What was the first motor car to run on the British Highway?

There are a number of claims and counterclaims for the first motor car to appear on the road in Britain.

It is now generally accepted that the Hon. Evelyn Ellis was the first when he imported a Panhard et Levassor into Britain in June 1895 and undertook his famous journey from Micheldever in Hampshire to his home at Datchet in Berkshire. For some time it was claimed that a 2hp Benz Velo imported by Henry Hewetson in November 1894 was the first in Britain, but it is now believed this did not take place until later in 1895.

By the end of 1895, following further importations, it was estimated that there were 14 or 15 cars on Britain’s roads – a figure which had increased dramatically by 1900 to approximately 700 – 800! The million mark for private cars was reached in Britain in 1930, with 10 million in 1967.

Fredrick William Bremer, a plumber and gas fitter, built the first British four-wheeled petrol-engined motor car. Starting work in 1892, when he was 20, the still incomplete car made its first run on a public highway in December 1894.

Edward Butler of Newbury patented his Petro-Cycle in 1884 and had one running by 1888. He abandoned his plans to build production versions of the single-seat tricycles due to the ‘Red Flag’ Act.

John Henry Knight of Farnham was an engineer and enthusiastic inventor with a keen interest in photography and locomotion. With the help of engineer George Parfitt, in 1895 he created the first purpose-built, petrol-driven, three-wheeled car to be run on the roads of Britain. In order to improve stability, a fourth wheel was added the following year. This pioneering British car is on display at the National Motor Museum.

Cycle makers Charles and Walter Santler of Malvern Link, Worcestershire, built a steam car in 1889 which was subsequently fitted with a single-cylinder gas engine and then rebuilt again with a single-cylinder ‘petrol’ engine in 1894. Santlers went on to build several other cars between 1897 and 1913 when they launched a range of light cars for general sale.

Frederick Lanchester started work on a four-wheeled petrol car in 1895 which was successfully tested on the road in early 1896. The Lanchester Engine Co. commenced building production cars in 1899.


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