19-20 January 2012

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Lot 138

1903 Stearns Suburban Rear-Entry Tonneau

  • Chassis no. 114

Sold for $82,500

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.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more