It looks like many other 1920s cars, but this one would meet the most severe emissions controls. Steam cars are like that. The 1921 Stanley tourer at the Ottawa Science and Technology museum is in excellent condition – and is in good hands to stay that way.
Although Stanley was the most commercially successful steam car, they were never produced in the sort of numbers that gave the Ford Model T its name. By 1921 the Stanley was showing its age with conservative engineering and was no longer really competitive with comparable internal combustion engined cars. They took around a half hour to drive off from cold, and even with the radiator-style condenser, they still only went about 150 miles on 24 gallons of water and similar distance running on kerosene with a 20 gallon fuel tank.
These cars could certainly keep up with the traffic of the day, but the complicated firing up ritual and the ever-present risk of explosion made these a car for the enthusiast, rather than the commuter. There was no need for a conspiracy to put these cars out of business – economics of small scale production and a failure to develop a truly competitive vehicle was quite sufficient. It wasn’t until the ill-fated and over-priced Doble that steam cars really showed a practical alternative to the internal combustion engine – and with petrol prices climbing and concerns about emissions mounting, there may yet be a market for a well-designed sleek modern steam car (perhaps a hybrid with compressed air for that quick start in the morning). But they have their charm and I would be very happy to drive one of these today!
green vehicle History Science and Technology museum Ottawa Stanley steam car steam steam car