Feb 10 2010

Jay Leno & the 1906 Stanley Steamer Vanderbilt Racers

In May 1906, Charles J. Swain and John Wilkins, Jr. of the Cape May Automobile Club announced that intended to purchase two specially-built Stanley Steamer racers to compete in the American Elimination Trial for the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup Race. Swain proudly announced to the automobile trade journals: "Preliminary negotiations were made for the purchase of two Stanley steamers, guaranteed to do a mile in thirty seconds, and capable of standing up for the Vanderbilt Cup car journey".


Driver Fred Marriott and Francis E. Stanley can be seen in one of the Stanley Steam "Vanderbilt" racers in this rare 1906 photo.

Unfortunately, the racers were never even entered into the 1906 American Elimination Trial. Freelan Stanley became ill and the Stanley brothers were unable to finish the cars in time for the September race. In a letter to the owners Swain and Wilkins, Freelan Stanley wrote:

"Owning to my absence and the fact that my brother will be away more or less this summer, we shall be unable to complete them in season for the Vanderbilt races. Hence, of course, you are no obligation to buy them."

Swain and Wilkins were furious. "We lost the confidence of many friends. The fact the club intended challenging for the Vanderbilt Cup with our cars had been broadcast. We were ignominously thrown down at the last minute, by the one man upon whom we had placed every reliance, and in whom we had every confidence." They documented their ordeal in this "explanation" published in the September 6, 1906 issue of The Automobile.


So what happened to the Stanley Steamer Vanderbilt racers? One of them ended up in the amazing car collection of Jay Leno. Here is a link to information, photos and two videos on Leno's 1906 car.

Two additional websites with information on Stanley Steamers:




March 10, 2010 Update: As suggested by Kelly, other Stanley Steamer Vanderbilt Cup Race replicas can be found Stanelyregister.net.


March 14, 2010 Update: New York Times Blog: "How Jay Leno's Car Collection Grows"


Feb 14 2010 Randy Reed 11:06 PM

Here is some more info on Leno’s Stanley Racer.

Neither of the two original Stanley “Vanderbilt” cars exist, but more than eight replicas have been constructed by enthusiasts in recent years. One replica is owned by Jay Leno, who was famously stopped for speeding while driving it on an LA freeway.


Feb 15 2010 Howard Kroplick 9:37 PM

Hi Randy:

Thanks for the information!


Feb 24 2010 Jeff Theobald 1:41 PM

For more information on steam cars check out The Steam Car Club of Great Britain web site at http://www.steamcar.net regards, Jeff.

Mar 10 2010 Kelly 8:42 PM

Pictures of the other Stanley Vanderbilt Cup replicas can be found at the Stanley Register Online, http://www.StanleyRegister.net/VCR.html .

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