Which was the first British car?

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Sir,

Regarding the discussion about Britain’s First Car in your columns, I feel that Mr. Anthony Bird should not be allowed the last Weed. Whilst not attempting to sort out the respective claims made on behalf of Butler, Knight, Bremer and Lanchester, I shall readily agree that the Wolseley was probably only Britain’s Fifth Car, or, if the possibly dubious efforts of Butler, Knight and Bremer are overlooked, at least second to the Lanchester, and today only by the quirks of fate Britain’s Oldest Surviving Marque (!).

Therefore I do not disagree with Mr. Bird’s conclusion, but with his arguments. Mr. Bird would be interested to re-examine St. John Nixon’s book “Wolseley—A Saga of the Motor Industry”, p.28, where the second Wolseley tri-car is fairly conclusively dated to December, 1896, thus making nothing of Mr. Bird’s arguing that the first Wolseley tri-car “made its bow between May and September, 1897”. Possibly Mr. Bird wishes to imply that the “first” tri-car was really the second, and vice versa? I hope not.

Mr. Bird then claims that the Leon Bollee “was first shown to the public in December 1896” which is remarkable in view of the fact that this vehicle was shown at H. J. Lawson’s exhibition at the Imperial Institute in May of that year (Mr. Bird’s own “The Motor Car 1765-1914”, and other sources). I believe most historians agree that the Leon Bailee was shown in December, 1895, and that the conclusion reached by Mrs. Lambert and Mr. Wyatt in their biography of Lord Austin—that the first Wolseley was tested in the summer of 1896—is therefore reasonable.

I feel this matter must be settled in favour of the Lanchester—I cannot question Mr. Bird’s argument that the first Lanchester trials took place in February or March 1896 —but that it must be conceded that the Wolseley followed within six months, and that the second Wolseley was in existence before the year was out.

I cannot but feel, however, that Mr. Bird’s discussion of the relative merits of the early experimental Lanchester and Wolseley cars is somewhat irrelevant—where both these cars differ from their contemporaries such as Butler, Knight and Bremer is in the undeniable fact that they served as preludes to production models by the same designers, marketed by the same companies under the same names; production model’s that appeared within reasonable time of the experimental vehicles.

In conclusion, I must regard Mr. Bird’s letter as a contradictio in adjecto when one considers his excellent treatise on the early, horizontal-engined WoIseleys (Profile no. 43). While of course Mr. Bird is well known as a staunch advocate of Lanchester merits, I might add that I am a member of the Wolseley Register.

Anders Ditlev Clausager

Aarhus, Denmark