Car: Stanley Steamer, 1906

Asteam-powered car seems anachronistic today, but when identical twins F. E. and F. O. Stanley began making them in 1897, it was the most proven motive technology around.

Early Stanley cars featured a tubular chassis frame with a light, wooden buggy body. The vertical boiler, under the double seat, at first featured copper fire tubes, with a vapourizing gasoline burner underneath. Drive went from the engine crankshaft to a rear-mounted differential, by chain.

1901 Stanley Steamer
Steam was a viable source of power in motoring’s early times, and the Stanley brothers’ cars were among the most popular.

The design was a success and soon the company was bought by a business consortium for $250,000. But the new owners lacked the Stanleys’ touch, and the brothers bought their old factory back in 1901 for just $20,000.

1906 model car Stanley Steamer

They immediately put an improved model, the definitive model of the car Stanley Steamer, into production. It featured a new, horizontally mounted engine, geared direct to the back axle. And the boiler was later shifted to the front.

1901 Stanley Steamer

The Steamer’s finest hour came in 1906, when Fred Marriott drove a special one across Daytona Beach, Florida, at 127.659mph (205.447kph)—still the longest-standing unbroken record for steam-powered cars, over a century.

“On a cold day, there are huge clouds of steam behind me, which people often confuse with smoke and then swear at me.”

Jey Leno, Stanley Steamer owner

Video model of the car Stanley Steamer

Specification model of the car Stanley Steamer

  • YEAR REVEALED: 1901
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Newton, Massachusetts
  • HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
  • ENGINE: twin-cylinder, 89ci (1,460cc)
  • MAXIMUM POWER: 4.5bhp
  • LAYOUT: mid/front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
  • BODYWORK: 2+2 open “runabout” tourer
  • TOP SPEED: 35mph (56kph)
  • NUMBER BUILT: 1,500 (up to 1904)