1908 Stanley Model M Five-Passenger Touring
Chassis no. 4261
The Stanley twins, Francis E. and Freelan O., were exceptionally gifted, creative designers who also happened to be solid businessmen. Raised in rural Maine about halfway between Waterville and the Canadian border, the brothers ingenuity and industry twice created successful businesses by capitalizing on opportunities which they first spotted in their own lives. The famous steam automobile which bears their name is the second.
The first Stanley business arose when Frank, a talented artist who was making his living painting portraits with an airbrush, purchased a camera to take pictures of his portrait clients. He soon discovered the clients appreciated the photos at least as much as they did the portraits but being something of a perfectionist he was dissatisfied with the quality of the dry photo plate gelatin emulsions. He set out to create his own superior dry plates, did so and he and his brother soon had a business making and selling dry plates, successfully competing with the likes of George Eastman.
After moving from Maine to the Boston suburb of Watertown they expanded their dry plate business and soon took over sales directly to their customers, improving their margins and competitiveness. Eventually the dry plate business added a second factory in Canada and was a commercial and artistic success. It also made the Stanley brothers wealthy and put them in the position to indulge their innate curiosity about the then-new automobile.
It was late 1896 and the internal combustion engine was well on its way to practicality. Charles and J. Frank Duryea had demonstrated the concept three years before in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their accomplishments as well as those of Benz, Daimler, deDion-Bouton and others in Europe would have been well known to anyone as curious and well-read as the Stanleys. Exactly what moved the Stanleys to concentrate on steam power is a mystery, but the fabric of automobile history is much richer because they did.
Their early automobiles were lightweight, simple affairs with piano wire wound boilers that operated at 150 psi and were capable of maximum pressure of 300 psi. They built three steam cars, two of which they drove. The third they sold for $600 but otherwise were content to experiment and enjoy the silent transportation which their little buckboard-like steamers provided.
That changed in 1898 when an automobile show was held in Boston with trials in Cambridge. There were only four official entrants, a deDion-Bouton, a Haynes-Apperson, a Whitney steamer and a Riker electric. The Stanleys steamed over to watch, then joined the trial where their steamer proceeded to turn in the fastest three laps of the Cambridge velodrome and was the only one of the five that was able to climb the test hills 30% grade.
That trial performance was well publicized and customers lined up to buy Stanley steam cars. The twins entrepreneurial spirits were buoyed and they bought an empty bicycle factory and started to fill orders. A few months later John B. Walker, publisher of Cosmopolitan, showed up and offered to become a partner, something which the twins definitely did not need. Walker persisted, finally offering to buy the entire operation. The Stanleys tried to brush him off by asking the outlandish price of a quarter-million dollars and no doubt could have been blown over with a feather when Walker accepted. Walkers business eventually would become Locomobile.
The Stanleys bought their factory back two years later and resumed production of Stanley automobiles ... after disposing of one further impediment, a suit by George Whitney challenging their use of a chain tensioner which he claimed infringed on a patent he held.
With typical direct Stanley ingenuity, they eliminated any possibility of infringement by eliminating the chain. A spur gear in the center of the crankshaft drove the rear axles differential directly. The head end of the engine was flexibly attached to the chassis in this ingenious mechanism that became a feature of every subsequent Stanley steam vehicle.
The direct, simple approach was evident everywhere in Stanley design and execution. The axles were simple tubes supporting the wood frame and body on full elliptical leaf springs. Simple poles, called perch rods, connected the front and rear axles to maintain their relative location. The engines crankshaft, connecting rods and valve gear were exposed except for a sheet metal cover to collect some of the oil which was applied by frequent hand oiling of the bearings and valve gear and to keep some of the road dust and grit out. The occupants sat on a box covering the boiler which was fueled by gasoline. Steam was exhausted to the atmosphere after it passed through the engine so the onboard water tank had to be replenished regularly.
In January 1904 George Eastman eliminated photographic dry plate competition from the pesky Stanley brothers by the simple expedient of buying them out. Rich men now, their wealth did nothing to deter them from entrepreneurship. Frank concentrated on the steam car business. Freelan, who had long labored under the effects of tuberculosis, discovered relief in the idyllic mountain valley of Estes Park, Colorado and built the Stanley Hotel there on 160 acres purchased from Lord Dunraven.
The Stanleys made steady progress with the most significant change coming in 1905 when they moved the boiler to the front of the chassis, in the process creating the coffin-nose appearance which made the pre-condenser Stanleys instantly recognizable. Around the same time tiller steering was finally replaced with a wheel. The boilers working pressure was steadily increased from 150 psi in the early years to 350 psi in 1905 and 550 psi in 1908. Also in 1905 Stanley created the streamlined bright red racer with which Fred Marriott set the land speed record on Floridas Ormond Beach, covering a measured mile in 28 1/5 seconds, a speed of 127.659 mph which would stand as the record for an amazing five years.
The most powerful of all production Stanleys was introduced in 1908, the 4 1/2 bore, 6 1/2 stroke twin double acting cylinder, 26 boiler Model M and its mighty load hauling sibling, the Model Z Mountain Wagon designed and built to carry guests from the railroad terminus to the Stanley Hotel. The adaptability of the Stanleys vehicles, and of steam power in general, is apparent in the brothers decision to power these two very different vehicles with the same engine, which was by the way the very same engine used in the 1905 land speed record setter.
Only sixty-five of the monster Model Ms are believed to have been built. Rated at 30hp by the notoriously conservative Stanleys, their performance with the 550 psi boilers that were standardized in 1908 is nothing short of prodigious. The Stanleys, who are recognized for being painfully honest, stated in their 1908 catalog: We believe this is the most powerful stock touring car ever built in the world.
The Paine Collections 1908 Stanley Model M is one of very few of this model extant. It was assembled from Stanley components in the mid-70s by Carl Amsley in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. No original examples of the Model M are known to have survived intact. It was acquired from Amsley by Joseph L. Knapp of St. Cloud, Florida. Famed collector Otis Chandler acquired it from Knapp and it was subsequently acquired in 1985 by Richard C. Paine, Jr. from Chandler in a package transaction.
The restoration was completed in 1978 after which it won National First Prize awards from both the AACA and the Horseless Carriage Club. Thirty years later it is still arrestingly beautiful. Finished in dark green with black accents, the chassis, wood spoke wheels and coachlining are finished in light yellow. Black leather upholsters the interior and is complemented by a black cloth top. Righthand drive, it is impressively equipped including Rushmore acetylene headlights, E&J kerosene sidelights and taillight, a wicker luggage trunk, folded trumpet bulb horn and has two large brass rear view mirrors mounted on the windshield frame. It shows very little use and consistent careful cosmetic care and upkeep in the Seal Cove Museum. The abundant brass is sharp and shiny while the paint and soft trim is essentially flawless and in near concours condition.
1908 was the absolute peak of development at Stanley. They still held the land speed record. High pressure boilers gave an ample reserve of power and the long stroke Land Speed Record engine was capable of propelling a Stanley Model M with a full complement of passengers and luggage at 70 mph as long as the driver wanted. The full-elliptical springs gave Stanleys a deserved reputation for soft, comfortable ride. The Model M was the crown jewel of the Stanley catalog with elegance, stature and silent luxury for the most discerning motorist of the era.
Along with Locomobile and Indian, the Stanley steam automobile is one of the most important contributions of New England to the evolution of the automobile and the Paine Collections Model M may be the finest example of the marque, in power, performance, exclusivity, luxury and rarity.