Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 7th November 2018

The 1894 Santler Dogcart is widely believed to be the oldest surviving car in Britain, and one of the most important cars in the country’s entire motoring history.

We’re taking a brief look into the history of this ancient petrol powered classic car, along with its creators, the Santler brothers.

From Two Brothers

Charles and Walter Santler were engineer brothers who ran a small company that was originally started by their father in around 1875.

It was in 1887 that the brothers designed their first steam engine after moving into the bicycle business, and in 1889 they took this design and installed it into a four-wheeled chassis, building their first steam-powered car.

The Birth of a British First

The Santler brothers used the steam powered car two years later, but were forced to take it off the road due to the fact any mechanical vehicles at the time, needed to have a team of three people to operate it legally on the roads.

A couple of years later, the engineers added a gas-powered engine to the vehicle before eventually replacing that with a single-cylinder petrol unit in 1894.

This was when the Santler 3½hp Dogcart was born in Malvern, against the backdrop of the Worcestershire countryside. As a result the brothers have a credible claim of being the first makers of petrol driven cars in Britain.

The Santler Dogcart

The petrol engine installed into the car was believed to have been a fairly small, vertical, water-cooled engine which may have been capable of generating a single horsepower.

When combined with the typical belt and pulleys gear system of the time, the car would’ve been capable of being driven on the level, as well as up minor gradients. It’s notable that this steam car chassis and petrol engine combination came way before the ‘Locomotives on Highways Act’ of 1896.

The open-top two-seater was used by the brothers for a short while on the roads for a few years. At some point the petrol engine was also then removed, and possibly installed in a second experimental motorcar, before the car itself was once again placed back into long-term storage.

Re-discovery And Restoration

After the original machine was laid up in storage, it was forgotten about until the 1930s. This decade saw a growing interest in old classic cars, and this interest led to a man by the name of John Mills to discover and rescue the engine-less Santler Dogcart.

Mills obtained original paperwork for the car from Charles Santler himself, and took the machine to his home in Leamington, Warwickshire. There the car remained for 20 years and even managed to stay undamaged through a wartime air raid.

He eventually sold the vehicle to an enthusiast and restorer of old classic cars, Alec Hodsdon, who restored the veteran British vehicle to its former glory. An 1890s, 3 1/2 horsepower Benz engine, was fitted to the car, and it coughed to life for the first time an around 50 years.

In November last year the unique and pioneering vehicle was actually sold at an auction in London. It was officially named the oldest surviving British motorcar, by the The Veteran Car Club of Great Britain.

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