Why are we not all driving Steam Cars today?


In the beginning steam cars had some advantages over internal combustion enigne cars. Far quieter with less vibration. A great thing about them for the early motorist was no crash gearbox. They offered an ease and smoothness of driving not equalled until the development of automatic gearboxes.

However by 1910 at the very latest  the writing was on the wall for steam cars, despite the fact that they could use cheaper fuels – kerosene (paraffin) instead of the more expensive gasoline (petrol). 

And there was always the time taken to light up and raise steam. Not as long as you might think, especially if the car was used daily, but still not as quick as starting an IC engine car.

Unless you were really  fanatical  about steam there was absolutely no reason to buy a new steamer. Stanley''s rival, the American White company realised this and stopped producing their beautifully engineered and expensive steam cars after 1910.

Our Stanley Model 607 tourer has about the same performance as a contemporary Model T ford – at  almost two and a half  times the price. The difference – Stanleys hand-built 527 cars in 1914, Ford mass produced 308,000 on the new Highland Park assembly line.

After about 1910 steam cars became very much a niche market product, sold to the minority of motorists who had  always bought steamers. When the market died out, the car died with them.

For a glimpse of what might have been – the fantastic expensive and complicated Doble steam cars of the 1920s – and some of the drawbacks of steam cars – lighting up a 1909 Stanley – see some of the excellent videos on Jay Leno’s Garage site