Original Unrestored: Not as easy as it sounds


If you are wondering what Dick Shappy is going to do with the 1905 Stanley Steamer that has been sitting in a barn since 1912, the answer is:

“As little as possible,” said Shappy. “They are only original once and people want to keep them that way.”

After years of restoring and rebuilding classic cars until they look like they did on the showroom floor, Shappy has embraced the growing preference collectors have for “original unrestored” cars. Just as antique furniture should have its age showing, a new breed of classic car collectors want their car to look as they did the moment the straw was brushed off the barn find.

But cars are not parlor furniture and collectors want to be able to use their cars comfortably and safely. Concessions to safety must be made but the new ideal is to do no harm and no more than is necessary to get the car running.

“Realistically, I can’t expect someone to drive the car with a boiler that is so old and dangerous,” Shappy said, when he announced last spring that he intended to replace the original boiler on his steam-powered relic. “Being that original could get someone killed.”

Besides, “original unrestored” does allow for replacing parts that would have been replaced in the normal course of use. Tires and batteries and belts can be new but parts should be from the original manufacturer, preferably from a cache of parts found in the original boxes. Occasionally, someone finds the long lost parts inventory of a long gone dealership, but that’s rare and a car collector would probably hit the lottery before that happens. But you can get those old parts.

“When you’ve been around a while, people know what you are looking for and they’ll call you,” Shappy explained, as he handed off a part for a 1912 Harley-Davidson to one of his crew last week. “That’ll go right on the bike.”

New parts are used only as a last resort and often made by hand. Shappy is restoring a 1912 National 40 Speedway Roadster Model V. Parts are rare. Shappy said he was lucky enough to find a restorable body for the car but had to actually build the transmission.

“A collector I know has allowed me to take his transmission apart and copy it,” said Shappy. “My part of the bargain is [to] make spare parts for his car. It works out well for both of us.”

Totally original or not, Shappy’s National is so rare that new parts will have significant effect on the value of his car or his friend’s. The Speedway Roadster was the most coveted racing car of its era. In 1911 alone, National placed first, second or third in more than 160 races. The men who built them took immense pride in their work. Shappy has a piece of leather-wrapped wooden molding from the upholstery of his National that has “Art Starkey 19-6-12 Indianapolis” penciled on the back.

Oddly, it was the Stanley Steamer that held the most records for speed at the time. Shappy’s CX, with all of its quaintness and delicate-looking chassis, must have astonished people with its speed and quietness, especially since it is the very picture of a “horseless carriage” with its engine completely out of view.

“Aside from the boiler, you are looking at a complete time capsule,” he said. “It had only 2,400 miles on it when the original owners garaged it in 1912.”

Even then, the Boston-area lawyer Albert Worthen, who was a close friend of Francis and Freelan Stanley, must have realized that the barn was the best place for “chassis 1305.” Perhaps the Worthen family purchased a new Cadillac with an electric starter that came out that year.

“Not until its sale to well-known Stanley enthusiast Don Bourdon in 1980, did the car leave hibernation on the Worthen family property. Thereafter, the car was stored in as-found condition for an additional three decades,” according to Shappy’s website.

The Stanleys would continue to produce their steam-powered autos until 1917. The people they sold the company to lasted until 1924, but Henry Ford had already proven the internal combustion engine was the future. Cadillac’s electric starter became standard for all makes. Call them lazy if you will, but our great grandparents considered hand-cranking an engine a dangerous waste of time. Electric and steam cars that didn’t require cranking were easier and safer to own, even with their shortcomings. The electric starter killed that advantage.

“They were not very good for distances,” said Shappy. “You’d get about a mile a gallon from the steam, so you had to be around a supply of water all the time.”

Inexpensive and easily available gasoline and improved roads favored the internal combustion engine. By the start of the 1900s, more than 125 American manufacturers offered steam cars with all sorts of options and features. By 1925, you bought one used or you didn’t buy one at all.

Shappy’s car had the factory-installed 16-inch diameter boiler, which he has put aside as part of the package. The body has its original paint, interior, lights and gauges, with brass Stanley Motor Carriage labels attached. The car’s folio even includes records from 1910, and the original license plates from 1912.

The Stanley's advantage was simplicity. The engine had 13 moving parts. It was light, quiet and fast. Once lit, the car automatically generated steam with little additional attention beyond watching the water level. The CX 1305 is the embodiment of this simple design.

However simple the design, Shappy couldn’t drop by his local mechanic and ask him to pop a crate engine in the CX, oil it up and roll it away. He had to find the people who knew the old engine and had experience with steam cars.

“I wanted the car ready for the meeting of the New England Cadillac-LaSalle meeting here at my house on the 24th of June, plus, June 24, 1912, was the last time it had run.”

Shappy had Loren Burch and Don Bourden, who had decades of experience with steam, work on the boiler. They barely finished in time and tested it the day before the meeting.

“We had it all up on jack stands and we fired it up and … it worked! The wheels were turning and everything was working,” said Shappy. “We were all very happy but also tired and I wanted to go to bed, but I just had to see it work one more time … So we fired it up again and this time the welding let go and the joints came apart and it was not running.”

“Well, by this time I’m really not very happy,” said Shappy, who was feeling let down by the crew, “so I just went to bed.”

Shappy was not much happier the next morning when he came down and saw his wife making a muffin for Loren Burch, the man that Shappy trusted to get the Stanley up and about.

“‘You know, I’m still not very happy,’ I told him and he said to me, ‘I stayed up all night. I got it running.’”

Shappy said the boiler was good enough to run the car with less power but enough for that day and the 100 or so Cadillac and LaSalle lovers got to see a car that had just awakened from a 100-year sleep. Shappy was overjoyed.

“We drove up and around the cul-de-sac … on the lawn … we gave people rides. It was a big hit,” he said.

The engine has since been sorted out with tighter joints and seams and #1305 is one step closer to going back on the road, with all of its age and “character lines” showing, like an old Yankee matriarch, with nothing to prove, who wears her age and heritage like a badge as she moves among the ordinary.

“This may be the oldest, most original Stanley in the world,” marveled Shappy.


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