The Thornycroft era started when John I Thornycroft (later Sir John) designed a steam road vehicle in 1862. Two years later, he formed the Steam Carriage and Wagon Company, with works at Chiswick, London. However, the project was brought to a halt by over-zealous road vehicle legislation, so Thornycroft turned to shipbuilding, and for the next 31 years, he concentrated on building up a successful marine business. John Thornycroft took up road vehicle work again in 1895, also continuing with his shipbuilding and marine engineering business, and built his first steam vehicle at the Chiswick works. The Thornycroft Steam Wagon Company of Chiswick put steam lorries and vans into production, and a new factory was set up at Basingstoke, Hampshire, to meet demand. The War Office was one of Thornycroft's vehicle customers.
In 1902, Thornycroft introduced IC-engined vehicles, and the firm went on to become a noted manufacturer of commercial motor vehicles, including buses. In 1903, Thornycroft entered the car market with a small 10hp two-cylinder model, starting nine years of production of upmarket cars at its Basingstoke factory. Later on that year, the firm introduced a 20hp four-cylinder car. Thornycroft developed its model range, and, in, 1906 offered its first six-cylinder car, the magnificent 6,975cc 36hp. Not satisfied with a mere seven litres, the firm extended the 36hp into the 7,819cc 45hp car for 1908, a vehicle with some similarities in specification to the renowned Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Other cars in the 1908 range comprised the 18hp and 30hp four-cylinder vehicles. Thornycroft discontinued the big 45hp six-cylinder cars for 1912, but retained the 18hp and 30hp cars. However, car production was stopped later that year to concentrate resources on its best-selling commercial vehicles.
Standard Double Landaulette
The firm recognised the value of successes in competition for publicising its cars, and during its brief period as a car manufacturer entered vehicles in several events. For example, a 20hp car won a gold medal in the 1904 Scottish Automobile Club Reliability Trials, and, the following year, a 24hp car made the fastest time of any car entered in the 1905 Aston Hill Climb. Thornycroft also entered cars for the Isle of Man TT Races each year from 1905 to 1908. In the 1908 TT, a Thornycroft car came fifth at 44.1mph (71kph) in the hands of Tom Thornycroft, a creditable speed for those days.
Among other things, this website gives extensive details of Thornycroft’s car-building years. Model-by-model descriptions of each car including competition cars are given, along with historical and technical data, customer comments and Thornycroft performances at the annual TT races. Also incorporated are sales register details of cars built between 1903 and 1912, details of identified survivors, driving impressions of a surviving 1903 car, the story behind the restoration of this vehicle and its detailed technical specification. Contemporary reference sources have been used, and archive photographs are reproduced as well as current colour photographs.
For providing information about the history of Thornycroft cars are due to Mr Gary Wragg, Curator, Milestones Living History Museum, Basingstoke, Hampshire, and to the archives of the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, Hampshire.
Research and writing by Nick Corrie.