The birthplace of the British motor industry

Lawson soon became Chairman of the British Motor Syndicate Ltd. and founded the Great Horseless Carriage Co. Ltd. with more than 70 patents and the sole purpose of making and selling Britain’s very first petrol-powered vehicle under the Daimler name. Given Daimler’s fine reputation, other motorcar (autocar) makers quickly sprouted in and around Coventry. The celebrated Australian racing cyclist Selwyn F. Edge set up the British Motor Traction Co. in Coventry in 1900 to rival Lawson’s Daimler empire, ultimately acquiring a number of the Lawson-owned patents by 1907.

Ex-Lawson engineering employee Dr. Frederick W. Lanchester also established his rival Lanchester Car Company in the City, a pioneering and prestigious car maker that ultimately was taken over by Daimler in the 1930s. More than a few-dozen would-be motor vehicle manufacturers were also founded in Coventry before the First World War, a handful going on to become household names (such as Hillman, Humber, Rover, Lea-Francis, Raglan, Riley, Duryea, Swift, and so on), but most, predictably, soon fell by the wayside.   

I could find no trace of the once-mighty Motor Mills empire in the Stoke part of Coventry, with only a beautiful historic church now remaining from the Simms/Lawson era. A quick visit however to the recommended Coventry Transport Museum, based in Cox Street in the City Centre, a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, confirmed the enormity of tracing the location of the 125+ car makers that have occupied Coventry since the motor car was first built in the City in the late 19th Century.

The Museum contains a fascinating number of exhibits of vehicles built locally, with engaging examples of Coventry and locally-made Alvis, Daimler, SS/Jaguar, Austin, Lea Francis, Rover, Triumph, Rootes Group (including Sunbeam, Chrysler UK, and Peugeot-Talbot), plus Armstrong Siddeley, Lanchester, Coventry Victor, Standard, BSA, Carbodies, Ferguson and countless others.

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