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History of Thornycroft Cars 1903-1912

Thornycroft manufactured cars between 1903 and 1912.  In the early part of this period, British cars sometimes used major items and components of foreign origin, but Thornycroft shunned this approach and designed and built its cars almost entirely, including carburettors, at its Basingstoke factory.  During Thornycroft’s car-building era, and for some years thereafter, it was normal for customers of upmarket cars to buy their cars as bare chassis and to have the bodies built and installed by coachwork specialists.  Thornycroft sold bare chassis to those who wanted them, but, in keeping with its policy of building as much as possible at Basingstoke, Thornycroft also offered complete cars with standard bodies ready installed.  Naturally, complete cars cost more than bare chassis, and the price of a complete car from Thornycroft depended on the bodywork specified, of which there were standard options: e.g. Victoria Body, Single Landaulette, Double Landaulette, Limousine and Roi-des-Belges, etc, depending on year.  Also, in those more bespoke days, Thornycroft offered to quote for other types of body to suit customers' individual requirements.

Thornycroft Works c1919

Thornycroft claimed that British cars, while initially inferior to imports, had become as good as any from overseas. The firm tried to help car buyers by proposing criteria which they should consider when deciding on the make of car to buy, from the wide choice of British and foreign cars available. Thornycroft pointed out that, at the time of writing, there was no longer any reason to buy foreign because the best makes of British car had "regained the lead" which foreign makes once held, and advised that a 20-25hp car would prove "most satisfactory" for carrying four or five people in comfort, with enough power "to climb all hills… that may be met on ordinary roads". This engaging concern about hill-climbing ability was typical of the time. The reader was also treated to a comparison between chain and prop shaft drive, with the argument coming out in favour of the prop shaft which, of course, was a Thornycroft feature!

Reflecting the more primitive nature of motoring nearly a century ago, Thornycroft supplied very comprehensive tool/spares kits as standard with their cars, which hinted at the problems faced by contemporary motorists. For instance, in 1907 Thornycroft supplied each car with a comprehensive set of spanners, four interchangeable exhaust and inlet valves, two sparking plugs or insulated contact pieces, two side lamps, one tail lamp, one horn, one jack, one oil feeder, one hand hammer, one screw-driver, one pair of cutting pliers, one inflator, two tyre levers, one repair outfit for tyres, an assortment of nuts, bolts and split pins, etc, one pound of cotton waste, one yard of copper wire, two sheets of emery cloth and one pound of grease!

Thornycroft stopped car production in 1912 to concentrate resources on producing its best-selling commercial and other heavy vehicles. This website gives a timeline history of the Thornycroft company’s car-building activities during the period 1903 to 1912, and reproduces some testimonials from satisfied customers.

Information for these pages comes from contemporary Thornycroft data sources, as well as contemporary copies of The Car, The Automotor Journal, The Autocar and The Motor.

Good publicity

Manufacturers then, as now, jealously guarded their reputation for quality and reliability and took every opportunity to laud their products.  Testimonials from satisfied customers made excellent publicity, and some of them were reproduced in publicity material. For example, Viscount Halifax, writing about his car, said that "….both in respect of its running powers and also of its comfort, it has given me the most complete satisfaction". 

 

A M S Methuen, of Haslemere, Surrey, said that "….the whole car runs with a noiseless smoothness which is most welcome….". 

 

Other testimonials mention Thornycroft cars' reliability, silence, and smooth running. Indeed, there is a theme of operating refinement permeating comments about Thornycroft cars. 

 

Thornycroft also reproduced press opinions, and the Autocar journal made a delightful comment "...particular quietitude and sweetness of running qualities…". Motor World judged Thornycroft cars to "….rank with the foremost of British manufactured vehicles", while the Automotor Journal wrote that "…they are cars which will maintain the reputation of this firm of well-known engineers".