When I first saw Peter Fawcett driving into the 46th Concours d’Elegance staged by the Antique and Classic Car Club of Canada on Aug. 8, I thought his car was either on fire or the worst oil-burner ever.
And then I heard its chuff-chuff-chuff and the sound of a steam whistle.
Like little kids attracted to the ice cream truck, a crowd quickly gathered around Fawcett’s machine as it took its place in the long row of vehicles waiting to be judged.
And there was no need to ask what he was driving because on the hood, in maybe the largest script ever used by a car company, was the famous name: Stanley.
For some people it was the first operating steam car they’d ever seen.
Peter, who has continued the Whitby, Ont. automotive restoration business begun by his late father, Ron, has owned the Stanley – a 1905 Model F – for five years.
And it wasn’t the only vehicle he brought to the Concours, hosted by the ACCCC’s Great Pine Ridge Region at the Agricultural Park in Port Hope, Ont. Fawcett also displayed an original condition 1911 Model T that won a third place award and a rare 1909 International Harvester high-wheeler that won a first. The Stanley also was a first place car scoring 97.7 points out of a possible 100, and was named Concours Committee Choice.
Peter first got aboard a Stanley steamer in 1981 when he was touring in a 1910 Ford and the Stanley’s owner offered him a ride.
“The car was so powerful and so quiet I could hear the bearings in the front hubs,” he recalled.
“I never thought I’d get to own one, but when I heard about this one, that had been in a private museum in southern Pennsylvania, I grabbed it.”
Relatively simple to drive once under way, the steamer requires a bit of getting used to with all its valves, etc.
How long did it take Fawcett to get accustomed to the controls?
“I don’t know if I ever will,” he laughs.
Some lucky people got to ride with Peter on a tour around the park, and I was one of them. Under hard acceleration the Stanley sounds like a small locomotive – as well it should, because the principle of its compound two-cylinder engine is exactly the same as that used on steam-powered railway engines. There are two pistons with connecting rods and drive rods, but the mechanism is hidden inside a brass housing between the rear wheels, not mounted externally as on a locomotive.
In 1905 the Stanley would have burned naphtha, but today the boiler is heated by regular unleaded gas. Water is fed from a 30-gallon reservoir under the front seats.
It takes about half an hour to build up steam – and then the 20-hp car is almost unstoppable.
In fact, in 1906 the Stanley brothers took one of their cars to a strip of beach in Florida where they set a land speed record of 126 mph. Fawcett’s 1905 Model F was guaranteed to do 50 mph in a day when other cars were hard pressed to reach half that speed.
To keep weight down, most of the car is made of wood – even the steam bent fenders.
In a nice touch, it sports original Ontario licence plates – made of rubber and bearing the number 425.
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Best of Show at the Concours was a 1934 Graham convertible. Owned by Fred and Suzanne Freeman of Napanee, Ont., and restored by the legendary Doug Greer, the Graham scored an almost-perfect 99.3 points. The Exhibitors’ Choice Award was given to Jim Miller of Baden, Ont. for his 1933 Chrysler Imperial dual cowl phaeton, also a first-place car in its class.