1909 STANLEY STEAMER MODEL R
The Stanley Steamer Model R Roadster was the creation of a automotive design team – the Stanley twins, Francis and Freelan. The brothers operated a photographic dry-plate business in Newton, Massachusetts when they developed their first steam car in 1897, naming their new venture Stanley Motor Carriage Company. Competitive and with a passion for speed, the Stanleys entered their vehicles in races around the country and, in one famous tournament at Ormond (Daytona) Beach, a streamlined Stanley Rocket Racer set the record for the fastest speed on land, 127 mph. The record held for four years, remarkable in an era when automotive records were frequently set and immediately broken.
With their racing fame, Stanley steam cars enjoyed modest sales. While many of the early Stanley models were racers and roadsters, later models also included touring cars and a truck/bus, the Mountain Wagon. The Stanley brothers were known to “tinker” with their cars in the factory, leading the public to believe that no two Stanleys were exactly alike. They resisted change in their vehicles, which slowed the car’s ability to compete in the market - limited availability also limited its popularity. Fewer than 1,000 Stanleys were made each year, yielding a total of about 12,000 vehicles when production ceased 27 years later, in 1924.
The Model R roadster was a smart high-powered car for two or four people. The price of $1,350 included a choice of rear seats – a single rumble, a double rumble, a duplicate of the front divided seats, or a full undivided two passenger seat. Without a rear seat, the car had a neat plain artillery box.
This roadster has the same 20 hp plant as the Model T touring car – it is almost the same car except for the body and tires – the tires are 36” x 3 ½” all around. With two cylinders, it ran a mile on a gallon of water, 80+ hp and 705 lbs. torque (!) at full boiler pressure. If fuel was used in 1909, it was a 50/50 mix of gasoline and kerosene
The speed of this car was more than adequate. It could hit a speed of 60 to 70 mph on a good road, and still be able to operate on city streets without danger of overheating or “stalling”.
There was no changing of gears (no transmission), speeds from a creeping pace to a mile a minute or more, were had by simply opening or closing the throttle that is sub-imposed on the steering wheel.. The Model R was valued by those who lived in hilly areas – the average gasoline car at two or three times the price would stall on the hills where a little reserve was needed.
While Stanleys and other steam cars faded from the automotive scene, they have never faded from popular memory. As early as the 1930s, the Stanley was adopted as a symbol of turn-of-the-century life and representative of the early automotive era. The “Steamer” has been referenced and romanticized in film, literature, and song, and remains a nostalgic symbol today.