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Steve Frost  ‘The Origins of the Modern Motor Car’

Steve was from a Stoke family and followed the interest of his father and grandfather in cars.  Steve’s father became an apprentice mechanic in 1931 and received three books  one of which was ‘The Origins of the Modern Motor Car”.   In 1932 Steve’s grandfather won a smoking competition with a car as the first prize. He worked alongside Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire. He started as a petrol-filler and hand cranked the cars to get them started.    Steve’s talk was based on these classic books, the Magazine ‘Modern Motor Car’ and information from Museums.

USA From 1908 until 1927 fifty per cent of the cars manufactured in the USA cars were Ford Model TsHenry Ford left a farming life and moved into car design in 1901 in Detroit where he was the chief engineer for the Edison Light Co. In 1903 he established the Ford Motor Co & in 1908 the Model T was introduced. The gears were simple; 2 forward, low and high, &1 back. The instructions to start the Model T were very basic; set the hand brake, put the gear box into neutral, open choke, crank the starting handle.

UK  Following the First World War cars, mass produced by Ford, were introduced into Britain.  A 1911Model T was driven to the top of Ben Nevis in 1918. By 1929 the Model A had replaced the Model T. It had clutch and gear levers and four-wheel brakes & in 1932 the Model B arrived, with a. V8 cylinder engine, a rival for Chevrolet cars. The B was a favourite of Bonnie and Clyde.  Eventually, in the 1930s the UK introduced the Model Y with a 933cc engine; the first £100 car, this lasted until 1958.  In 1959 the Ford Popular was introduced with hydraulic brakes from Lockheed.

The UK car market initially focussed on high value cars; Rolls Royce, Daimler(the Royal Family’s choice) and Vauxhall.  In1927 Vauxhall produced a 2.5 ton car costing the equivalent of £120k today.  Mass production came with William Morris in 1912 at Cowley in Oxford. The first car  was the ‘Bull Nose’ for £165.

This became £465 with inflation after the war. A very popular car was the Sporting MG (Morris Garages).Morris cars were easily identifiable by the radiator mounted thermostat gauge.  A rival to Morris was Herbert Austin; who designed the first Wolseley in 1900.  In 1922 came the Austin 7, with a 750cc engine, a very simple design. By 1925 25,000 per year were produced  & plans were even licensed to BMW.   In Bradford in the 1930s the ‘Jowett’ was developed. The plant produced record numbers between 1910 and 1953. An oddity was that the battery had to be disconnected to stop the engine. The Humber was then developed as a better car.

Steve provided details of design improvements to the chassis, the engines, brakes & gears as cars were transformed into the designs we see today. Steve also digressed to include commercial vehicles, giving many examples of lorry and bus design. He then concluded with comments on various milestones in European car development; for example:--   1920, the Lancia was designed with no chassis, but with independent front suspension

  1928, the Alvis , introduced front wheel drive, but this was a poor seller.

  1931, the DKW in Germany introduced a transverse engine & front wheel drive, this lasted to 1990

 Throughout the 30s Andre Citroen, employed designers Lefebvre and Bartoli who developed a V12 engine. This was the favourite car of Bank robbers. The Coupe lasted until 1957. Sadly, many of the early manufacturers have ceased to exist.


This summary of the speaker’s talk are based on notes taken by Keith Waller