The Arnold Motor Carriage

This is an appropriate subject for this series, with the centenary of the British Motor Industry now being celebrated; moreover, according to the Guinness Book Of Records, the Arnold’s forerunner, a Benz, enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the first car whose driver was convicted of speeding in this country. This involved Mr Walter Arnold, who was accused of driving a locomotive propelled by steam or other than animal power (i e gasoline) at Brenchley on January 20, 1896, and of exceeding the speed limit by proceeding through Paddock Wood at some 8mph, together with other charges, as recounted in MOTOR SPORT some time ago.

That apart, the Arnold Motor Carriages can be ranked with other very early, indeed pioneering, British makes such as Daimler, Wolseley, Lanchester, etc, because they were manufactured from 1896 to 1899, although production was not continued, as with the better-known makes. Nevertheless, it seems rather remarkable that, with these others vying for buyers at this very early stage of automobilism, customers were found for the dozen Arnolds that were built. The Makers were William Arnold and Sons who came to Branbridges, East Peckham in Kent, close to Paddock Wood, from Bartley Mill, Frant, in Sussex in 1890, where Walter and George Arnold duly set up as millers and general engineers. The company was a thriving concern by 1895, operating not only the mill and the engineering works but also a number of 40-ton barges from its wharf at Branbridges on the Medway. They also had a transport and threshing business which owned a large number of steam traction engines and steam-rollers: a photograph exists showing 11 of these lined up and in steam behind the mills and factory on the banks of the river Medway.

The new occupation of horseless-carriage ownership appealed to Walter Arnold following a visit to Germany, and in 1895 he imported a 1 1/2hp Benz. This formed the basis of the subsequent Arnold Motor Carriages, which followed the Benz specification very closely. However, the single cylinder 600rpm engine mounted horizontally in the car’s boot was given slightly greater bore and stroke dimensions than the Benz, with a view to greater power, and the cylinder barrel and water jacket were separate, whereas Benz used a single casting. There were also minor differences in the fiat-belt transmission, such as moveable bearings for taking up slack in the final drive chains instead of the Benz method which used a vernier adjustment of the plates carrying the bearings. Arnold, who had used his little Benz on business journeys as well as on a considerable number of pleasure trips, used metric chains and sprockets, thus changing the pitch of the chain, and he changed the position and shape of the throttle lever and incorporated an additional locker behind the splash-board. Another noticeable difference was that on the Arnold Motor Carriage the spare cylindrical petrol tank was of Polished brass positioned in front of the extra locker, whereas if such a tank was found on a Benz of the same period it was japanned and was behind the splash-board, with no locker.

The prototype Arnold Motor Carriage was duly constructed and tested by Henry Hewetson in Ireland, perhaps to avoid further prosecution be fore the “Emancipation Act” was passed by Parliament late in 1896, and it seems that one vehicle was used by a Mr A Cornell for expeditions to Margate and back, to the unrest of a local home-cabbie. Electric ignition, total-loss water cooling and lubrication, and a surface carburettor were used, following faithfully the Benz layout. Indeed, Mr Arnold became associated with Henry Hewetson of Mark Lane, London, in the importation of Benz cars. But he also built the Arnold’s Motor delivery vans, also based on the Benz system, one of which was sold to Levers, the Sunlight soap people. It was claimed that these vans would carry 5-6cwt of goods proceed at up to 9mph, and climb 1-in-10 gradients. They were priced at £250, and could be supplied within eight weeks of an order being placed. It was all conducted on proper business terms, half the cost as a deposit and the other half to be paid before the carriage was allowed to leave the East Peckham works, the company’s bankers were Parr’s and the Alliance Bank in Bartholomew Lane, London.

Mr Cornell claimed that his Arnold Motor Carriage gave him 60 to 70 miles on two gallons of “oil” (gasoline), which then cost him 2/6d (12 1/2p) and that the vehicle would run for 300 miles before its accumulator required re-charging. It would average l0mph over the hilly Kent roads and he found no objection to the solid rubber tyres, the running being “very smooth and comfortable” and the Arnold “easily steered and managed”. I think this car may have been more Benz than Arnold. After manufacturing some dozen machines, car building was abandoned, perhaps because of other commitments or because Arnold realised that by 1899 the Benz concept had dated. However, the Arnold “Oil Sociables” had one other link with posterity, two of them having apparently taken part in the first London to Brighton Run to celebrate the freedom given to motorists by the New Act of November 14, 1896. Archibald Campbell was said to have driven one of them, with Henry Hewetson as his passenger, and the other Arnold which took part was that of the aforesaid Mr Cornell of Tonbridge, who seems to have had Walter Arnold himself riding with him.

However, this pioneering spirit is slightly tarnished by the subsequent suggestion that the two Arnold “oil carriages” joined in along the route and did not, therefore, cover the full stipulated distance. Coming from Kent this may have been the case, and the first of them did not “clock in” until about 6.30pm on the day of the Run. Two of the vans may may also have been on the Run but the official vans were those of Daimler and Panhard-Levassor.

That might well have been the end of this pioneer British motor car. But in 1927 the Daily Sketch and Sunday Graphic decided to hold a re-enactment of the 1896 “Emancipation Run” on a decidedly light-hearted basis, calling the participating vehicles “Old Crocks”. This led to all manner of forgotten cars now of definite historic value being dug out of garages, barns, even beneath hedge rows or where a tree might have grown through them. By 1928 The Autocar’s and< then the Veteran Car Club of GB's intervention led to more order and appreciation of the importance of the cars taking part, which were confined to those made prior to 1905, as prevails today. Although there may not have been quite the same respect for dating and originality as was later the case, there was a renewed search for cars suitable for this November adventure. (Finding them and deciding how to make them function, then seeing whether they would make the haul from London to Brighton after long hibernation was part of the fun).

One of those who was anxious to find a suitable veteran was Captain Edward de W S Colver, RN (Rtd). He discovered that after its Irish tour Arnold No 1 had been sold to a Mr R W Dowsing of Ealing, an electrical engineer who had patented an electric starter which was also supposed to be capable of assisting the car’s engine up hills or even propelling it without the action of the main engine. He wanted the Arnold to try this out but I gather that nothing more was heard of the experiment. The Arnold was then left to deteriorate at Mr Dowsing’s country house with his many other cars, although he refused to part with it, and had named it “Adam”. However, he had it “restored” when the veteran car interest developed, but it was badly repaired by those who had no knowledge of the mechanics of early motor cars and given a modern carburettor.

When Mr Dowsing died in 1930 Capt Colver was told of his car by the Secretary of the VCC. He had hoped to find a Benz, as this was the make of car on which he had first been given a ride, or a 1900 Darracq, which was the first car the Colver family had owned. Consequently, he was delighted with this discovery, although examination of the car made him suspicious of its Benz originality. But he had it put into good order, although its performance was hampered by the wrong kind of carburettor. However, Capt Colver drove his veteran in the 1931 “Old Crocks” race at Brooklands and in Brighton Runs and a London to Eastbourne Rally. It was only when en panne with a broken chain connection bolt after the last named event that Colver heard an old man say, “Eh, that’s one of them there Arnolds” that he realised that what he had found was, in fact, an Arnold-Benz. (The 1931 Brooklands programme described the car as an 1896 Benz). Through this chance remark Colver was able to get in touch with the Arnold business at Branbridges and was delighted to find that his car was remembered and, what’s more, parts, accessories and even an instruction book applying to it were available.

With the car properly restored as an Arnold Motor Carriage it became a very well-known competitor in VCC and other events, including successfully completing 17 out of 19 Brighton Runs and taking part in the VCC Tilburstow hill-climbs, etc. The car was registered as MT 906. After Capt Colver died in 1970 the Arnold Company became interested in having this historic vehicle and they purchased it at an auction sale in November 1970. A place was cleared in the factory and the car was again put into good order, with the assistance of Capt CoIver’s son and 91-year old Walter R Randolph who had worked for Hewetson’s. Enthusiasm for the project was shown by the owner of the Arnold company, Mrs George Arnold, widow of one of the sons, the General Manager Mr George Mercy and the Chief Engineer Capt W A Gladein, who remembered the car-making venture before the turn of the century…

In spite of the work involved, the car, in its correct original yellow livery, failed to get to Brighton on its first re-appearance in 1973, driven by Mr T Evans and Mr W P G Arnold, the son of George Arnold. After problems with a fractured copper water-pipe and a tight bottom-speed idler pulley had been dealt with, a water connection failed at Thornton Heath, to the disappointment of the crew and those who had worked on the 1896 veteran, who included Fred Waller and Otto Itzstein. But matters were put right, and recently “Adam” has performed well, in the ownership of Miss Virginia Arnold, successfully completing the 1993 Brighton Run for example. But this is certainly a rara avis. The only other known example still in existence is that which was an exhibit in The Motor’s 1912 Exhibition, which the 1914/18 war disbanded, and which in the 1920s surfaced in Edinburgh… I am indebted to Mr S G Greenstreet of East Peckham, Tonbridge, for many of the newspaper cuttings which have assisted with this article. WB