1896 Whitney Two-Cylinder Steam Runabout  Chassis no. VCC Dating Certificate no. 1541
Lot 348
1896 Whitney Two-Cylinder Steam Runabout
Registration no. PM 8970 Chassis no. VCC Dating Certificate no. 1541
Sold for £42,200 (US$ 56,452) inc. premium

Lot Details
1896 Whitney Two-Cylinder Steam Runabout
Registration no. PM 8970
Chassis no. VCC Dating Certificate no. 1541
‘Any one of ordinary intelligence can be instructed to operate one in one day.’

George Eli Whitney (1862-1963) was a remarkable man; he lived to be 101, had a keen nose for business and had engineering in his blood, coming from a family of engineers, an uncle, Amos Whitney, being a founder of Pratt & Whitney. Around 1887 William Mason commissioned Whitney to design a small engine for carriage use. Widely known as the Mason engine, Whitney’s $200 design was the first production engine in the United States automotive industry. Whitney’s design was either used or copied by numerous horseless carriage makers, the Stanley Brothers and Locomobile to name two, becoming the most popular power plant for American steam automobiles for the next decade.

Whitney decided to build his own steam carriage in 1896, The Horseless Age publishing an account. Charles Gibson came forward, a jeweller from New York, keen to build his own design in Whitney’s workshops. He soon abandoned his ideas, and, recognising Whitney’s superior design, wished to purchase it. Quoting the astonishingly high price of $2500, the cash was duly produced the next day. Gibson then embarked on a huge publicity tour, arriving in New Jersey, claiming the car was his own design. The car was dismantled, drawings made and patents filed covering the entire carriage. Whitney prosecuted and won, losing his wife in the process to Gibson’s lawyer. Undeterred, and although very much in the marine business, Whitney began work on an improved second and third steam carriage, in 1897 forming a partnership with a prominent Boston attorney, George B. Upham, to manufacture and sell Whitney steam vehicles, 60/40 shares. Whitney got on with his work while Upham looked after their patents, the company promoting its new-found business, applying for over 300 patents. As Whitney’s fame spread, so he was visited by Duryea, Ransom E. Olds, the Stanley brothers, Pope, Knox, Walker and Barber, many pointers on design given to the Stanleys.who later infringed Whitney’s patents, two infringement suits in favour of Whitney following.

Here is an important early Brighton car that was advanced for its day, built by an engineer who understood the lightweight simplicities of construction and the ease with which his product should be used. Whisper quiet in running, all controls, excepting the braking via the footbrake, are done via the tiller, the steering, speed, forward and reverse all controlled via one hand twisting, swinging, raising or lowering the tiller, all working like clockwork. The carriage has 30" front and 32" rear wheels with pneumatic tyres, a tubular steel frame, braced along both sides, chain and sprocket drive, a single contracting brake, the horizontal engine with double acting 4" X 2" and piston valve gear supplied by 14" firetube boiler suspended astride the fuel and water tanks astern of the boiler and within the box of the carriage. Steering is pivoted at the hubs, the steering gear ingeniously fully compensated for all inequalities of the road, only the carriage itself being sprung.

Imported in the 1960s and V.C.C. dated 1896, this car started the Brighton Run last year as car number 3, one of the very oldest Victorians in the event, on pneumatic tyres. Immaculately presented and owned for the last ten years, with eight successful runs to Brighton, an entry for this years’ ‘Brighton’ has been accepted. Together with a very interesting history file of the man, a new burner, new boiler certificate, Swansea V5, MoT and road licence, the vendor would be willing to give advice on the running of this important early car to the successful new owner.

Saleroom notices

  • The new boiler certificate is in the process of being issued. Also included with this car are two front wheel rims, one unused front tyre, one used rear tyre and a gallon of the preferred Morris's 6/80 oil.
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