In the early 20th century, taking a tour in a motor car was a great adventure. As the century progressed more people explored the roads of Britain, Europe and beyond.

As the motor car grew in popularity motoring services, such as petrol stations and breakdown assistance, evolved. This has helped the leisure trip in a car become a popular British pastime.

Touring Britain 

An early 20th century distance finder to show the mileage between major British towns and cities. Courtesy of Alfred Dunhill Ltd.

Early motorists faced many challenges. Some people saw cars as a noisy and dangerous nuisance while local police forces often hounded motorists with makeshift speed traps. To fight for motorists’ rights organisations like the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) and the Automobile Association (AA) were formed. These clubs later provided a range of support services including emergency breakdown assistance.

In addition, motor cars were notoriously unreliable and there was no such thing as a roadside garage. Maintenance and navigation equipment such as puncture repair kits, spare parts and maps had to be packed for the trip. Before the late 1920s even fuel had to be carried as there were few petrol outlets. The rise in motoring eventually led to an increase in local garages and service stations en-route which provided fuel and sometimes maintenance.

By the 1950s many touring accessories were introduced for the travelling masses. Publications such as The Shell Guides provided tourist information on popular British destinations, while games such as I-Spy books and packs of cards kept children occupied on long trips.

In recent years the digital age has revolutionised motoring accessories. Motorists often find their way by satellite navigation while children are entertained with television screens and portable computer games.

Touring Europe 

A 1935 Lanchester 10 saloon motor car taking a stop at Gorey Harbour in Jersey, with Mont-Orgueil Castle in the background.

Grand tours of Europe were traditionally taken by young aristocratic gentlemen. Motoring pioneer John, 2nd Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (1866-1929), continued this custom by travelling to France, Switzerland, Austria and even India (1922) and the Middle East (1927) by motor car.

European tours were well planned. Suitable petrol and spare parts were hard to find in Europe and had to be carried on tour or pre-ordered before setting off. As motoring became more popular, European travel was made easier by the more ready availability of fuel and spares.

Motoring to Europe was revolutionised by the late 1930s with the introduction of the Dover to Calais cross channel ferry, where cars could be craned onto the ship. In 1953 ‘drive on’ ferry terminals were opened at the same ports, making continental travel even simpler.

In 1994 the opening of the channel tunnel offered an even speedier way to transport cars to Europe.

Going Global 

Tourists Prefer Shell, 1936, Tristram Hillier. Courtesy of the Shell Art Collection.

In the early 20th century some wealthy motorists travelled past Europe to distant locations. The Middle East was a favourite for sightseeing tourists attracted by the Suez Canal or the Egyptian Pyramids.

It was not long before enterprising individuals and companies capitalised on the growing tourist industry by improving transport links. As a result it is now possible to book a holiday to practically anywhere in the world.

The motor car even improved travel across challenging terrain, such as deserts. In 1920 a taxi service between Beirut, Lebanon and Haifa in Israel was introduced. This reduced the previous three day horse-drawn journey down to less than a day by motor vehicle. By the late 1920s bus trips were running between Baghdad in Iraq, Beirut and Haifa.

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