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SNAPSHOT 148: 1912 Daimler 20 HP

This beautifully lithe and sporty motor car is typical of those produced just before the Great War.  Perhaps the most important element contributing to its athletic appearance is the use of light and fine wire wheels with narrow beaded-edge tyres.

The picture comes from the front cover of La Vie Automobile of 9 November 1912, and was promoted by Daimler’s office in Paris, Société Française de la DAIMLER MOTOR Ce at 18 Rue Troyon, run by a Monsieur Meyer.  Daimler had a showroom at 51, Avenue des Champs-Champs-Élysées, and workshops at 33, Rue de la République in Puteaux.

By this date, the British Daimler company had already invested heavily in the use of the Knight-Patent sleeve valve for its engines.

The initial approach that led to adoption of the Knight engine came from Daimler and not from Knight.  He ignored two written requests from Edward Manville, a director of Daimler, but eventually in 1907 he decided to take one of his cars to London and to talk to fellow-American Percy Martin, also a Daimler director.  After feverish development work in secret, in 1908 Daimler announced that “Silent Knight” engines would be installed in some of its 1909 models.

In fact it appears that Daimler went in very short order completely over to sleeve valves, with their enormous advantage of quietness, reduced maintenance and smoothness in operation, despite their need for copious quantities of oil to lubricate the inner and outer cast-iron sleeves – and therefore their typical trail of blue smoke from the exhaust.

Not until the mid-1930s did Daimler completely give up its sleeve valves.  Strangely, however, Daimler’s 1912 advertising, both in British and in French magazines, focused entirely on quality of manufacture and reliability in operation of its cars, and not the specific technical advantages of its engine.  Perhaps its customers would be fearful if they were reminded of the totally alien technology that lay behind their smooth-running and trustworthy, if rather smoky motor vehicles.

History does not relate the coachbuilder responsible for the open bodywork in our picture.  Nevertheless, the editor of the magazine must have shared your correspondent’s view that this was an elegant car carrying a stylish body – and that it was therefore worthy of display on the front cover of Issue No. 580.  Unless, of course, Daimler paid a serious amount of money to place it there, as well as a two-colour advertisement inside the magazine.  We like to think it was appearance rather than money that talked in this instance.


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