Story and photographs by Tom Strongman
Coming home is sweet. The last remaining Stafford automobile, a 1911 built by the Stafford Motor Car Co. of Kansas City, was a special guest in June at the Art of the Car Concours at the Kansas City Art Institute.
Terry Stafford, a Topeka man who was a partner in the Smith Automobile Co., founded the company that bore his name when he moved to Kansas City in 1910 to build his own car. A total of 315 Stafford cars were built through 1914, and production ceased in 1915. The shop was at 22nd and Campbell Streets.
Harry Truman bought a 1911 Stafford touring car in 1913. “It was an excellent car,” Truman wrote, “and would take an awful beating. You can be sure of that if one lasts me as long as three years.”
Truman wrote to publisher Floyd Clymer in 1953 that he had the car remodeled into a hot sports roadster and took it to Camp Doniphan in 1917, where Battery F used it as a kind of transportation truck.
The Stafford is currently owned by DeNean Stafford of Tifton, Ga., a collector of pre-1914 cars who first learned of the Stafford a number of years ago when it was owned by Gil and Hazel Stafford of Rhode Island. DeNean Stafford tried to buy the car but its aging owners declined, so he sent a letter offering to buy the car if they should ever decide to sell.
“You just have to have a car with your name on it,” he said by telephone, “especially since it is the only one left.”
DeNean said there is a chance that Terry Stafford, company founder, may be a distant part of his family tree.
Five or more years later DeNean saw an ad for the Stafford in Hemmings Motor News. He replied immediately. Gil had died and Hazel was well into her 90s. The family decided to sell the car but had lost Stafford’s letter, so they figured that posting an ad in Hemmings would surely flush him out. It did, and in short order DeNean was the new owner.
This car could well be Harry’s car, according to Alan Beck, Gil Stafford's newphew. Beck said that when Gil bought the Stafford it had a wood body like a truck. Gil removed the wood body and installed a "Body by Fisher.
"I remember when he drove to Kansas to buy the car, and his subsequent correspondence with Mrs. Bess Truman about Harry's car. My uncle got the car out of a Kansas barn which was within a few miles of where she thought Harry's Stafford had last been located. When my uncle got the car, it had a pickup truck type wood back, which Mrs. Truman had
The Stafford has a 112-inch wheelbase, an overhead-cam engine, a sliding-gear transmission and shaft drive. When DeNean bought the car, it had a Fleetwood body that had been built for a Cadillac, presumably the one fitted by Gil Stafford.
For DeNean, the first order of business was to put on a proper body, so he took the car to D&D Classic auto restoration shop in Covington, Ohio. Roger James and Mark Kennison of D&D began the process of designing a body loosely based on photographs of a Stafford race car.
Kennison created Photoshop illustrations of a new body drawn to fit the existing chassis and DeNean approved. Work began. The body was created from scratch and the car underwent a total restoration that was very difficult because there were no spare parts, no manual and very few resources.
The car is loaded with brass that glistens like jewelry. The black paint and red upholstery are stunning. Marshall Miller, organizer of the Art Institute event, saw the car on display at the Amelia Island Concours in Florida in March and asked DeNean to show it in Kansas City.
The car was a huge success on its return to Kansas City. It visited the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, and it was awarded Second Place in the People's Choice balloting at the car show.