Vintage Cars of ‘The Great Gatsby’ – Stevens-Duryea Model E

What Cars Would Jay Gatsby Have Really Bought?

A 1919-1921 Shopping List by Igor Spajic

Cars from car-makers on the way out -


This company was founded upon the Stevens Arms and Tools Company and the engineering of J. Frank Duryea, one of the Duryea brothers who had built and run the first American gasoline automobile in 1893.

Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan - what they're wearing this season!

Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan – what they’re wearing this season!

Stevens-Duryea pioneered the so-called Three-Point Suspension for the engine and gearbox in the 1900s. This engineering advance was in response to the rough roads and tracks of the time and the twisting forces they imposed on automobile chasses. A three-point mounting protected the crankcase from torsional forces which could spilt it open.

From an early introduction of six-cylinder engined cars (from 1905) Stevens-Duryea built a series of subsequent fine sixes throughout the Teens, but froze their designs in time. Essentially the same T-head engined, six-cylinder car was being built in 1920 as when last updated in 1911.

1921 Stevens-Duryea touring

If you were nostalgic for a 1911 luxury car in 1921, you could buy this Stevens-Duryea touring car.

By 1920, other luxury cars had moved on: Peerless had been selling V8 engined cars for four years and Packard a V12 for longer; even conservative Pierce-Arrow had updated its six with twice as many valves for better breathing and more power.

Instead, Stevens-Duryea belonged to the Locomobile and Rolls-Royce grouping: that of conservative manufacturers who did not update a successful chassis design. There is always a risk inherent with this approach.

As an aside, noted auto artist Melbourne Brindle related how he once wanted to buy a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, but was unable to afford one. So with his brother’s help, he assembled one from parts – some genuine Rolls components, others not. The chassis they used was from a Stevens-Duryea.

1 Stevens-Duryea limousine

1921 Stevens-Duryea limousine – fine but obsolete and $9,500 to boot.

J. Frank Duryea sold his shares in the company in 1915 and left. Stevens-Duryea wound up its automobile manufacture that year. This might have been the end of the story, but the company was reorganised and came out with the Model E for 1920. It was unsurprisingly the same as the 1915 Model D, with a 7.7 Litre six-cylinder engine on a three-point mounting, and still with a T–head valve configuration.

By the time Gatsby began looking for cars to buy, Stevens-Duryea was in its dotage. It offered four body designs for the Model E: a Touring Car, Limousine and Vestibule Sedan – all 7-passenger capacity; and a 4-passenger Brougham Coupe for something vaguely personal. 1921 prices of $6,000 to $9,500 and the fine but obsolete specifications did not encourage plentiful customers.

Despite some interesting associations with Ray Owen (of Owen Magnetic fame) and the construction of Raulang electric cars in the 1920s, few Stevens-Duryea cars were built after 1924.

It’s unlikely that Gatsby would have been impressed with high standards of workmanship alone. Stevens-Duryea lingered on into 1927 but was largely irrelevant in the auto market – even in the luxury auto market.

Stevens-Duryea Co.

Stevens-Duryea Model E

1921 prices – $6,000 – $9,500


The Great Gatsby

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