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An All Around Athlete: The Handsome Speedwell Duck Boat

Produced between 1907 and 1915, the Speedwell has long been an admired motorcar because of its memorable name, attractive styling, and the robust 50 h.p. L-head four-cylinder engine that powered it between 1910 to ’12. The company was established by Pierce D. Schenck and headquartered in Dayton, Ohio.

The successful automaker prospered until the combination of the Great Dayton Flood of 1913 which severely damaged the factory, and the introduction of a rotary valve engine that started the firm on a downhill slide it never recovered from and led to a bankruptcy in 1915. It was a sad end for a well-regarded marque after some four-thousand cars were built by the company. Refer to an earlier article the “Speedwell Oddities – The Cruiser and the Rotary Valve Six” for more information.


The illustrations and text from October 12, 1911, issue of “The Automobile,” show the construction and details of this impressive machine.

Two of the 1911 Speedwell postcards courtesy of automotive historian Alden Jewell are reproduced here. The lead image shows the distinctive “Duck Boat” three-passenger roadster “An All-Around Athlete.” The photo below highlights the attractive four-passenger “Close-Coupled” touring car. A third postcard was published featuring the Speedwell “Fore-Door Seven Passenger-Touring.”


12 responses to “An All Around Athlete: The Handsome Speedwell Duck Boat

  1. Thank you for this one. I have been enamored of cars from this era. I had been unaware of this one. I just checked my reference book by G. R. Doyle and there it is. Thanks.

  2. You can find a fully restored Speedwell at the Carillon Historical Park in Dayton Ohio. The Park is comprised of several buildings, some original, some recreated that focuses on Dayton’s history. One of the buildings is a replica auto dealership which displays the Speedwell as well as a Stoddard-Dayton. The Park is well worth seeing; its collection of restored NCR cash registers is amazing. (Also if you are in Dayton the Citizen’s Motorcar Co is a must-see for antique auto fans. It is an original Packard dealership that claims to have the largest collection of Packard automobiles and memorabilia in the world”).
    How did they come up with the name Duck Boat?

    • I would say the moniker ‘Duck Boat’ was probably derived from the body shape. It being a three seater with the third in the rear and no doubt having a tapering backside with also the kick-up behind the seat, … all something like the shape of a swimming duck.
      In the UK there was the Alvis 1250 ‘Duck Back’ in the 1920s.

      • Plus the Jackson “Duck” of the same era of the Speedwell, which had the steering wheel operated from the rear seat!

  3. I have the opinion that the rotary valve engine (which I believe is a long tube or tubes within tubes) was just something not serviceable in commonplace (ie. the survival rate of these cars is near non-existent) compared to other makes of same quality and ….

    • The rotary valve design looked like a no-brainer in it’s simplicity but it wouldn’t seal for any length of time. The inventor, Cyrus Mead, managed to get some of his backers on the Speedwell Board at a time
      when major figures were moving on to other endeavors, and influenced the company to be the first to offer poppet and non-poppet valves. Mead then got killed in a car accident, ending any chance of refining his invention. Then a flood hit the plant producing the poppet valve cars and the end was in sight. Out of the 4000 Speedwells produced, the HCCA Roster lists 9. Mike Silvera gave me a ride in his 1910 Touring, and it performed like cars worth a couple of Fords more expensive. Speedwells had everything going for them except luck.

  4. Interesting that both models have no windshield of any kind.
    Odd for a relatively ‘high horsepower’ car of that era.
    My guess driving with goggles was a stylish option for 1911/12.

  5. What I find impressive — are the illustrations of The axle bearings and steering gear: Robust, truck -sized components. Same for the ring & pinion and housing for the differential, these items being in keeping with durability of the Dirt roads of that era. Also, demountable rims, a very important feature .

  6. David
    I have the Duckboat Speedwell I restored it 25 years ago and showed it at Hershey, and it still in my collection. It is my favorite car to drive

  7. From 1906 to 1912 Speedwell’s main designer was Gilbert Loomis. In 1963 and 64 I lived in the Loomis house in Rutherford, New Jersey. He had died in October of 1961 and his son Donald spiffed up the neat old Queen Anne and rented Gilbert’s portion out (the second floor was an apartment that had been rented out for years).
    I was given the Loomis license plate collection (which I sold years ago on eBay) and purchased his socket wrench set of 1920s vintage.
    A story about all this will be in a a forthcoming issue of The Bulb Horn, the magazine of the Vintage Motor Car Club of America.

  8. The Wright Brothers built their earliest production airplanes in the Speedwell plant before their new factory was built. For many decades afterward GM operated a large Delco Moraine factory at the old Speedwell site.

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