motoring history - a century of achievement

the british motor industry was born in coventry over 100 years ago with the registration of daimler motor company to manufacture cars. jonathan crouch reports on a century of achievement.

Few families nowadays have no access to a car. Many own two or more - we'd be lost without our wheels. That's why we've every cause to give thanks for the motor industry, now over a century old.

At the end of the nineteenth century, however, there were but a few major names trying to establish themselves. Ironically, the first manufacturer to produce cars for sale in the UK was not Daimler, whose first products reached the marketplace in 1897, but Wolseley of Birmingham, whose first cars were sold in 1896.

Since then, many famous names have earned their place in the history books, names like Rolls and Royce, which even to those of us who can never aspire to own one, mean something near perfection.

In fact, it was the Honourable Charles Rolls' guiding principle that "nothing short of perfection was satisfactory." He realised that for some customers this mattered far more than price. Sadly, he was to die in a flying accident in 1910, but his name lives on, twinned with that remarkable engineer Sir Henry Royce.

Another great survivor is Jaguar, although it is Sir William Lyons - Bill to his friends - whose gift for styling gave the marque the cachet it enjoys still today. Herbert Austin, William Morris, Cecil Kimber who created the MG and Spencer Wilks who saved Rover from oblivion in the early 30s, all feature in the hall of fame.

And what of the cars? Everyone's heard of the Model T Ford which rolled grandly onto the roads in 1914. But what of the Austin 7 Chummy (1922), the 1936 MG TC or the Morgan Plus 4 (a climb up to four wheels from three for the Morgan Motor Company) which joined the fray that same year?

A car with real character and probably more accessible to would be motor vehicle owners was the Morris Minor, a dear little car scaled down from a larger vehicle, with the appeal that surrounds the Volkswagen Beetle and Citroen 2CV today. It was first built in pre-war American style (for that read new European) in 1948.

Ford Cortina, Triumph TR6, Rolls-Royce Corniche, Aston Martin DB7 and many more too numerous to mention contributed to a rich heritage. Drivers today might regret the passing of cars which had to be 'driven' with skill, but the advantage is the huge choice of vehicles we now enjoy, many developed from cars which are Classics in their own right.

Introducing the Centenary Year in 1996, Chairman of the British Motor Industry Centenary Trust Roger King remarked: "Today the car is all too often attacked for the problems it brings. Yet the desire for personal mobility is ever present. Whilst it is right to celebrate the past, the motor industry never stops working for the future."

To manufacturers, problems are "challenges to be tackled", he added. "The same determination so evident in its pioneers is still present today. Life today is very much about mobility. The motor vehicle has given it to countless millions."

The industry, he concluded, "will doubtless go on catering for this fundamental aspiration throughout the 21st Century."

Milestones of a Motoring Century

1886 Daimler Motor Co registered, Coventry

1899 MP the Hon J S Montague drives the first car to the House

(a 10hp Daimler)

1902 Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders registered

1905 First General Meeting of the Automobile Association

1912 AA opens first roadside telephone boxes

1913 First roadside petrol pump installed (at Shrewsbury)

1927 First London to Brighton commemorative run

1931 Road Traffic Act requires compulsory third party insurance

1934 Philips designs and installs first car radio as standard in

Hillman 'Melody Minx'

1935 30mph speed limit introduced in built up areas

Driving tests introduced

1945 Motor Industry Research Association is incorporated

1948 Flat rate car tax comes in - £10.00 per car

1951 Zebra crossings appear

1954 Standard introduce first diesel car, a Vanguard

1958 First parking meters appear in London

1963 First suffix letter 'A' on number plates

1967 Blanket 70mph speed limit introduced

Breathalyser tests come into force

1973 Britain joins EEC and VAT replaces purchase tax

1995 Petrol sold in litres instead of gallons

Centenary Motor Industry Show at NEC, Birmingham

First common rail technology diesel engines announced

Reduced road tax rate for vehicles under 1,000cc announced