In 1906, the fastest car in the world was a specially equipped Stanley Steam Car known as the “Rocket.” Race car driver Fred Marriott officially earned the Rocket its affectionate title at the Ormond tournament in Florida in 1906. The Marriott-manned Rocket won the Dewar trophy, and set multiple world speed records, one of which (one mile completed at 127.66 miles per hour) would last until 1910. Despite being surpassed by non-steam-powered cars within just a few years, the record would last nearly 100 years as the world speed record for a steam-powered vehicle.
The Rocket’s engine shared the same mechanical basis as the standard Stanley Steamer, but was approximately twice the size of the basic Model F Steamer. It weighed 1,600 pounds, and contained 1,475 tubes with a 285 square foot heating surface. With a steam pressure of 800 to 900 pounds, the Stanley Steamer Rocket was a true powerhouse for its day, and displayed the results to prove it.
In 2006, descendants of the Stanleys and legendary driver Fred Marriott, joined by approximately 5,000 spectators, met at Ormond Beach in Florida for a 100th anniversary reenactment of the classic record setting event. It was quite a production, featuring over 50 steam-powered cars in simulated competition.
In 1907, near-tragedy struck when Marriott attempted to beat his own record. The rocket was chugging along at a whopping 132 miles per hour when Marriott hit a gully and the Steamer was sent 100 feet into the air, crashing upon landing. Remarkably, Marriott was uninjured. Soon thereafter the steam car would fall out of favor with the public due to the emergence of the lower cost, more convenient, and safer gas vehicle pioneered by Henry Ford. Nonetheless, in 1906, steam was king, and the Stanley Steamer Rocket stood proudly at the top of the heap.