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The Daimler, Lanchester and BSA connection

A tale of enterprise, engineering brilliance, business subterfuge and takeovers

Daimler, Lanchester & BSA: the cars that made history. And why we are British and not German!

A brief review of the vehicles which form the nucleus of club members' enthusiasm. The three companies whose various products have borne their names for more than a century prided themselves in being not only among the very first motor manufacturers in Britain, but all three cherished their reputations for quality and exclusivity.

1895. The first Lanchester car.JPG

The second Lanchester, which resides in the Science Museum (Swindon location), was again advanced: the twin cylinder engine had separate crankshaft, one above the other rotating in opposite directions and connected by skew gearing. Each shaft carried a flywheel at opposite ends.

The third car was even more advanced, started in 1899 when the Lanchester Engine Company was formed and was put on the market in 1901.

Over the next 30 years, Daimler and Lanchester followed similar paths of high quality and design. Autocar once wrote that of the 36 primary features in modern motorcars Frederick Lanchester was responsible for 18! The later Birmingham Lanchester designs, including the magnificent Forty and straight Eight models of the 1920s, were the work of George Lanchester.

The LANCHESTER connection:
Three of the four Lanchester brothers, Fred, George and Frank, became at one time or another involved in the Lanchester Car Company. In 1893 Fred designed and built his first engine (a vertical single cylinder) which was fitted to a flat bottomed boat designed by his brothers. The boat was launched at Salter's slipway in Oxford in 1894 and was probably the first all British powerboat.

Frederick's first car built in 1895 was certainly the first petrol driven four-wheeled car ever made in Britain. It was basically a design exercise, fitted with a single cylinder air-cooled engine. It was later modified to have a twin cylinder air cooled unit with two contra-rotating flywheels for engine balance, a worm final drive, epicyclic gears, tangent spoked wire wheels and pneumatic tyres.


By 1931 Lanchester was in financial trouble due to the competition in the "carriage trade" sector. Lanchester was taken over by BSA. Immediately Lanchester became the medium sized model of the range. The 15/18 H.P. 6 cylinder poppet valved engine mated to a fluid fly wheel put up the best performance in the first RAC Rally held in March 1932. A Daimler was second. Over the next 25 years, Lanchesters became more and more badge engineered Daimlers. Production finally finishing in 1956 with the stillborn "Sprite" model which was to have featured the advanced Hobbs "mechamatic transmission".

The Lanchester Historian Chris Clarke has written a four volume set of books "The Lanchester Legacy" to give a definitive history of the Lanchester marque.

You can read a summary, here in Grace's Guide to British Industrial History : Lanchester  and in excellent detail on 

the Jaguar Daimler Hertitage Trust website

The DAIMLER Connection:
Gottlieb Daimler, the son of a master baker, was born in Schorndorf near Stuttgart in Württemberg, Germany, on March 17th 1834. From the day he became apprenticed to a local gunsmith, his potential engineering brilliance became apparent.
Daimler was 38 when he first became involved with the internal combustion engine. He was appointed as Technical Director at Dr. N.A. Otto's workshop, where research into the internal combustion engine had been going on for 9 years. One of Daimler's first actions was to secure the services of Wilhelm Maybach as Chief Designer. In 1892 he set up his own workshop with Maybach.

Moving on several years, Daimler meets Frederick Simms, an engineer from Warwickshire, who bought the UK patent rights for Daimler's engine to fit into motorboats on the Thames at Putney. In 1895 a private syndicate bought the Daimler engine patent rights. From this syndicate, the "Daimler Motor Co. Ltd" was created in 1896.

The Daimler name is used both in the UK and Germany. From the turn of the last century, all Coventry built Daimlers have been of British design and there is no connection between Daimler Benz of Stuttgart and Daimler of Coventry.

1900 Daimler.jpg

Simms later founded what was to become the Royal Automobile Club and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. He is arguably the founder of the modern British motor industry.
The very early Daimlers took part in what would now be called publicity stunts. In 1897, a Daimler was driven to the top of the Malvern Hills and later in the same year was railed to Wick, to motor from John O'Groats to Land's End. The 929-mile run was completed in 93.5 hours running time.

New Daimler vehicles appeared in quick succession between 1897 and 1903. Twelve different engines were produced varying from 1.1 to 4.5 litres.
In 1900 H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, later H.M. King Edward VII, bought a 6 H.P. Daimler with phaeton bodywork by Messrs. Hooper of St.James's, a company that later became part of Daimler. Thus started a century of Royal Patronage. 

In 1913 the Birmingham Small Arms Company acquired the Daimler Motor Company.
The diversity of the company's output over a 50 year period is prodigious, with technical innovations such as the sleeve valve engine in 1908, and the development of the preselector gearbox with a "fluid flywheel". The range of vehicles is impressive from State Limousines and Laudaulettes through a range of quality saloons, sports cars, touring cars, buses, commercial vehicles ambulances and military fighting vehicles.


The post 2nd world war was a difficult time for the company, at first it produced updated versions of pre-war cars, followed by the Conquest series and in 1959 a fibreglass bodied sports car with a V8 engine, the SP250. 

In 1960 the financial position was very poor and the car and bus division of BSA was sold to Jaguar Cars Ltd, who required the space for their expanding range. The V8 engine in both the 2.5 and 4.5 litre was retained initially in the SP250 and the large Majestic Major saloon. It was later used in the 2.5litre saloon bases on the Mark 2 Jaguar body.

After 1969 when Jaguar went to a one-saloon model range, Daimler became the badge-engineered top of the range model. The limousine Daimler, the DS420, was introduced and carried on without a Jaguar equivalent until the early 1990s. The last production model Daimler was the Daimler Super Eight.

The Daimler Historian, Brian Smith has written a three volume set of books "Daimler Days" which give a full history of the first 100 years of Daimler.

You can read more here in Grace's Guide to British Industrial History : Daimler

and in excellent detail on the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust website

The BSA Connection:

Birmingham Small Arms Company was one of Britain's largest engineering and manufacturing combines and were best known for their small arms, cycles and motorcycles.

They manufactured cars in their own right from 1907 but became serious players in the car market from 1913 when they took over Daimler, which was strengthened by the acquisition of Lanchester in 1931, the take-over worthy of a Jeffrey Archer book (read about it in Chris Clarke's trilogy). 

During the 1930's they built a series of three wheeled cars in competition with Morgan, and delightful front wheeled drive saloons and drop-head coupes.

Less well known was the BSA 10 H.P., basically, a budget version of the Lanchester and Daimler 10 H.P. Although made in small numbers, these models have a rarity value and are sought after. 

In 1959 BSA Group of 32 subsidiary companies employed 17,000 people and included:

  Daimler Co., Ltd
  Transport Vehicles (Daimler), Ltd
  Lanchester Motor Co., Ltd
  B.S.A. Motor Cycles, Ltd
  Triumph Engineering Co. Ltd
  Ariel Motors Ltd
  B.S.A. Tools, Ltd
  Carbodies, Ltd

In 1973 after the collapse of BSA's shares in the Stock Market, the company was sold to a new motorcycle company Norton-Villiers-Triumph, financed by the government and Manganese Bronze Holdings who would also put their own motorcycle company Norton-Villiers into the new entity.

The non-motorcycle parts of BSA were acquired by Manganese Bronze Holdings

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