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SNAPSHOT 3: 1903 ‘Millionmobile’

In the closing years of the 19th century when motoring began it was the four-wheeled automobiles or motorcars and their comfortably off owners that largely took the limelight. However, the perceived élite in society were not alone in using powered transport on the roads because members of the ‘middle class’, already familiar with bicycles, became owners and users of motor tricycles. To support this view we would do well to remember that in 1899 De Dion Bouton made and sold 5,000 complete motor tricycles plus a similar number of ‘loose’ engines.

The disadvantages of powered ‘trikes’ were several, the most obvious being that they were single-seaters. Once engines of 1¾ hp became available in 1898 there was just enough power to propel two adults, and the trailer as already used by some energetic cyclists was a simple and inexpensive means of providing a second seat without the purchase of a quadricycle where a passenger could travel in front of the driver.

By 1901 the day of the trike was waning but it took on a new lease of life when the layout was reversed and the ‘forecar’, where the passenger could sit between the two front wheels, as on a quad, enjoyed a brief life before it evolved into the more sophisticated and higher powered tricar.

This forecar seen here was built by its driver, Edward Stretton of Cheltenham. He had begun manufacture of ‘Million’ bicycles in the early 1890s whilst trailers of this pattern were also made in substantial numbers. He added motorcycles to his portfolio around 1901 and by 1903 was proprietor of both the Stretton Motor Works & Garage and the Million Motor Works at two separate locations in the town. In addition Strettons Ltd held agencies for Oldsmobile and Clement-Talbot motorcars.

This ‘Millionmobile’ is powered by a Minerva engine of 2 or 2½ hp and significantly it has a mechanically-operated inlet valve – a feature that was pioneered by the Belgian firm and which they patented in 1902. That there was enough power to manage a crew of three is borne out by another photograph that shows the whole ensemble at a ‘Motor Meet’ in April 1903 some 15 miles from Cheltenham.

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