Stanley Model F steam car

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Stanley Model F steam car
Manufacturer Stanley Motor Carriage Company
Production years 1906
Production location Newton, Mass. USA

Stanley 1906 Model F steam car converted to compressed air drive.

In 1930 the London Science Museum acquired an interesting new exhibit, a car fitted with what was described by the Morning Post newspaper as ‘Device to eliminate the need for gearbox’…the work of the late Professor H L Callendar, whose experimental researches on the expansion of gases particularly fitted him for an experiment of this kind. of London . The power from a petrol engine of normal type was used to fill a compressed air reservoir. The compressed air was then applied to drive a small steam engine placed immediately above the back axle’


Hugh Longbourne Callendar (1863-1930) was professor of physics at McGill University, Montreal; at University College London; and at the Imperial College of Science. He is better known to steam enthusiasts as the author of Callendar’s steam tables.

Professor Callendar’s family had offered the car to the Museum for £10 after his death. A note to the Director of the Science Museum, Sir Henry Lyons, from curator C W Forward explains that the intention was to combine some of the advantages of a steam car without its disadvantages, and that a Stanley (steam car) engine was used. It was not worth buying the car but Mr. Forward wanted to photograph it before it was broken up.

However, the Director wrote that the car was to be purchased, as it was so cheap. Since it needed work to prepare it for display, it was never put on show but found its way into a succession of museum stores. It remains in store to this day, currently catalogued as inventory number 1930-839, '1910 Swift with experimental compressed air transmission'.

Fast forward to June 2004, when as part of the preparatory work for the Museum’s National Collections Centre Project (an innovative scheme to unite and open up access to the Museum’s hidden collections) the Road Transport collections at our Wroughton, Swindon store were surveyed to grade the collections by best practice storage conditions.

I had always thought there was something odd about the ‘1910 Swift’, and the survey provided an opportunity for a closer look at it. True it spotted a Swift radiator, but had full elliptic springs and perch poles. Odd for a 1910 Swift? So one lunch hour I went over with a torch, as the corner of the store the car is currently in is not very well lit. It did not take long to find a Stanley works plate, with the car number 2258. At this point I realised that this was an early coffin-nosed Stanley, basically complete except for hood, boiler, burner, and pumps. Closer examination revealed original yellow paint on wheels and axles under later black, and Brewster green paint and yellow or gold striping under discoloured varnish. It was very much heavier built than an EX and a 4-5 seater to boot!

Clearly this was no ordinary Stanley.

It did not take long to get confirmation from the Stanley works records that this was a 1906 20hp Model F 5-passenger touring car.

The next step was to call up the museum’s records on the car from our Documentation Centre at South Kensington. By the way, as the museum’s object records are public records, they are mostly accessible to any member of the public on request.

See the website

The files contain clues that Professor Callendar might have been the original owner of this car when new, and show how the car was incorrectly catalogued - and how narrowly it escaped being dismantled.

In the files a note from Professor Callendar’s son dated January 1931 gives performance details and stating that the car was converted form a 1908 20hp Stanley, and that the work had been done in the engineering workshops at Imperial College, London. Now the car was originally taken on inventory as a ’Compressed air transmission motor car’. The miscataloging occurred about 1955, when the Road Transport Collection was surveyed and a file note states that the ’Swift’ was the only example of a 1910-14 car the Museum then had in its collections, that it should be restored with a replacement engine and gearbox, and the compressed air transmission shown separately. The Keeper of Engineering approved this proposal, but nothing came of it…just as well really. Clearly, generations of museum assistants had repeated incorrect information about the car - not totally unknown

Professor Callendar’s son wrote to the museum a couple of times more about his father’s old car, asking it was on display. In 1956 he referred to the car as ‘my father’s Stanley steam car, which he had converted to an air driven car’.

Each time the response was that it was not on display due to lack of space. However, by 1962 it was intended to refurbish the car, and place it on exhibition in the new centre block building. But this never happened, and the car remained in store.

Today it is in the Science Museum’s large object store at Wroughton near Swindon.

So what does the museum intend to do with this car? The brief answer is to ensure that it remains in stable storage conditions so this extremely rare example of a ‘modified original’ Stanley is available for future generations of restorers and enthusiasts.

My thanks to the Documentation Centre staff and at the Science Museum for hunting out the files for this interesting car, my colleague Jane Insley for her comments and support, and to the Stanley museum whose advice and publications have helped me identify this and other cars.

This makes the second ‘hidden’ original, imported new to the UK, coffin-nosed Stanley I have come across. I wonder what else is out there….

Peter Turvey

In the Science Museum's Records