The 1929 Sterns-Knight automobile featured in this article is one of the unique American automobiles from the 1920's. Stearns-Kinight competed against Rolls Royce, Mercedes and Duesenberg for a piece of the luxury car market.
F.B. Stearns Company
Manufactured in Cleveland, Ohio, the Stearns-Knight was a product of the F.B. Stearns Company and was one of the fastest American automobiles of it's time. This was a car that weighed over 5,000 lbs but could attain a top speed of 110 MPH. The F.B. Stearns Company was started in 1898 in an old barn that was converted into a machine shop. The company built automobiles from 1898 until 1929.
Frank Ballou Stearns decided to retire in 1919 and sold the company to J.N. Willys in 1925. Willys operated the company as a completely separate affiliate of Willys-Overland until 1929 when the company was liquidated.
The car featured here is among the last Stearns-Knight built. It's a very rare automobile.
In 1911 the F.B. Stearns Company came out with a sleeve-valve engine. The sleeve-valve was developed by Charles Yale Knight which explains the hyphenated name of the automobile. In fact, any automaker that contracted with Knight for his sleeve-valve mechanism was obligated to add his name to the automobile nameplate. There was the Willys-Knight, the Daimler-Knight and the Sterling -Knight to mention just a few of the Knight engine automobiles.
The sleeve valve was a mechanism Knight worked on that replaced the poppet valves with sleeve valves. The problem was engine heat warping the. The sleeve mechanism went up and down on a film of oil and on the sleeves were holes that matched ports in the intake and exhaust manifolds. Each cylinder had two iron sleeves with one inside the other. The result of Knight's mechanism was that the engine heat was controlled and the engine ran smoother and with less noise.
The F.B. Stearns Company had a colorful and productive past in engine building and design. Frank Ballou Stearns was born into a wealthy family. At seventeen years old the young Stearns left school to build cars , converting the family basement in Cleveland Ohio into a machine shop. To give you an idea of just how fast Stearns progressed building engines in the real early years, he went from a one cylinder in 1896 to two cylinders in 1902 and to four by 1905. Four years later in 1909 his model lineup consisted of the four-cylinder Stearns 15-30 and 30-60, a hill climb favorite, and the limited production 45-90 six.
The company offered a 6.8 liter straight eight engine as early as 1914. They came out with a V-8 in 1917, one of the few companies to offer a V-8 at that time.
The Stearns-Kinight Automobile
Stearns-Knight automobiles were luxury cars and they were some of the highest priced of their time. As mentioned above the first Stearns-Knight automobile was built in 1911 and had the new Knight engine. The model featured in this article is the Stearns-Knight J-8-90. This model is a seven passenger sedan. One of the coach builders for the 1929 Stearns-Knight was the Rollston Company. Other Stearns-Knight coachbuilders included Brunn and Rauch & Lang.
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1929 Stearns-Knight Specifications
The Stearns-Knight J-8-90 was built with a 385 cubic inch straight eight that delivered 120 horsepower. This was the largest sleeve-valve engine built to date. Top speed was over 100 MPH.
Brakes consisted of four wheel mechanical internal expanding. The Stearns-Knight 7 passenger sedan had a wheelbase of 145.0 inches.
Suspension were semi-elliptic leaf springs both front and back.
The Srearns-Knight J-8-90 Convertible cost about $10,000 new. Sedans in the $5,000 to $6,000 range depending on the model. There were only a total of 295 Stearns-Knight vehicles built in 1929, the last year for the company and model. To give you an idea of the 1929 Stearn-Knight new car price in 1929...a 1929 Cadillac Convertible had a price tag of around $3,600. The Duesenberg Model J was priced at near $20,000. The chassis along before coachwork was around $8,500.
Comparison of other 1929 new car prices has the Ford Model A averaging about $600, a 1929 Dodge Brothers Six at about $1,000 and the 1929 Studebaker Dictator Tourer about $1,150.
Stearns-Knight Collector Cars
Some have never heard of the Cleveland built Stearns-Knight automobiles. To be sure, these are rare cars. With less than 300 produced during the company's last year in 1929, there simply are not a lot around today. One was in the Harrah's Auto Collection before it was auctioned off. If you find a fully restored 1927-1929 Stearns-Knight come up for auction you'll likely see sale prices in the $125,000 to $150,000 range. The convertible model if one ever comes to auction likely above that amount.
(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)