ASHEVILLE, NC – A rare 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model “C-Six” seven-passenger touring car will be placed on display for the first time beginning May 20, 2010 in Biltmore’s new Antler Hill Village. The car is one of 10 motor vehicles on the estate that was registered in North Carolina in June 1916, and the only one purchased by George Vanderbilt that remains in The Biltmore Company’s collection. This particular model is believed to be one of only 10 known existing in the world today.
Conservation work will take place over the next several months, and then the car will be on exhibit in a closed, climate-controlled space just outside Biltmore Winery in the new Antler Hill Village. Like many objects in historic collections, guests will not be able to touch the vehicle, but they will be able to see it up close and get a sense of the Vanderbilts as a family who enjoyed one of the most exciting new inventions of the late 19th and 20th centuries – the automobile.,/p>
While Biltmore conservators enjoy the daily work of caring for objects, furniture and art in the Biltmore House collection, using their skills to conserve an automobile is especially interesting. The team will begin work on the vehicle’s interior and exterior this month, using a wide variety of techniques to prepare the car for its debut to Biltmore guests. The undercarriage and mechanical components of the car will be conserved by B.R. Howard & Associates, a team that specializes in historic transportation objects based in Carlisle, Pa.
“We are thrilled about the opportunity to work on such a rare automobile and bring another piece of Biltmore’s rich history and collection into view,” said chief conservator Nancy Rosebrock. “This car represents a great deal of history about the interests of the Vanderbilt family. The research and conservation process is very exciting for us.”
The intention is not to make the car look as it did when it was new to George Vanderbilt, but to present it as an artifact of family history that has survived, albeit with some modifications that are now part of its story. “Our approach to preserving the Stevens-Duryea will be guided by the same ethics and standards of practice we adhere to when working on any object in Biltmore House,” said Rosebrock. “Our goal is to preserve the object in its current state, not restore it to a completely new condition.” The vehicle was actually driven periodically by different members of the family until the 1970s. According to Rosebrock, stabilization of aged areas and deteriorated materials will be the first priority, followed by the cleaning of every surface, repair of damaged areas and protection of the components from further deterioration.
George and Edith Vanderbilt’s connection to their 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model “C-Six”
Archival letters indicate that George and Edith Vanderbilt were first exposed to automobile travel in the early 1900s. An excerpt from a letter dated Aug. 23, 1903, that Mr. Vanderbilt wrote to his friend William Field while traveling in Europe read:
“So you see we are covering a good deal of ground and taking you at your word and making the best of our opportunity. I am so in love with this mode of travel that I mean to order an auto like yours when I get back to Paris, with the few improvements that have been made since. It makes traveling a different thing and simply a natural transition instead of an effort.
We have decided to remain over here all winter and hope to do some more automobiling next summer…”
Mr. Vanderbilt purchased several vehicles before the eventual purchase of the 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model “C-Six.” On May 21, 1913, Chauncey Beadle, estate superintendent, wrote to Vanderbilt, who was vacationing in Paris:
“Your new Stevens-Duryea car has arrived and Mr. T. Lamar Jackson of Washington came here to demonstrate the car and explain its features to Raymond. It is a beauty and I am sure that you will not only like it, but that it embodies practically the last word in motor-car construction. Raymond is anxious to practice with the car on a few occasions before your home-coming in order to familiarize himself with the changed conditions of mechanism, otherwise your car will not be used.”
Mr. Vanderbilt had arranged with T. Lamar Jackson of Washington, D.C., (a dealer in Stevens-Duryea automobiles) to trade in his 1912 Stevens-Duryea Model “Y” for a 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model “C-Six” seven-passenger touring car, the first Stevens-Duryea offered with electric lights and a starter. The company’s slogan was “There Is No Better Motor Car.”
By June 1914, Mrs. Vanderbilt was listed on a request for vehicle licenses as owner of eight vehicles: in addition to the Stevens-Duryea, she also owned one vehicle made by Stearns, a Studebaker, a Chalmers truck, a General Motors truck, a Charron coupe and two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Most automobile owners in the early 20th century rarely drove their own vehicles, leaving driving and car repairs to their chauffeurs instead. George and Edith Vanderbilt relied on chauffeurs to drive their vehicles, but by 1910, however, it appears that Mr. Vanderbilt also drove and was issued a drivers license for a Stevens-Duryea by the state of North Carolina in 1913. (At that time, the state required that drivers be licensed separately for each automobile that he or she drove.)