Model of the car Lanchester, 1895


The first-ever, all-British gasoline car took to the road in Birmingham in December 1895, when Frederick Lanchester fired up his prototype and eased it forward those first, historic feet.

Fred had designed the whole thing from scratch, including the centrally located single-cylinder engine. It had a three-speed gearbox, and was steered by an upright tiller. Its cantilever spring suspension and torsionally stiff chassis gave—for the times—an astounding ride. It could also do 15mph (24kph)—highly illegal at a time when cars were governed at 4mph (6kph) with an escort.

1895 model car Lanchester

This Lanchester, Britain’s first-ever car, was amazingly sophisticated for the time, but steep hills were still a struggle.

What it couldn’t do was get up hills very well. Driver and passenger were both obliged to get out and help it up all but the gentlest slopes. That didn’t deter the young British maverick, however. Two years later, a new, more powerful and superbly balanced 214ci (3,500cc) twin-cylinder engine was installed. The car could now reach 18mph 29kph).

In 1899, the Lanchester Engine Company was formed with plans to make a production model of the car Lanchester. This was easily feasible because the scrupulous Lanchester had created interchangeable components between each of his prototypes.

“He was a perfectionist, but he was unconventional and obstinate in his approach. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and lesser people found it hard to catch up with him.”

Chris Clark, Lanchester Historian, speaking about frederick lanchester

Specification model of the car Lanchester

  • YEAR REVEALED: 1895
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Birmingham, UK
  • HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
  • ENGINE: single-cylinder, 80ci (1,306cc)
  • MAXIMUM POWER: 5bhp
  • LAYOUT: mid-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
  • BODYWORK: six-seater open tourer
  • TOP SPEED: 15mph (24kph)
  • NUMBER BUILT: one