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SNAPSHOT 50: Lawson 1900

The vehicle shown here was known as the Lawson ‘Motor Wheel’, taking its name from the form of its mechanical element and that of its creator Harry Lawson, two of whose daughters were seated on board when this colour photograph was taken in mid-1900.

Whilst there were a number of clearly identifiable individuals who played significant rôles in the earliest days of the British motoring scene, probably the most prominent figure was Harry Lawson.

He was one of the few people who had the foresight to appreciate that a motor industry could be established in Britain, and, more significantly, from 1895 he set about trying to achieve this end.  The first British motorcar factory, the ‘Motor Mills’ in Coventry, was a Lawson project, and he was the motivating force behind the country’s first series-produced cars, the English Daimlers, which began to emerge from the Motor Mills in the early part of 1897.  He also founded the Motor Car Club which in November 1896 organised the ‘Emancipation Run’ – better known these days as the London to Brighton Run.

It was Lawson’s somewhat cavalier financial dealings that brought about his eventual downfall and resulted in retrospective opprobrium being heaped upon him, but this does not alter the fact that he did much to set the wheels of British motoring in motion.

The best contemporary description of the ‘Motor Wheel’ is in The Automotor Journal of July 1900, which includes technical drawings along with the written description.  The single front wheel had attached to one side of its fork a De Dion Bouton pattern 1½ hp single-cylinder air-cooled engine with somewhat out-dated hot tube ignition; the drive from this unit then passed through the hub to the two-speed epicyclic gearing.  Above the wheel was the fuel tank, whilst the steering of the ensemble was by tiller with suitable control levers thereon.

Although the first example saw the mechanical element attached to a horse-drawn pony-trap, production versions, as in this case, were made as complete vehicles with a tubular frame, the rear wheels were sprung, and the footbrake operated on them.  The Motor Wheel was specifically designed purely for local journeying, having a top speed that only approached the then legal limit of 12 mph.  Despite being marketed at £90 – a modest sum for a motor vehicle in its day – few seem to have found customers in their native land.

They were though also produced in Chicago by the American Bicycle Company and sold as the ‘Trimoto’, reportedly in respectable numbers.


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