The Stanley Steamer
The Automotive Industry's forgotten hero.
I'm a Stanley, so I'll always have a soft spot for the poor old Stanley Steamer. I imagine you'd feel the same way if your surname was Porsche, Ferrari or Lamborghini. Perhaps not so if your surname is Kia...
Sadly I share only the name and nothing more. I won't be inheriting a forgotten marque and a factory full of spare parts. That would be the dream for any petrolhead wouldn't it? Except in this case, petrolhead isn't 'quite' the right word. Why? Because Stanley, to the best of my knowledge never made a petrol car!
Never made a petrol car... WHAT?!
Stanley were famous for making steam cars. The principle is sound, it's basically a Fred Dibner special, but designed more for transporting people than being a steam-powered traction engine with a Yorkshire accent.
So it's a traction engine?
No! Traction engines are HUGE, slow and about as attractive as a coke addict's left nostril. Driving one is about as appealing as volunteering for experimental, anesthetic-free, pile surgery. Okay, yes it might be interesting - however I'm pretty sure it'd be quite painful and seriously embarrassing.
So it's a car, but with a steam engine?
Correct, and now, in 2018, that sounds archaic. When they built their first steam car in 1897 though, it was state of the art technology. By 1899 they'd sold 200 cars, making them America's most successful automobile manufacturer. They had a boiler and a kerosene burner under the seat. They were also incredibly fast for the time. Fred Marriott drove a Stanley Rocket into the record books in 1906, setting a new land speed record at 127.7 mph. That might not sound that impressive, but just imagine doing 127.7 mph in something that looked like this:-
Stanley Rocket Replica - Source: http://www.mrhaweb.com/news.htm
The record stood until 1911 (If you don't count the V8 motorcycle that beat it in 1907). The record stood until 2009 for steam-powered cars! Not many records last a century!
So aside from being fast - what were they like?
Very good, is the short answer! The Stanley's refined their design over the years and their steamers rivaled the performance of gasoline powered cars. They were outselling almost every other marque. Ironically, one of the only automobiles selling more was manufactured by Columbia Electric... Funny how things come around isn't it?
They were famously marketed with the hilariously archaic slogan:
"Power — Correctly Generated, Correctly Controlled, Correctly Applied to the Rear Axle."
Sounds a bit 'Jeeves and Wooster' doesn't it?
This was basically Stanley's version of the Brexit Referendum, Remain Camp's famous 'Project Fear'.
Unlike the Remain Campaigns 'project fear' though, this never turned into project reality. The internal combustion DID have massive advantages of the Steamer and was actually pretty safe.
Stanley Steamers weren't cheap either. In 1924 you could buy one Stanley 740D Sedan... Or you could buy FOUR Model T Fords.
So what happened to Stanley?
Well, with shoddy marketing campaigns and sky-high prices, the writing was pretty much on the wall already.
The steam car had pretty much had its day.
Coffin Nose Steamer in action - Source:- https://www.wired.com/2009/06/dayintech-0601/
When the internal combustion engine boffins came up with automatic ignition... That was a game changer.
Well, starting a car back in 1906 was... Let's say... A little different.
Now that looks a bit of a faff to drive right?
So how did the Steamer compare?
Now I'll be honest, of the two cars on offer here...
The Mercedes Simplex looks a lot easier to live with. I can imagine it becoming quite inconvenient if you have to take 30 to 45 minutes to start your car every morning. That sort of time-sink can really put you off using a car as a daily driver.
Now imagine comparing the Stanley Steamer to a car where you just sit in , and twist a key to start it.
There's not much competition is there? You can see why the steamer quickly became obsolete.
So the Stanley marque is dead forever?
The factory closed its doors in 1924. I don't think anyone ever had another serious attempt at marketing a steam car. I dare say they wouldn't have been very successful if they'd tried!
Is the marque dead? Well, for the time being, YES. If I ever DID come across a small fortune and wanted a more interesting way of losing it than betting it on the gee-gees...
Well, I might try and revive the marque. However, I honestly don't see myself developing a steam car. I'd be much more likely to create a light-weight, low-volume sportscar and buy in a tried and tested engine, from someone like Ford, Toyota or BMW. That's pretty much the only working model for British car manufacturing, once you factor out the foreign owned plants that are shortly due to close thanks to Brexit.
Given the image of the Stanley Steamer, I DO wonder if Stanley would be an appropriate name for a Caterham/Noble/Westfield/Ultima style car...
No, it wouldn't. The brand is dead. If I ever build and market a car - I'd probably be better off calling it a 'Martyn'. It certainly worked for those Aston fellows...
showing a lack of respect for people or things that are generally taken serious
Stories and images of supercar crashes, in honour of veteran crasher Hammond