Coachlines - January 2023

24.01.23 The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, 15th January 1898

This month in 1898: The Coachmakers Company and A Chance For The Motor-Car

This month’s ‘from the archives’ piece is from The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, 15th January 1898.

Our always interesting, frequently well informed, but, like its prototype, the Daily Chronicle, too hysterical contemporary, London, as benefits its position as an organ of municipalisation, keeps, as does its exemplar, a watchful and somewhat suspicious eye upon the old City Companies. Whether the latter appreciate the attention is, of course, quite another matter. In a recent issue of our contemporary, under the heading “A chance for the Motor-Car,” in the course of a not altogether undeserved eulogy of the Coachmakers’ Company makes a following (to us) extraordinary statement:

“The Coachmakers’ Company have given the fullest encouragement to the motor-car. One would not have been surprised to find a Company, with members representing some of the largest firms in the country, looking askance upon the newcomer least their own business be interfered with. But, no. With that keen business foresight which recognises that progress lies among the line of new inventions, they have welcomed the motor-car, and gone out of their way to give it encouragement. Last year, for instance, they offered a first prize of £20, and another of £10, for the best designs of a motor-carriage. So poor were the exhibits that the prizes could not reasonably be awarded. The limitations imposed may have had something to do with the shortcomings of the designs sent in. Anyhow, this year a wider field has been opened. Instead of limiting the competitions to Coachmakers only, they are free to ‘British subjects generally resident in the United Kingdom of Great Britain or Ireland.’ This is certainly wide enough, and ought to bring in some of the many outsiders who feel keenly that the motor-car, or cab, or carriage, is yet far from being a sightly or convenient mode of transit.”

The Coachmakers’ Company has certainly displayed a broad-minded appreciation of the automotor vehicle, which we gladly acknowledge; but careful and well thought out designs of new machines are hardly to be obtained by such inducement as prizes of £10 pounds or £20 pounds. A well-known coach builder so clearly recognised this that not long ago he offered, through the AUTOMOTOR, £100 for a suitable design. Even allowing, for the movement, that out of the callow minds of apprentices and improvers a fairly good design can be evolved, it is it yet to be expected that such young men can produce the design of a wholly new type of vehicle, propelled in a wholly different way, and involving mechanical knowledge, or rather a knowledge of engineering principles and mechanics, that a locomotive engineer has to have, but which no coachbuilder, so far as we are aware, either has or pretends to have?

The competition, in so far as it related to motor-vehicles, was distinctly premature. What, too, may we ask, where the qualifications (we speak as an engineer) of those who are decide on these designs? The question of merit in the design of a motor-vehicle can only be answered by those who have a pretty extensive knowledge of automobilism. An ordinary cart or courage is not a self-moving vehicle, even when running downhill; and while we should unhesitatingly defer to the opinion of a coachbuilder on coaches, we should not accept it as necessarily possessing any value as regards automobile vehicles.

We are afraid, however, that London lives in the same benighted ignorance as do so many of the London papers on things relating to automobilism, whether this relates to aeronautics, submarine boats, torpedoes, or automobile vehicles. We have occasion elsewhere to draw attention to this lamentable display of want of common knowledge on the part of the lay Press. Referring to the latter part of the quotation from our contemporary, it will be seen that London imagines that the Coachmakers’ Company is again offering prizes for motor vehicles. London rejoices at this will bring comfort to those who “feel keenly,” &c. We are sorry to disappoint any respectable person who “feels keenly,” as does our contemporary, that the motor-carriage is not yet a convenient mode of transport, but truth compels us to say that our contemporary is misinformed.

The Coachmakers’ Company officially informs us that they “are not offering any prizes for motor-car designs in the coming year (1898),” as we pointed out some months back; and we think wisely, too, for reasons we have stated. It will thus be seen that the whole bottom is knocked out of our contemporaries.

The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, 15th January 1898