1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash

 

A few weeks ago I posted the above picture of a glass lantern slide featuring a driver and a clergyman on an unidentified early motor car bearing a very early Liverpool registration number. I have not been able to identify the driver or his passenger but thanks to Linda King and also Bozi Mohacek of the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society the car can definitely be identified.

Linda suggested Rootschat would be able to help and from there received a suggestion that the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society could help. They have over 2,750 enquiries on their website so I asked them and very quickly received word back that the car is a 1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash 5HP Two-seater. The date is approximate but since Liverpool registrations only began in December 1903 some time in 1904 seems reasonable.

Oldsmobile Runabout 1906

Oldsmobile Runabout (Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)

It was a very popular car and images of it can be found all over the internet. The first mass-produced motor car it was manufactured in Detroit, Michigan and between 1901 and 1907 some 19,000 were made and sold around the world. In the UK it sold for £185 in 1902.

 

1902 Oldsmobile advert

Advert from The Autocar, November 1st 1902 (Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)

 

Oldsmobile1903 advert

Advertisement from The Automobile Review, December 15th 1903 (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1904 Maurice Fournier, an engineer and the 1903 ‘World Motorcycling Champion’, travelled 4,600 kilometres around Europe in an Oldsmobile. It must have been an uncomfortable journey.

Oldsmobile 1904

Maurice Fournier travelling through Europe in 1904 Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)

It was a relatively cheap vehicle, although at £185 outside the pocket of most people, but still cheaper than a lot of other cars, if far more basic in its design. Despite the claims of the advert that “with only one lever to use….you hardly need to know how to operate an Oldsmobile” it must have been difficult to handle. Maurice Fournier certainly got all round Europe in one though, and it must have been good enough for our unnamed driver and his passenger to get round Liverpool in, during the first decade of the twentieth century.

K-218 Liverpool registered car c.1903

A car is parked at the roadside on a sunny day.  The driver is dressed for some serious motoring whilst his passenger is a clergyman without an overcoat. He looks slightly uncomfortable perched on the seat of the open car. Who is he? Could he be the owner, or a friend or relative of the driver? It’s hard to say but here we have a glimpse into a pioneering moment in motoring history.

K218 cropped full

I picked this glass lantern slide up on eBay for a couple of pounds. It interested me because it is an early example of an automobile, probably dating from about 1903. I haven’t been able to identify the make of the car (indeed I would be grateful for any suggestions) but what is clear is that it was registered in Liverpool and was probably photographed on Princes Avenue. I don’t know who the clergyman was or the driver but the letter K was used for cars in Liverpool from 1903 to 1914. The records for these early registrations no longer exist but presumably this car was the 218th car to be registered in Liverpool. Whether that means the photograph was taken in 1903 I don’t know (would at least 218 cars be registered in the first year of the registration system?), but judging from the style of the car, which doesn’t have a steering wheel, I would guess that it was manufactured closer to 1903 than 1914. I had thought it might have been a Liver Phaeton, manufactured in Birkenhead by William Lea, of which only one example survives in the Museum of Liverpool. However, the car in the Museum has a number of differences and this clearly isn’t a Liver Phaeton. Having said that William Lea was a highly successful entrepreneur who made his own cars using imported Benz engines including a larger version of the Phaeton. His showrooms in Birkenhead had an indoor track that could be used for test drives with room, apparently, for fifty cars. By 1909 he was also the agent for “Benz, Progress, Darracq and English Benz Cars”, all available from his depot on Berry Street in Liverpool. He also advertised a very large stock of vehicles for sale. But he was far from being the only car dealer in Liverpool at the time. The city had its own Self-propelled Traffic Association from 1896 (President, the Earl of Derby) and The Liverpool Show of 1903 at St George’s Hall claimed to possess the largest (and best) exhibition of motors outside of London. It is possible to search back issues of The Autocar online courtesy of Grace’s Guide (http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Main_Page) but that just confirms the massive variety of vehicles available to early enthusiasts of motoring. If this clergyman was one of them he must have caused quite a stir being able to shoot around his parish in his own motor car, but I rather suspect that he was induced to climb aboard by a car-owning parishioner and have his photograph taken for posterity.

K218 detail

Paused at the roadside for a photograph

K218 numberplate

Numberplate

K218 Passenger and Driver

Driver and Passenger