Vanished Vehicles

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A look back over the past century and beyond at the manufacturers that once produced transport for the masses…. Pre WW1

The Yeovil Motor Car Co – UK 1895-1898

The Petter 1896 ‘Dogcart’ with twins Ernest and Percy seated at the rearTwins Ernest and Percy Petter are two of several engineers of the period to have a claim they produced the UK’s first ‘home-grown’ motor car fitted with an internal combustion engine. From their father’s foundry in Yeovil, the Petter’s produced a 1HP oil engine that propelled a horseless carriage in 1895 with the assistance of company foreman and engineer Ben Jacobs. Utilising £1000 capitol they immediately set up the Yeovil Motor Car Co, built a small factory and began production of the Yeovil Car. The ‘Dogcart’ model arrived soon after with coachwork by Hill and Boll and this was often tested before 8am when the local Police agreed to turn the other way as it passed without the required red flag up front at 14mph. An improved version featured in the Engineer Magazine June 1897. "The Yeovil motor car is a light business carriage for two persons. It is driven by a two-cylinder Petter patent engine working on the Otto cycle, using ordinary petroleum. The cylinders are arranged side by side, and fired alternately. The explosions are effected by means of two ignition tubes, heated by a single blow lamp’’. The chain drive to either rear wheel offered the ingenious option of two gear ratios and the Petter engine also featured automatic inlet valve opening. In the region of a dozen vehicles left the Yeovil site before the Petter’s switched to electric motors, this change turned into a failure and the company ceased supplying automobile transport; concentrating on stationary and traction engines in 1898. As WW1 approached the company purchased a new site to supply munitions and various aircraft engines, the factory later became the Westland Aircraft/Helicopter Works. Between the Wars

Le Zebre – France 1907-1931

1920’s Le Zebra sought the talents of Harry Ricardo this Z10 was restored by Ricardo’sLe Zebre story originates with opera, or certainly the Francs inherited by Jacques Bizet, gained by Georges Bizet his father and composer of Carmen. These funds assisted in the creation of Le Zebre when Jacques met Julius Soloman whilst they were working with early automobile pioneer and French race driver Georges Richard. Their new company’s location of Puteaux, west of Paris was a popular venue with automobile manufacturers and their 600cc single proved popular, being priced 25% under their rivals. Success brought more financial help which came from two industrialists Joseph Lamy and Emile Akar; they later created Amilcar. In 1912 Le Zebra added a 4 cylinder of 950cc and both the multi and single cylinder units came from the nearby Aster works; engine builders who supplied another 40 car producers in the early 1900s. During WW1 the French government ordered 40 Le Zebra vehicles per month but it is said that the casting of the engine and gearbox in one unit led to many mechanical failures with oil contaminating the clutch. Towards the end of hostilities, the partnership between the two founders collapsed and Soloman joined Andre Citroen; he also designed the first Amilcar which bore a striking resemblance to the early Le Zebra. Jacques Bizet continued as before and the completely new ‘Z’ type Le Zebre’s arrived in 1924 with bespoke ‘Turbulent’ cylinder head and power plant design courtesy of Harry Ricardo, the foremost engine designer of the era. The Z series was still supplied until 1930 but sales could not be sustained in large enough numbers.  Le Zebre’s final appearance was at the Paris Show of 1931 with a less expensive model but it came too late. Post WW2

Packard – USA 1899-1958

A lovely Packard Single Six ‘Doctors Coupe’ from 1922 built in DetroitJames Packard studied mechanical engineering and he along with brother William set up Packard Electrical Company, their enthusiasm for the automobile led to the purchase of a Winton car in 1898. This suffered from mechanical issues but after recommending remedies to Winton’s owners (which were ignored) they built the first Packard in 1899. Technically advanced and superbly constructed, the 2326cc single featured an automatic spark advance which was unique at the time with two speeds and chain drive; a further four were produced before year end. Following their domination of the six-day trail from New York to Buffalo in 1901, James coined the phrase that remained with Packard ‘ask the man who owns one’. Wealthy Detroit industrialist Henry Joy purchased a Packard and after a visit to the production facilities in Ohio he took a large shareholding. James Packard relinquish his interests as Joy looked to transfer the new Packard Motor Company to Detroit but the philosophy of quality over quantity remained. The new Packard plant was state of the art in the early 1900s, spreading over 40 acres and producing an automobile range starting at $2600, on a par with Rolls Royce and Mercedes. By 1913 record profits of $2.2 million with 4000 units produced, including the first V12 powered car. The company survived two World Wars and the Great Depression and was still out selling Cadillac in 1950 but the big three GM, Ford and Chrysler began swallowing up smaller independents. To remain competitive Nash, Hudson, Packard and Studebaker joined forces as the American Motor Company. With sales falling the AMC group struggled, the once noble Packard’s became re-badged copies of the other makes, its name last used in 1958. Modern Era
Matra Automobile – France 1964-2003
Rancho featured three rows of seats, available 1977-84 few remain on UK roadsMechanique, Aviation et TRAction were mainly involved in defence and aviation contracts prior to supplying complete GRP bodies to the Rene Bonnet Company for the lovely Djet model. A small sporting coupe with Renault 8 mechanicals, some 200 were produced before Bonnet had financial issues and with debts mounting, including the Matra, the car became known as the Matra Bonnet Djet from 1965. Just two years later the Matra 530 arrived with a very rare (for the era) mid-mounted V4 engine supplied by Ford. The company’s motorsport programme brought World Championship success in F1 with Jackie Stewart in 1969. Also, taking a hat-trick of Le Mans victories in 1972-73-74 led Matra to maximise this success into showroom interest and they expanded their dealer network by utilising Simca outlets for sales and service with a joint model the Bagheera. Greek designer Antonis Volanis took the Simca 1307 (UK version, the unimpressive Chrysler Alpine) and produced another mid-engine sport coupe with three abreast seating. When Chrysler Europe collapsed in 1979 the remnants were sold to Peugeot, the Bagheera and Rancho models were re branded Talbot replacing Simca. Another Volanis design, the Rancho became Matra’s main production model until 1984; in the meantime, he led development of the first MPV. Penned by British designer Fergus Pollock whilst working at Chrysler in the mid-70s the new model was offered to Peugeot when they took over, they declined but Renault took on the new car and named it Espace. Peugeot then sold Matra to Renault who continued their joint venture until 2003 also producing the Avantime. Matra’s factory was closed in 2003 but the name remains on a range of electric bicycles.