Lot 138

Arizona 2012

1903 Stearns Suburban Rear-Entry Tonneau


$82,500 USD | Sold

United States | Phoenix, Arizona



Chassis No.

11 hp, 214.7 cu. in. single-cylinder engine, two-speed planetary transmission, solid front axle with full-elliptic leaf springs, live rear axle with full-elliptic leaf springs, single-chain drive, and two-wheel belt-tension brakes. Wheelbase: 83"

• Offered from the Estate of John O’Quinn

• Ex-David Uihlein Collection

• One of the most advanced early horseless carriages

• Completely restored during the early 1990s by Paul Freehill

Cleveland native Frank B. Stearns was obsessed with automobiles after seeing his first motor vehicle at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago; he dropped out of college to set up a machine shop in his family’s basement to begin experimenting with engines. Stearns was constantly at the leading edge of automotive design, with the early adoption of wheel-type steering and a sliding-gear transmission by 1902, and the marque was regarded to be the equivalent of Packard until its eventual demise in 1929.

Local tradition holds that this 1903 Stearns was the first automobile on Washington Island, which is located in Lake Michigan, just off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula. Now a tourist destination, a century ago it was an agricultural community. Young Sylvia Nelson, daughter of a farming family, remembered well her first glimpse of the Stearns around 1913. A later owner, island mechanic Billy Smith, believed its first owners were the Astor family; it subsequently belonged to a farming family named Lindstrom.

Noted collector David Uihlein learned of it around 1949, but it took him a further 10 years to purchase it. In 1993, he commissioned Paul Freehill, the noted Fort Wayne, Indiana Stutz expert and craftsman, for a complete restoration, which was finished the following year. Believed to be the oldest surviving Stearns, the car was complete but required total disassembly and reconstruction.

This car has had little use since completion and joined its current collection in 2007. The body is painted in attractive red and black with gold pinstriping. The chassis and wheels are red and the fenders black. It carries a single brass headlamp above the radiator, its hood accents and steering column are polished brass, and the upholstery is black leather. A wonderful early car that could be eligible for the London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run, this Stearns is certainly in a class all its own.