1900 "English Mechanic" 3HP Two Seater

1900 "English Mechanic" 3HP Two Seater

Just imagine: it's the end of the first week of 1900 – the dawn, except to those pedantic killjoys who reckon you should start counting at "01" – of a new century, and you are young, a keen amateur mechanic and fascinated by the new pastime of motoring. You dream of owning a motor car – they've been around sufficiently long that nobody now calls them "horseless carriages" – but they are impossibly expensive to buy. You are, perhaps, one of the many thousands who catches the train up to work in London every day and, since it's Friday, you buy the latest number of the tuppenny magazine English Mechanic to read on the journey.

And there, on the first page, is the answer to your impossible dream of motoring; the first article of a series entitled "A Small Motor-Car and how to Build It". The schematic shows a simple rear-engined two-seater with belt and chain drive looking rather like a Benz, and the anonymous author explains the design philosophy behind the choice of this already rather old-fashioned design: "I have adopted the single-cylinder horizontal motor and belt transmission gear as the most simple arrangement. The use of belts makes a much more silent car than gearing; the starting is more gradual than with the usual friction clutch as used with gear wheels, and with quite a moderate amount of attention they will be found to work extremely well... While fully recognising the desirability of having plenty of power, yet it must not be forgotten that a very powerful motor mounted in a light car gives rise to unpleasant vibrations and tends to shake the carriage to pieces very rapidly.

"Therefore, for our carriage, which is intended to carry two persons only, I believe the happy medium will be a three-brake horsepower engine."

Now this wasn't do-it-yourself for the faint-hearted. The following week came general arrangement drawings of the engine and in week three came instructions on how to make the pattern from which the iron cylinder would be cast. And, having cast it, how to bore out the cylinder on your home lathe...

And so it went on for thirty-one weeks, the specification subtly changing as, presumably, the author updated his design as he himself built a car and discovered the practical flaws. Finally, at the beginning of August, provided that you had kept pace with the weekly instructions, you had a chassis complete and running and were just starting to build the body along the lines suggested by the author, who now partly revealed himself as "T.H.W. (care of Mr D.J.Smith, Great Arthur Street, Goswell Road, London)"

He was, in fact, a 29-year-old engineer named Thomas Hyler White, and the address he gave was that of the engineering company that supplied castings for the home-build motor car for those unadventurous (or sensible) enough not to attempt to build an iron foundry in their back garden.

A man in indifferent health – he suffered from consumption – Hyler White had nevertheless been a pioneer of the motor industry, having worked for the Daimler Motor Company in Coventry in 1896-98 and had taken part in the 1896 Emancipation Day Run.

The 1900 "English Mechanic" design was neither his first design for a home-build motor vehicle – he had published instructions on building a petrol tricycle in the English Mechanic in 1899- nor his last, for he would continue to produce articles on the building of steam and petrol vehicles of varying degrees of viability until 1913, when he outlined a home-build cyclecar in the magazine. He died in 1920, aged only 48.

Amazingly, several "English Mechanic" cars were built, and several survive, this being the earliest known example, though for many years nobody was quite sure what it was. It first came to light in 1921 when the redoubtable C.A. "Bath Road" Smith, ex-record-breaking cyclist and landlord of the "White Lion" at Cobham in Surrey, came across a curious veteran in a field in Kent. The little car had been lying there so long that a tree had grown through the back end of its chassis and had to be chopped down before the car could be moved...

Because Smith's discovery had a single-cylinder engine under a lid in its tail and two-speed belt drive, he thought it might be a Benz, so that is what it was called when it first too part in the Brighton Run in 1928, when it was driven by E.G. Blake of the Fair Green Engineering Works of Mitcham. Dating was a black art in those days, with one man's guess as good as another's, so a date of 1897 was plucked from the air.

While most of the 34 veterans entered in that year's run managed to reach the finish at Brighton, the "1897 Benz" was one of the four cars that fell by the wayside. It did much better in 1929, when The Autocar recorded that it arrived at Brighton at ten minutes past one "under the gradually increasing rain"

It arrived safely in 1930, too, at the creditable – amazing, even – average of just over 16 mph (Hyler White had designed the car for a top speed of 14 mph!). After missing the 1931 Run, the so-called Benz ran again in 1932, driven by H.J.F. Parsons, who had previously taken part with a 1900 De Dion, but its elaborate water pump packed up near Reigate and the car retired in a cloud of steam.

Parsons decided that his veteran probably wasn't a Benz, for there now were sufficient cars of that make around for comparisons to be made, so when it was entered for the 1933 Run, it had become an 1897 "Hurtu" on the basis that the unfortunately-named French make had built copies of the Benz in the late 1890s, but nobody was quite sure what one looked like...

That seemed good enough reason at the time, and so the car continued to be entered as an "1897 Hurtu" by successive various owners until well after the war. Then a car that was quite definitely a Hurtu of similar vintage was unearthed, and the pundits had to guess again.

It was probably a well-known Veteran Car Club member from Essex named Reg Taverner who solved the puzzle and identified the mystery car that he had acquired in the 1950s as an "English Mechanic" built from those 1900 part-work instructions.

At the end of the 1950s Reg who sold the English Mechanic to well-known VCC member and the son of a horse trader Louis Holland. It is said that in typical fashion after hours of haggling, they agreed a deal at 1.00 am, on condition that Reg – who lived in mid-Essex – could deliver the car to the Holland homestead near the Crystal Palace before daybreak!

Though Louis Holland didn't keep the English Mechanic long, he did give it a thorough restoration and replaced its 1920s registration with the more appropriate "A-166"; in those less greedy days, the old London County Council would happily issue the few early "A" registrations remaining unissued against a payment of £5. In November 1959 Louis Holland drove the English Mechanic in its first Brighton Run under its own name.

In the mid-1960s the English Mechanic was acquired by George Dorrington, the father of the current owner, who would continue to drive it down to Brighton every November. A chance meeting during the 1972 Brighton Run threw further light on the history of the English Mechanic when George halted at a garage in Redhill, where he met an 85-year-old gentleman named Mortlock, who had been a boyhood friend of Thomas Hyler White. "We built our own bicycles before the turn of the century," he recalled." Hyler-White then built a steam engine for his bicycle. Around 1898 he became an engineer with Smiths of Carshalton in Surrey, who specialised in making water pumps." And still had time to write articles on making motor cars and musical instruments for The English Mechanic...

The car was dated by the Veteran Car Club some years ago and in more recent times, within the last year or so it has benefited from an engine rebuild. A fascinating and uniquely British automobile, after more than 50 years within this family ownership.

Descriptions & pictures by bonhams & gracesguide & auta5p & hemmings

Production Start 1900
Country of origin Great Britain