This car was built week-by-week from a magazine in 1900!

21w ago


Cars were super-expensive in 1900 – one answer was to build your own. Handily a magazine called English Mechanic came out that over 31 weekly parts showed you how to do just that. And it cost only tuppence…

No one knows for sure how many do-it-yourself English Mechanic 3HP two-seaters actually made it on to the roads, but what is known is that there are two survivors, the oldest of which today thrives as a living piece of English motoring history. It just needs one thing: a new custodian.

And that could be you because Bonhams is auctioning the car, among the most unique it has ever sold, in London on 2 November, ahead of this year’s Bonhams-sponsored London-Brighton veteran Car Run (4 November).

The DIY special is no stranger to the A23. It had a chequered early life – not helped by the fact that no one knew what it was – and in the 1920s it was left in a Kent field to rot away. It was rescued, restored and took part in its first dash to Brighton in 1928, since competing many more times.

In the 1930 run it averaged just over 16mph, which given the single-cylinder, two-speed belt-driven machine was meant to have a top speed of only 14mph was impressive indeed. The car has been in the same family for the past 50 years and is now being offered at auction for the first time.

And how did you make an English Mechanic 2HP in 1900? The job wasn’t for the faint-hearted, or the unskilled. In a series of articles called "A Small Motor-Car and how to Build It” the car’s inventor, a 29-year-old engineer called Thomas Hyler White, went through every aspect of the home-build – including providing instructions on how to cast the cylinder. If you didn’t have an iron foundry in your back garden an engineering company could supply the castings.

The original home-builder of this car, name unknown, would surely be pleased to know that his (or her) handiwork has survived and is now so cherished… and also, says Bonhams, worth between £65-85,000.

Words by Bob Murray, photography courtesy of Bonhams.