An EV from the 19th century? This 1898 Riker Electric Stanhope could be yours
In a few days, at Worldwide Auctioneers’ Pacific Grove Auction held during Monterey Car Week, you’ll have a chance to bid on a rare and genuine piece of automotive history, what some consider to be the most important electric car ever built, the 1898 Riker Electric Stanhope. It has everything a collectible vehicle could have: a significant and historic role in the development of the automobile, unparalleled provenance, show wins, and even a race-winning competition history. It’s also in original condition and still runs—astounding for a vehicle 121 years old.
Andrew Riker dropped out of college as a freshman in 1884 to experiment with electrically-powered vehicles. His first electric was a converted bicycle, and by 1889, he had started the Riker Motor Vehicle Company, an outgrowth of the Riker Electric Motor Company he founded the year before in Brooklyn, New York.
Riker Motor Vehicle concentrated on commercial vehicles. Consumers hadn’t yet embraced the newfangled motorcar, but businesses needed to transport goods and materials without necessarily having to operate a stable for draught horses. An 1898 electric truck that Riker built was reported to be the first electric delivery vehicle on New York City streets. Riker’s vehicle range would eventually include trucks, vans, and trolleys.
Riker had an interest in cars, but not from a business standpoint. None of the cars that he developed were intended for production; they were mostly built for Riker himself to race. Built in 1898 and powered by a single 1.5-kW motor driving the rear wheels, the Riker Stanhope Electric had three forward and two reverse speeds, and was steered with a tiller. The only instrumentation was a combination voltmeter-ammeter mounted in the floorboard.
That same year, Riker won the Charles River Park Race held in connection with the Motor Carriage Exhibition at Boston’s Mechanics Fair. In 1900, he brought the car to the Exposition Universalle Internationalle in Paris, where it won a gold medal. Returning to America, he and his electric car won the first race organized by the New York Automobile Racing Association, in Newport, Rhode Island. Soon afterwards, he won the first 50-mile car race in the United States, reportedly hitting speeds of up to 40 mph.
Riker would end up selling his electric car company in 1902 to bicycle magnate Col. Albert Pope and moving on to Locomobile, where he did much of the company’s design work and ran its racing program. Riker was also one of the founders of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the SAE’s first president. Henry Ford, by the way, was his vice president.
After Riker was done racing the Stanhope, it was given to Mrs. Edith Riker, who used it as her personal car. After Andrew Riker died in 1930, the Stanhope Electric and a number of other Riker electric vehicles were donated to Mr. Ford’s new museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
In 1985, when the Henry Ford Museum auctioned off items and vehicles from its collection, the Riker Electric returned to the Riker family, purchased by Eleanor Riker, the widow of Andrew Riker Jr. The current owners maintained the car for her, eventually buying it before her passing. Between the Riker family and the Ford Museum, the vehicle has unmatched provenance.
Besides its incomparable history and provenance, the 1898 Riker Stanhope is unrestored and in remarkable original condition. It still wears the original leather license plate New York assigned to Andrew Riker, complete with his initials A.L.R. It’s still operational and the sellers say it can exceed Riker’s 40 mph.
The Riker Electric also comes with an extensive historical file including photos, period news articles, and documentation from the museum and its respected Benson Ford Research Center.
Collectors rarely get a chance to own a vehicle of this significance. Even before considering that is unrestored, the Riker Electric’s history and owners make it a very special car. The fact that the 1898 Riker Stanhope remains in such an original, untouched condition, and still can be driven, will make it a rare addition to any automotive collection or museum.