1912 Lanchester 38hp Detachable Top Open Drive Limousine

It is rarely recognised that the first four wheeled, full scale petrol car of purely British design came from the drawing boards of Frederick and George Lanchester in 1894-5. Still less well known is the fact that Frederick Lanchester had previously achieved fame as a pioneer in unveiling Britain's first motor boat and his illustrious career embraced also innovations in powered flight and aircraft design. The Lanchester brothers, Frederick, George and Frank were on occasion known as 'The Unholy Trinity' and had complementary skills, Frederick being the innovator and perhaps the genius of the three, George the painstaking engineer who converted Frederick's genius into reality and Frank more the desk man in his roles as Company Secretary and Sales Manager.

The 10hp, 12hp and 16hp twin cylinder cars of the early years of the twentieth century were not only distinctive in appearance, with their patent leather 'bat-wing' wind deflector screens and tiller steering, (Dr. Lanchester tackling the design of chassis and body as an entity), but were remarkably quick on the road with cantilever suspension giving the smoothest of rides

Fred Lanchester's distinctive 20hp, the true predecessor of the six-cylinder 38hp model, first saw the light of day late in 1904 as a prototype and was shown at the Olympia Motor Exhibition in February 1905. The model reflected Lanchester genius, the vertical, in-line engine being to a non-conventional, 'over-square' design, with four separate cylinders of 4 x 3ins bore and stroke and a capacity of 2.6 litres. Twin camshafts operated the overhead valves which were activated by leaf springs. Cantilever suspension was retained. The boxed tube chassis was all new, torsional rigidity of the frame being provided by the mid-mounted petrol tank. The wick carburettor was an established feature on contemporary Lanchester models and epicyclic gearing was employed on the two lower speeds and reverse, with direct drive top gear. The Lanchester brothers always claimed that the engine was not moved back into the passenger area but that the driver and passenger area was moved forward alongside the engine. Lanchester, rather stubbornly perhaps, clung to the tiller steering concept for the new car, which can fairly be described as quirky although technically advanced, designed from original thought, superbly engineered and offering a sprightly turn of speed with outstanding top gear performance.

The mighty 38hp model of 1911, which ranked alongside the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and various Napier models in terms of engineering finesse, featured a six-cylinder, in line, cast in pairs engine with bore and stroke of 4in.x4in., displacing 4,942cc. and developing 63bhp at 2,200rpm. The overhead, horizontal valves were operated by rocking levers and flat plate springs, actuated by twin camshafts. Spark was provided by high tension magneto and a Bosch trembler coil for starting. Fuel supply was via Lanchester's own patent wick vapouriser. Lanchester's own patent epicyclic gearbox provided three forward speeds, (direct drive on top), and reverse and final drive was by worm gear. Suspension was by cantilever plate springs front and rear. Pressed steel chassis girders replaced the square section tubes of the earlier cars and wheel steering replaced the tiller. Technical specification was so different from its entire peer group and yet here was a car chosen by nobility and favoured especially by Maharajahs, the Indian market absorbing significant Lanchester factory output. Remarkably the 38hp model was offered with a two year unlimited mileage guarantee.

In May 1912 the hugely powerful and wealthy Maharajah of Rewa ordered a special 38hp State Limousine, this car, the roof incorporating ventilation louvres and an electric fan inside a dome. The whole limousine top and driver's canopy were separately removable so that the car could be used as an open tourer. Such was the Maharajah's satisfaction with the 38hp car that he later ordered a 40hp Lanchester as its successor.

Descriptions & pictures by bonhams

Production Start 1912
Country of origin Great Britain