A unique 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model C-Six, with ties to Hemmings, heads to auction in Philadelphia
By 1913, Stevens-Duryea had established itself as one of America’s finest automakers, selling touring cars and limousines at prices comparable to marques like Pierce-Arrow and Packard. Just 1,000 automobiles were built by Stevens-Duryea in 1913, and of these, less than 10 are said to remain. One, a Model C-Six five-passenger touring car featured in the November 2005 issue of Hemmings Classic Car, bears the distinction of never having been restored by past owners, and on October 2 this incredibly preserved specimen will cross the block in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, part of Bonhams Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum sale.
In 1913, Stevens-Duryea significantly revised its product line, dropping its four-cylinder engine entirely and compressing the range of inline-six engines from two to one, a 460-cu.in. L-head unit rated at 44.6 horsepower. As in 1912, cars were built on both long- and short-wheelbase platforms, but for 1913 the smaller cars grew from 128-inches to 131-inches, while the larger cars shrank from 142-inches to 138-inches. The model lineup was simplified as well, with the C-Six replacing the Model AA, Model X, and Model Y.
In short-wheelbase form, C-Six buyers could choose between five-passenger touring, roadster, coupelet, convertible phaeton, demi-berline, limousine and berline body styles, while those opting for the larger model could choose between seven-passenger touring, convertible phaeton, limousine, and berline bodies. George Vanderbilt owned a long-wheelbase 1913 Stevens-Duryea C-Six seven-passenger touring, and may have been one of the first to trade-in an older car (in his case, a 1912 Stevens-Duryea Model Y) on the purchase of a new one.
Chassis 26392, the 1913 Stevens-Duryea C-Six five-passenger touring to be offered in Philadelphia, was delivered to its original owner in Rutland, Vermont, in 1913. That’s where the trail of the buyer grows cold, but in 1946 the car surfaced again in the nearby town of Barre, Vermont. Classic-car collector Roderick Rice had heard stories of a Stevens-Duryea in town, and upon investigation found not one but two examples, both belonging to a single owner who would only sell the luxury cars as a pair.
As David Traver Adolphus explained in Hemmings Classic Car #14, Rice struggled to scrape together the $500 asking price, but was determined not to lose the cars. An aunt in Springfield, Massachusetts, knew of a local collector who might be interested in the second Stevens-Duryea, and a deal was struck for the larger seven-passenger touring car over the phone. The buyer was Jerry Duryea, son of automotive pioneer Charles Duryea and nephew of J. Frank Duryea, founder of what would later become Stevens-Duryea. The price? The same $500 that Rice had paid for both cars, meaning that the 1913 five-passenger touring had ultimately cost Rice nothing.
Rice believed that cars were for driving, and over the decades the Stevens-Duryea remained in his collection, he added over 4,000 miles to the odometer, including a 1999 trip with the Horseless Carriage Club of America that added 600 miles itself. According to Bonhams, the car once climbed Vermont’s famed Smuggler’s Notch, a trip that can occasionally prove challenging for a contemporary automobile. Rice even had to postpone the originally scheduled 2005 Hemmings photoshoot, as he was driving the C-Six to a friend’s 85th birthday celebration. As a boy during the Great Deprression, Rice’s friend recalled playing in the barn-kept Stevens-Duryea.
Rice maintained the car over the decades he owned it, but never restored it. By 2005, its unique compressed-air starting system wasn’t functioning quite as well as it once did (prompting a crank-start work-around), but overall the car remained in remarkably good mechanical condition. Prior to Rice’s ownership, someone had substituted a taller Stromberg carburetor for the original Stevens-Duryea unit, so for improved functionality Rice installed a fuel pump to assist the car’s original gravity feed system. Thanks to a body crafted from aluminum, not steel, rust was never an issue, and while the original paint had worn bare in spots, the Panasote top and leather upholstery (also original) remained impressively well-preserved.
In 2005, Rice said of the car, “I’ve obviously had opportunities to get rid of it, but I’ve had it so long I haven’t thought about making any change. I’ve always been proud of it: It’s a fine, quality built car. It’s sort of hard to convey my feelings about it.”
True to his word, the Stevens-Duryea was part of Rice’s collection at the time of his death in September 2009. Even after this, it remained part of his estate, but next month the history-rich touring car will be offered for sale for the first time in over seven decades. Offered without reserve, Bonhams predicts a selling price between $150,000 and $225,000, in line with prices realized by other examples in recent years. In 2014, a restored C-Six five-passenger touring sold for $302,500 in Monterey, while another repainted-but-not-restored model sold for $126,500 at Hershey in 2015.
For additional details on the upcoming Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum sale, visit Bonhams.com.