The Horseless Carriage

  • 26 May 2023
  • Early Vehicles
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In Britain the pioneers of mechanical road vehicles had made an excellent start in the 1830s, but after the Locomotive Act of 1865, British engineers lost ground. There were two main reasons for this, Parliament was filled with landowners who were horse-orientated, and viewed the presence of mechanical vehicles on the roads as a nuisance and a danger, and promoted restrictive laws that stiffled further progress. Furthermore, the railways were highly successful, and we had cheap coal, and this effected British attitudes and progress with the internal combustion machine.

The first commercially successful gas engine was devised by Gottlieb Daimler in 1876, and this was followed by Carle Benz, who sold his gas engine to Emile Roger in France, less so in Germany, but virtually not at all in Britain or America. By 1895, with the Paris-Bordeaux Race of that year, motoring had developed as a properly organized sport, and enthusiasts in Britain were encouraged to buy French cars and use them defiantly on our roads to demonstrate the absurdity of the British regulations.

Owning a car was still a major excitement. Roads were wonderful and bad. The days were golden, the nights were dim and strange. Lee White wrote 'I still recall with trembling those loud, nocturnal crises when you drew up to a signpost and raced the engine so that the lights would be bright enough to read the destination'..