G.N. Georgano’s excellent Complete Encyclopedia of Motor Cars tell us that J. Frank Duryea set up the Hamden Automobile Company to build a car under that name though it is thought unlikely that they ever actually did make one. In 1901 he joined the J. Stevens Arms and Tool company of Massachusetts who put his design into production firstly as the Stevens Duryea Model H which was followed in 1902 by this car which is a Model L.
This very correct looking example, dated as 1903 by the Veteran Car Club on certificate number 1508, carries its original two/four seat Stanhope body which is fitted with the optional Victoria hood. Its 2.6 litre horizontally opposed twin cylinder engine is referred to by the manufacturers as 7hp but, like a lot of early American cars, it delivers far more power than you would expect from such a horsepower rating.
It has a very easy to use three forward speed and reverse gearbox in which the gears are automatically engaged as you move the lever through its range so you don’t have to worry about double declutching. What’s more because the gear wheel s are constantly meshed with each other they don’t suffer from the same level of wear as a conventional sliding gear system and look brand new!
To start the car from cold you connect the battery and turn on the fuel supply. Thereafter everything is operated from the driver’s seat – in fact Stevens Duryea themselves used the advertising slogan “It starts from the seat”. You just select neutral, turn on the oiler and prime the carburettor, set the ignition to retard and switch it on, depress the throttle knob on top of the gear lever to operate the engine decompressor then rotate the small starting handle located just below the steering tiller and away it goes.
Like any old car it is advisable to let the engine warm up it up warm for a while then you just release the foot operated parking brake, push the gear lever forward one notch and off you go. Once you are running you move the lever further forward for second gear and one more time for third. The lever is conveniently fitted with a simple detent which prevents you from moving it too far at each gear change so it slots into gear very nicely. As mentioned before the throttle is operated by the knob on the top the gear lever so everything is readily to hand! The tram-handle tiller steering is very light and direct without any of the vagueness you can often find in early cars so the car goes exactly where you point it.
As I said earlier the engine is much more powerful than its 7 hp rating implies and combined with the three speed gearbox it gives you very strong performance. Given its potential speed it is nice to note that it has been discreetly fitted with small hydraulic disc brakes on the rear wheels which are very reassuring in modern traffic where not everybody appreciates the limitations of veteran car braking systems!
The file contains some very interesting and useful information on Stevens Duryea, some of which items are copies and some, including an operating manual, look like they may well be originals! So here we have a rare, very correct and original motor car which looks just right with the sort of patina which can only come with antiquity.
It goes very well indeed and has successfully completed the Brighton Run on many occasions and is ready to go again plus it is also eligible for single and twin cylinder veteran car events like the Creepy Crawley. Furthermore, like nearly all early American cars it is very good value for money so is well worth considering.