World's oldest 'DIY' car joins Bonhams auction

Built from instructions in a Victorian magazine, this English Mechanic went over half a century without anyone being able to identify what it was

Bonhams auctioneers has reached into distant history and is selling a car from the Victorian era. Yes, this car was around when Queen Victoria was on the British throne. But that’s not the only thing that is incredible about this car, for it is technically a DIY vehicle.

On November 2, you could be buying the 1900 ‘English Mechanic’ 3HP Two Seater, the ‘build it yourself’ car that originally came with assembly instructions that were published weekly in the English Mechanic.

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English Mechanic was one of the earliest motoring magazines, and wasn’t too costly, making it a popular read. To mark a new century in 1900, it began a series called ‘A Small Motor-Car and How to Build It’. It was ahead of its time, and over 31 weeks it told readers how to build their own car, with written descriptions, engine drawings and cylinder cast patterns. And unlike LEGO, there wasn’t an age limit on who could get building.

In something that would be nigh on impossible in today’s world, the author of the weekly feature kept their identity secret for nearly eight months until revealing themselves as 29-year-old engineer Thomas Hyler-White. By this point the instructions had detailed how make a full chassis, a running engine and the makings of the body.

Unsurprisingly, not all readers were mechanically capable enough or rich enough to complete their cars, but several English Mechanics did end up being built, and the one Bonhams is selling is the oldest known survivor. But due to its rather unique origins, for a long time nobody know what it actually was. It was found, in a field in Kent, in 1921 and had been abandoned to the point that a tree was growing through the chassis.

Its single-cyclinder engine led to experts believing it was a Benz, and in 1928 it was entered in the London to Brighton Run under that title. The following two years it also entered, but still with little knowledge of what the car was.

Eventually the owner of the car came to conclusion it wasn’t a Benz, but was no wiser and decided to call it a French ‘Hurtu’. This name stuck until it came face to face with a real Hurtu two decades later, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that it was correctly identified. Now aware of what it was, and therefore how to fix it, the car was given a much-needed restoration.

In the 1960s it was acquired by the current owner’s father, who made sure it had some motorsport heritage under its own name by entering it in the London to Brighton Run every November. Just by chance, during the 1972 Run he stopped at a garage which included an 85-year-old mechanic who was an old school friend of Hyler-White.

Fast forward a few decades and it now crosses Bonhams' auction block at the London to Brighton Run Sale, with an estimated price of £65,000 – £85,000 (€74,000 – €97,000, $85,000 –$112,000). Its sale will take place on November 2, followed two days latter by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run event itself.

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