1907 Stoddard-Dayton Model K Runabout — Status symbol for the rich

By William G. Sawyer
Contributing Editor, The Virtual Driver

(October 8, 2017) Dayton, Ohio, doesn’t readily come to mind when thinking of industrial centers, although in 1900 the city held more U. S. patents per capita than any other. The story of the Wright brothers designing and building the first workable airplane in a bicycle shop there conjures up images of a couple of country bumpkins laboring away in a bucolic town devoid of an industrial presence, but nothing is farther from the truth.

The town was on its way to becoming a manufacturing powerhouse, fueled by innovative engineers and craftsmen in the Wright brother’s mold.

Harry Stutz built his first runabout in Dayton before moving to Indianapolis, Charles Kettering pioneered many of his inventions while working for National Cash Register and Delco — originally known as the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company — and three dozen automotive startups tried to gain traction in Dayton in the early decades of the last century. Only a few of which, including Speedwell, Dayton Electric, Apple, and, most notably Stoddard-Dayton, managed to produce cars.

1907 Stoddard-Dayton Model K Runabout

In 1903 John W. Stoddard, already wealthy from manufacturing paint, varnish, farm implements, and bicycles, packed his son Charles off to Europe to tour Continental car manufacturers. Charles’ experience reinforced his father’s belief that the auto industry had a bright future.

He sold off his other businesses and re-incorporate Stoddard Manufacturing Company as the Dayton Motor Car Company in order to follow the then popular European model of building robust, well-engineered internal combustion automobiles for the wealthy elite.

Attention to detail, performance, and durability became Stoddard-Dayton trademarks. Each car was lavished with from 15-28 coats of paint, depending on the vehicle’s price point, with each coat hand sanded and rubbed out. Following assembly it was subjected to a 150-400 mile road test after which the engine was disassembled, the cylinders re-honed, the valves adjusted, and the engine reassembled before completing a second road test. Clearly, at the Dayton Motor Car Co., being called anal was a complement.

Stoddard-Dayton cars found success on racetracks throughout the Midwest, including a win in the very first motor race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a 300-mile event run in 1909 prior to management replacing the original crushed-rock-and-tar surface with 3.2 million bricks. That was the last time a Stoddard-Dayton raced at IMS, although speedway impresario and Indianapolis Stoddard-Dayton dealer Charles Fisher saw to it that the brand he sold paced three out of the first four Indy 500s.

While the Stoddard’s labored away building motor cars for wealthy people like themselves, Henry Ford was busy designing and building cars for common folk. Ford changed the industry — and the world — by making motorized transportation available to the masses, leaving Stoddard-Dayton and their ilk in his wake. The Dayton Motor Car Company countered by introducing a second brand, Courier, to produce cheaper vehicles, but with little success.

In 1912 Stoddard-Dayton became part of the United States Motor Company, a conglomerate created by Benjamin Briscoe. Some sources say Briscoe approached William Durant with a plan to assemble a number of brands under a single corporate structure, but that he wanted to go upscale while Durant insisted on attacking the lower end of the market.

Durant went on to create General Motors without Briscoe, while his rival assembled 11 brands to form what eventually became the United States Motor Company. United went into receivership shortly after acquiring Stoddard-Dayton, and its assets were sold for $7,080,000 to Walter Flanders. He reorganized it as the Maxwell Motor Company, which later became the basis of Chrysler Corporation.

Our subject car is a stunningly beautiful 1907 Stoddard-Dayton Model K found on a South Dakota farm in 2001, and lovingly restored by Dave Noran with help from Greg Cone and Brass Era specialist Mike Grunewald. Powered by a T-head engine producing 30 horsepower, it features an open speedster-style body with three seats, the third of which is centrally located behind the driver and passenger, and ahead of two rear-mounted white rubber spare tires.

Highly polished brass trim and engine components add sparkle and contrast to the rich black finish. Is it any wonder that renowned architect and style-setter Frank Lloyd Wright chose a Stoddard-Dayton Model K for his first car like the one currently for sale by Hyman Ltd. for $239,500?

Dayton, Ohio’s contributions to auto history have all but been eclipsed by the Motor City to its north.

All photos © Hyman Ltd.
The Virtual Driver