1903 Stevens-Duryea Model L Runabout

By the time J. Frank Duryea partnered with the J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company in 1901 to build cars of his design, he was already a veteran of the automobile industry. Beginning in 1893, he and older brother Charles had built the Duryea Motorwagen in Springfield, Massachusetts. On Thanksgiving in 1895, Frank drove a second Motorwagen through the snow to win the Chicago Times Herald race in Illinois. By the end of the 19th Century, the brothers had both become the country’s first commercial manufacturers of automobiles, and promptly parted company following a disagreement over company financing. While Charles headed to Reading, Pennsylvania, where he and a partner produced three and four-wheeled cars, Frank established the Hampden Company in Springfield and set about designing automobiles and launches.

In 1901, Following the completion of one Hampden launch and three prototype cars, the Stevens-Duryea Company was established and began building a car identical to the Hampden. Both cars used an opposed two-cylinder 5hp engine driving the rear wheels through a three-speed transmission, while full-elliptical leaf springs were used front and rear, and brakes were fitted to the rear wheels. The initial prototype had used wire wheels, but later cars used artillery wheels. The Stevens-Duryea was a high-quality auto, and at a $1,300 f.o.b. it was also an expensive one. Period literature touted “The motor is started from the seat by means of a short crank… a boy of eight readily starts one of these machines…”

The Model L was a mainstay of the Stevens-Duryea line for several years and remained largely unchanged from the 1901 configuration. This charming and superbly restored example hails from 1903, by which time the 159.5 L-head engine produced a claimed 7 horsepower. Fitted with a Stanhope body it will accommodate two people behind the tiller, and another two occasional passengers out front, ahead of the driver. As this car was built prior to 1904, it should be eligible for entry into the famed London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

This particular Model L, nicknamed “Little Violet,” is unusual in having very well-known history—of 120 years—from new. First registered in Boston by Dr. Arthur B. Coffin, it remained in his care until 1941 when it was sold to a mechanic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who used it to advertise his business. In 1948, fellow Bostonians, Mr. & Mrs. George Felton acquired the car, treated it to a light restoration, and retained it until 1960 when they sold the Stevens-Duryea to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. It remained in the care of the IMS Museum Collection through 2012, and photos on file show the initial restoration was well-preserved while the car was displayed. After 52 years in Indianapolis, the Stevens-Duryea was deaccessioned by the Museum and acquired by the most recent owner, who then treated it to a high-quality restoration by Canadian vintage car specialist Peter Fawcett of the Fawcett Motor Carriage Company.

Resplendent in its deep claret and black livery, this Little Violet is rich with charm and character. The restoration is finished to a standard rarely seen on early Brass-Era automobiles today, with beautiful paintwork and detailing throughout. Notable details include a fully finished chassis with pin striped springs, black leather mudguards, a beautiful leather runabout top, and Deitz Regal Motor Lamps. The 7hp engine is finely detailed and runs well, delivering a wonderfully satisfying two-cylinder “chug.”

This Stevens-Duryea Model L is a delightful example of the Horseless Carriage era, and thanks to “Little Violet’s” superb restoration, she is now ready to show or tour with pride.

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