This week in 1896: the horseless carriage

As the the car industry’s annual Geneva concept-fest enters its second week, here’s a very different automotive prototype from The Engineer’s archives.

As the the car industry’s annual Geneva concept-fest enters its second week, here’s a very different automotive prototype from The Engineer’s archives.

Developed in an age when cars weren’t cars at all but ‘horseless carriages’, this ‘experimental’ carriage was constructed jointly by an engineer ‘Mr G B Petter,’ and a pair of forward-looking carriage builders, ‘Messrs Hill and Boll.’ It was the first car powered by an internal combustion engine to be made in the UK.

‘It is driven by an oil motor, the cylinder of which is of cast iron, 3.5in diameter and 6in stroke, with light steel water jacket,’ explained The Engineer.

With the oil and water tanks stored beneath the back seat, the article reported that the ‘total weight of the carriage, with oil and water complete, is 9cwt (457kg) of which the engine proper, including fly-wheel and side-bars weighs, 120lb (54kg).’

‘The carriage is intended for two persons with which a speed of 10mph is obtained on a level road, continued the article. ‘It will mount the hills of the neighbourhood with two persons, but larger power would be used for four persons. The vehicle shown (reproduced below) will carry four persons on level roads and small gradients.’

According to The Engineer: ‘the exhaust is quite invisible and the engine almost noiseless. The whole of the machinery is enclosed and out of sight, but can be easily reached for oiling by raising the back seat and covers.’

Petter later launched a private company, which took over classic sports car manufacturer Lagonda, and in 1915 founded Westland Aircraft Works. Intriguingly, the company also owned the original patent rights for the mechanical calculator, which it sold to the Bell punch company, manufacturer of the world’s first desktop calculator.