Stoddard-Dayton predates the turn of the 20th century as a manufacturer of agricultural equipment and tools. It wasn’t until 1904 when Charles Stoddard, who had become seriously interesting in motor cars since they first began appearing on American roads, announced his company would be making a motor car of their own. Going in with both feet, so to speak, the agricultural side of the business was sold off and the company reincorporated as Dayton Motor Car Company in December of 1904. Their first offering was designed by Englishman H.S. Edwards and powered by a 26 horsepower four-cylinder engine supplied by Rutenber. Over the course of the next several years, Stoddard-Dayton automobiles grew in size, price and production output. By 1908, four models were offered that ranged from an 18 horsepower four-cylinder to a big 50/60hp touring car that cost a rather significant $4,500. The firm continued with moderate success, sticking with an ethos of quality over quantity, even in the face of growing pressure from the likes of Ford and other mass-produced motorcars. 1912 was the most successful year for the company, with 26,000 examples built over a wide variety of models. But late 1912, Stoddard-Dayton faltered following an over-commitment to produce even more cars, sending the company into a financial tailspin. Stoddard-Dayton joined U.S. Motors in hopes of steadying itself, however the conglomerate failed shortly afterward and Stoddard-Dayton folded for good, its assets going to Maxwell and eventually General Motors. Thankfully, the Stoddard-Dayton legacy lives on thanks to the exceptional quality and care that was put in to building every one of their motor cars.
Our featured 1912 Model 20 is a four-cylinder model from the twilight years of Stoddard-Dayton. This exceptional motorcar wears the originally-equipped Prospect Fire Engine Co. chemical apparatus body. Prospect Fire Engine Co. was one of the most successful of its kind in the teens and twenties, producing high quality pumpers, hose trucks and their specialty, chemical trucks, fitted to a wide variety of commercial chassis.Given the fact that the Prospect body is fitted to a high quality and extensively decorated Stoddard-Dayton chassis, we believe this was most likely a fire chief’s car.
The body features an array of period correct fire-fighting tools including a fire extinguisher, lanterns, and a brass hose reel mounted atop a chemical tank. From stem to stern, this Stoddard-Dayton is truly exquisite. The unique dark blue paint is beautifully applied and polished to a concours level finish. Virtually every painted surface down to the wood-spoke artillery wheels has been embellished with some of the finest gold leaf work we have ever seen. Brass headlamps, radiator shell, carriage lights, and other hardware have been polished to a high standard. A Prestolite acetylene tank rides alongside the driver, powering the head and cowl lamps. The siren alone is a gorgeous piece, mounted on the cowl ahead of the passenger’s seat. The running boards and floors are finished in correct materials (battleship linoleum) and the wood cowl and kick panels have been restored and polished to a furniture grade finish.
The open driver’s compartment is simple and functional, with correct button-pattern leather upholstery on the seat. There is room for two up front, and it is imagined that additional fire-fighters rode along on the back platform, given the brass hand-rail that surrounds the chemical tank. The quality and level of detail is truly astounding, and wherever your eye takes you, more exquisite detailing is found; just the wheels alone are works of art.
Powering this motorcar is a 226 cubic inch, 20hp four-cylinder engine. The unit is simple and robust, and on this example, beautifully presented with concours quality finishes and fittings, in keeping with the standard set by the gorgeous exterior. Stoddard-Dayton was known for building high quality and reliable cars. At a time when something as simple as a radiator cap was being punched out by the thousands at a Ford plant, Stoddard-Dayton was making one theirs out of nearly a dozen separate pieces. Every car was hand finished and road-tested before delivery, making it a wise choice for a fire chief who demanded quality and dependability. This example’s compact size and jewel-like quality make it a fine choice for collectors with an interest in fire fighting vehicles, yet wish to keep with a manageable size. It is a fascinating piece of history as well as a breathtaking piece of craftsmanship.