Willys Overland Knight Registry

Stearns History

Frank B. Stearns built his first car, a single cylinder model of about 6 horsepower, in the fall of 1896. Being just 17, his father advanced him $1000 to establish a machine shop in their back yard and by the winter of 1898 he was able to start selling his cars, with around 50 being sold by 1900.

Early Stearns vehicles were big and expensive, but they had quality and were winning hill climbs, cup races and had even set world records. These were achieved in stock cars, generally in the hands of their owners, not "Works Specials" and hence gained the reputation as the "Best Stock Cars in the World". One of the key reasons why the Stearns was so good was that Frank Stearns was not afraid to study the competition. In fact he encouraged it, and so whenever a vehicle of substance came onto the market, he bought one to give to his engineers. Given this background, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Chief Engineer from Stearns - James Gilman (Pete) Sterling was sent to England in 1909 with instructions to study the Daimler Knight engine. This was the same year that the Royal Automobile Club conducted their exhaustive tests at Coventry and Brooklands on two Daimler Knights and independently proved to a sceptical world the stamina and measured horsepower increases possible with sleeve valves.

With Sterling convinced of the superiority of the Knight engine it came as no surprise that by July 1, 1911, the F.B. Stearns Co of Cleveland, Ohio introduced the first American Knight powered production car, the SK-4, a 4-cylinder model ready for the 1912 model (sales) year. The 6-cylinder SK-6 introduced on August 15th, 1912, saw the end of the poppet valved Stearns.

F.B. Stearns retired from the Stearns Company in 1917 at age of 35 following a near fatal case of pneumonia. A year later he sold his interest in the company and spent many years researching diesel engines, including a giant 24 cylinder model used by the Navy, before passing away in 1955.

Interested readers should also refer to the W.O.K.R. STARTER INDEX, in particular number 134 (Jan - Mar 1996) & number 135 (Apr - Jun 1996) for more detailed accounts of Frank Stearns and his company.

The  W.O.K.R. LIBRARY  may also be of interest.

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