachusetts workshops of former photographic equipment makers F.E. and F.O. Stanley. The Stanley brothers were identical twins who produced a wide range of steam automobiles between 1896 and 1924. Only the Columbia Automobile Company's high-quality electrics outsold them from 1899 to 1905. The Stanley brothers built and sold several hundred of their first model in 1898 and 1899.

In 1899, F.E. and his wife drove a Stanley Steamer to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Several interested parties took notice, including Locomobile, which purchased rights to the design. The Stanley brothers used the proceeds to found their own eponymous firm in 1902, and began producing more advanced models.

Stanley steamers were powered by a double-acting two-cylinder engine and used a fire-tube boiler that was reinforced with piano wire and fitted with a safety valve. Because Stanley's early motors did not incorporate any sort of recovery system, vented steam was lost to the atmosphere. After 1914, that issue was resolved with a fairly efficient condenser system, which greatly increased the distance travelled without stopping for a refill of water. The bodystyles of the early cars were 'buggy-like', with the boiler and valve controls located under the seat. Eventually, the design began to look much like conventional automobiles, having the boiler and motor under a boxy, coffin-like nose and the drive taken to the rear wheels.

In 1907, the company introduced the Model K Semi-Racer which rested on a 100-inch wheelbase steel frame, and featured a wooden body. They had curved fenders and a pair of deep bucket seats for driver and one passenger alongside. Often, they had an additional 'mother-in-law' seat on the rear turtledeck. Only 25 Model Ks were built, and in modern times only three original examples are known to survive.

This particular example has been in the collection of steam car enthusiast Robert Ullrich since the early 1980s, when its chassis and associated running gear were acquired in non-running condition from collector Robert Burch in California. Mr. Ullrich believes the Semi-Racer body was one reproduced years ago. Mr. Ullrich had the engine replaced with a 20hp 'closed' motor (with Stanley's 4-inch by 5-inch bore and stroke) from a later Model 740 and purchased a new 30hp boiler from Bourdon Boiler Works in Vermont.

The body and chassis have been stripped and repainted in typical Model K colors of dark green with yellow frame, wheels, and trim. The upholstery is tufted black leather.


By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2014

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