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1909 Stanley E2 Steam Car at Auction

Posted on 27 February 2016

At the turn of the century it was still unclear what would be the proffered method of automobile propulsion moving forward. Electric cars were quiet and comfortable but they had limited range and took a while to charge. Internal combustion engines (what your Corolla has under the hood) were complicated and under powered. For a while, steam was king. 

With much fewer moving parts than a gas burning car the engine on a steam car was relatively simple. The engine itself was quite small, about the size of a medicine cabinet. Taking up the space where we now think of the engine being in modern cars the boiler drove the engine by feeding it super-heated steam. Steam engines beat the pants off of all other available propulsion methods as far as torque goes. If one wasn't careful when driving one of the more powerful models the tires could be ripped off the rims if the driver accelerated too quickly.

The master of the steam car was Stanley Motor Carriage Co. Founded by twins Francis and Freelan Stanley, Stanley Steam Cars were the most popular cars in the USA for a couple of years after opening. Their cars were well-engineered and safe. No Stanley boiler has ever exploded thanks to a number of safety features. Their cars used a two cylinder double action engine which developed massive power from standstill. There was no transmission and no clutch. Stanley Steamers were popular with hill climb races due to their amazing torque. In 1906 a Stanley was driven by Fred Marriott up to 127.7 mph to set the land speed record. No other steam car would top this record for over 100 years. This supported Stanley's image as a sportier car than their competitors, such as Doble, who focused on luxury. 

 Unfortunately for Stanley by the late nineteen-teens steam cars were all but dead. Many makers were turning their focus to gasoline cars as their quick starting procedure was an appeal as well as their increasing power and efficiency. Perhaps the biggest fault of the steam car was the amount of time it took to start. Gasoline engines were more complicated, but they were pretty much ready to go as soon as they were kicked on. The death of electric and steam cars was hastened by Henry Ford with his Model T. The T was by far the most popular car in the world by 1920, making gasoline the standard. By 1924 Stanley was out of business. 

A 1909 Stanley E2 will be crossing the block at RM Auctions on March 12 with a bid estimate set at $80,000-$100,000. Being that the car is from Stanley's golden age and is largely original with a nice patina, I'm sure it will likely meet or exceed the estimate. It is a beautiful example of what could have been as well as a reminder of what finery many consumer automobiles were when in their infancy. Its plush leather seats and brasswork suggest luxury, but the ride of the car is likely quite harsh in comparison to any car of today. Still, if you have the cash lying around, it would be an interesting weekend grocery getter. Link

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