1895 Buffum Four-Cylinder Stanhope
Offered by Bonhams | Carmel, California | August 17, 2012
You’re looking at the oldest American car ever offered for auction and the oldest American gasoline-powered car in private ownership. It was also the first four-cylinder car ever built – anywhere in the world. And you’ve likely never heard of it.
Herbert H. Buffum built his first car in 1895 (actually he started it in 1894). Anyway, this is it. While other early automotive manufacturers where attaching single and twin-cylinder engines, Buffum had an idea for something a little more useful but just as compact. A designer and builder of machines for the shoe industry, Buffum had the technical know-how to accomplish what he wanted. And what he accomplished was building the world’s first four-cylinder gasoline engine for an automobile. It was a inline-four.
A chassis was needed to house this technical marvel – and for that Buffum turned to a local carriage builder named George Pierce, a name that would go on to be synonymous with high-quality automobiles in the next decade. Buffum was secretive with his new car, keeping it locked away in a shed when not using it, but eventually he hand-built six others for customers prior to 1900, when he entered production as an official manufacturer. The cars he produced until 1906 were front-engined cars, unlike most of their American competitors.
Other Buffum firsts included America’s first eight-cylinder car (of 80 horsepower) in 1904. In 1905 saw the world’s first V8. Buffum died in 1933 and his widow sold this car the following year from the secretive shed where he kept it stashed. It has changed hands numerous times and has appeared in a number of museums. It is operational and presents an extremely rare opportunity to acquire a pre-1898 American car (as almost all of the others reside in museums).
Update: Not sold.
Update II: Sold, $182,000 at Bonhams Veteran Motor Car sale, 2012.