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Frequently Asked Questions about Stanley Motor Carriages

Frequently asked whenever a Stanley is taken to a car show, driven in a parade, or otherwise exhibited there are always questions about the the car. Some folks think that the Stanley Steamer was never an actual automobile but rather something someone made up. When Stanleys are driven to car shows or participate in parades many are amazed that something nearly 100 years old is still drivable (a tribute to the simplicity and engineering talent of the Stanley twins). They are a unique form of American automotive transportation and there's no end to the questions asked about the car. In an attempt to provide some answers two Stanley Motor Carriage Company booklets which were readily offered by dealers are reproduced here for the reader's enjoyment and education.

Stanley Motor Carriage Company had an aggressive campaign to educate the public as to the operation of a Stanley as well as the benefits of owning a Stanley. Two documents that were published during the condensing car years are reproduced here in their entirety. Both are highly educational in the information they contain. They are written as if they are transcripts of a conversation between a knowledgeable Stanley salesperson and an interested customer. The reader is reminded that by the late teens (i.e. 1915 through 1919) and early twenties (i.e. 1920 until the company ceased making cars in 1924) the internal combustion engine had become the motive power of choice for automobiles. People of the era were becoming very familiar with the internal combustion engine and this the Stanley documents reproduced here were a last-ditch attempt to sell steam cars.

The reader will find that Stanley referred to what we now call the internal combustion engine as the "internal-explosion engine". Obviously they were attempting to instill fear in the reader's mind that they were driving something that could explode. The fact that the boiler on a Stanley is pressurized to 600 PSIG is downplayed in the articles. Other interesting aspects of the documents include how the number of parts in an internal-explosive engine far exceeds the count in a Stanley (15 moving parts in the engine and 37 on the car was Stanley's claim); the need for clutches, transmissions, and drive shafts for all vehicles except a Stanley; and that internal-explosion vehicles have a lot of extraneous devices required to keep them going.

Stanley does an excellent job of pointing out that as the steam engine is the only engine that generates maximum power at standstill, the steam engine is ideally suited for use with automobiles. Their subtle reminders why locomotives use steam and that airplanes use internal-explosion engines is interesting excellent reading. The concept of "stored power" is discussed at quite some length and used as an argument against the internal-explosive engine. Finally each of the Question and Answer brochures reproduced here greatly simply the operation and ownership of a Stanley.

Listed below are the links to the two documents. The first document "Questions and Answers" was written in the late teens when Stanley was actively selling their Model 735 condensing cars. The second document "Pointed Questions and Direct Answers" was produced towards the end of Stanley production era when the Model 740 cars were offered. Each document includes a specification for the Stanley currently in production when the booklet was released (Model 735 Stanley for "Questions and Answers" and the Model 740 for "Pointed Questions and Direct Answers". The web site visitor is urged to read both documents as each contain information not presented in the other document.

I frequently receive emails (along with tons of un-necessary SPAM) through the email link on many of my web site pages not only complementing the site but asking questions as well. Many of the questions are related to topics I've yet to include on the site or ask questions that are related to the material presented on the site. The following list of questions and answers, in no particular order, are questions asked by web site visitors. Below their question I've provided the answer that I emailed as a reply. The questions have been edited to remove any references to specific people and/or cars/owners.

The Top Ten
Below are perhaps the ten most often asked questions about a Stanley Steam Car. They are provided here for those readers who don't wish to read through the above documents. The questions are simply stated and the answers kept short and to the point. For a more in-depth understanding please read either of the documents above or visit the section of the web site that describes each and every part of a Stanley in detail.

1. What does a Stanley burn?
The majority of Stanley cars have pilots that burn white gasoline (or Coleman Fuel or hexane today) while the burner consumes kerosene. Very early Stanley models only burned gasoline.

2. How many miles to the gallon does a Stanley get?
Of kerosene -- around 10 miles to the gallon. Of gasoline for the pilot -- perhaps a day's operation. Of water for a non-condensing Stanley -- 1 and perhaps 2 miles per gallon. Of water for a condensing Stanley -- 8 to 10 miles per gallon depending on how hard the car is driven, how warm the ambient air is.

3. What pressure do most Stanleys operate at?
The burner is shut down automatically around 550 PSIG. The safety (pop) valve is set around 650 PSIG. Due to the unique boiler construction no Stanley boiler has ever been documented to have blown up. The most common failure mode is a scorched boiler (run low on water and starts leaking).

4. How many horsepower is a Stanley?
Condensing Stanley steam cars were rated at 20 horsepower. This rating reflects the nominal steaming horsepower capability of the boiler and not the horsepower of the associated steam engine. A Stanley steam engine on a 20 horsepower car operating at a steam pressure of 550 PSIG can generate perhaps between 100 and 125 horsepower for a very short period of time.

5. Are Stanley steam cars insulated with asbestos?
Today, replacement materials known as "refractory ceramic insulation" are used. These high-temperature insulations are made from aluminum and silicon oxides. They are available in various felt and blanket forms that closely resemble asbestos insulation that Stanley originally used on the cars.

6. What is a Stanley valued at?
Originally a Stanley was considered a luxury car and commanded prices at the upper end of the market. Today, the question is best answered by simply stating that "just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the "worth" of a Stanley lies in value the owner (and perhaps the individual that is trying to buy one) has for the particular car in question." The ultimate value of a Stanley is now determined not only from its originality (there are Stanley reproduction cars available), but the rareness of the model in question (condensing models seems to be more plentiful than selected non-condensing models), and the overall condition and drivability of the car. Intrinsic factors such as the owner's values in the use he intends for the automobile as well as the owner's interest in preserving a portion of our American automotive heritage also play a big factor in determining the value of a particular Stanley. A price range of $50,000 to $500,000 is not unreasonable in the 21st century depending on the factors just mentioned and others as well.

7. What is the difference between a non-condensing and a condensing Stanley?
Stanley production up through 1914 were non-condensing cars meaning that the steam was only used once and then exhausted to the atmosphere. Non-condensing Stanleys are the most recognized models as their body style incorporated a rounded hood often called a "coffin-nose" car. The condensing models were manufactured from 1915 onward and generally resembled the internal combustion cars of the era. Condensing models reclaimed the steam used by the engine in a "condenser" (most call it a radiator since it appears identical to the radiator design an placement on internal combustion cars) by converting the spent steam to "condensate" or water for reuse in the boiler through recycling.

8. How fast will a Stanley go?
Generally most Stanley cars have no problem maintaining 35 miles per hour of reasonable level roads and keeping steam pressure around 500 PSIG. One can run a Stanley faster but the steam pressure will be less. Some of the racer Stanleys will sustain 45 or 50 MPH without any problems provided the driver and passengers are comfortable riding in a vehicle with poor brakes, manual steering, and narrow tires.

9. Are there many Stanley cars around?
It is estimated that during the 24 years the Stanley Motor Carriage Company built steam cars that somewhere around 11,000 to 12,000 were built. Today there are perhaps 600 Stanley cars around the world. It is estimated that approximately 400 are "as they came from the factory" (allowing for boiler replacements and similar maintenance as is performed on modern cars to keep them operational). The remaining cars are a mix of "a large majority factory" to "total reproduction bodies with Stanley engines and drive components".

10. How long does it take to get the car ready to drive?
Stanley advertised that a Stanley could be fired up from cold in 10 to 12 minutes however 20 to 25 minutes is perhaps more realistic. Stanley owners today generally take a slower and more gentler approach in firing up a Stanley from cold. The burner is not fired at full force initially to reduce heat stresses and the car and engine are warmed up gradually. Thus it is not uncommon to take 45 minutes to an hour to fire up a Stanley.

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