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|Wilson-Pilcher 12/16 hp |
Peter Bradfield Ltd
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|Chassis Number 52|
Engine Number 12
This is an important British four-seat veteran with a highly innovative design. This is thought to be the sole surviving example and it has never been sold! Initially it was retained by the works, then gifted to the son of its designer and eventually passed to his great grandson.
Walter Wilson and Percy Pilcher established their business in Great Peter Street, Westminster. Pilcher died in an early flying accident in 1899 but Wilson retained his name in memoriam and produced vehicles until he merged his company with Armstrong Whitworth in 1904 and moved up to their works in Newcastle. Thereafter the cars began to be marketed as Armstrong Whitworth, which later became Armstrong-Siddeley. Wilson was a significant engineer during the Great War and was recognized for his part in the invention and development of the Tank. Post war he and his eldest son went on to run a business called "Self Changing Gears Ltd" which produced pre-selector 'Wilson' gearboxes for Riley, Talbot, Lanchester, AC, etc. and many commercial, railway, marine and military applications.
This Walter G Wilson designed Wilson-Pilcher had a 2.7 litre water-cooled flat four engine mated to an epicyclic gearbox with four forward and four reverse gears. The combined unit is suspended within the chassis on pivots to isolate the occupants from vibration and the rear axle similarly dealt with by radius rods. The result according to a 1904 'Automotor Journal' road test was "remarkably smooth and silent running".
BB96 was built by Walter G Wilson at the Elswick Works of Sir WG Armstrong-Whitworth & Co Ltd at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Serial number 52 – most likely the 52nd Wilson-Pilcher built after the move from London. Armstrong-Whitworth retained ‘BB96’; the Registration number is confirmed as a Newcastle 1904 allocation. According to correspondence from Cyril Siddeley (later 1st Baron Kenilworth) whose company Siddeley-Deasey merged with Armstrong-Whitworth in 1919 to become Armstrong-Siddeley, ‘BB96’ was used as a fire-tender until renovation by company apprentices in the late 1940’s/1950’s. Records show that it was run in the London-Brighton Run in 1952.
In late 1950’s the Car was presented to A. Gordon Wilson, (son of Walter), who was then Managing-Director of Self Changing Gears Ltd, the family business. The Car was displayed in the foyer of SCG Ltd at Lythalls Lane, Coventry and ran in the VCC London to Brighton Run four or five times in 1950s/1960s (it features on the rear cover of the 1961 official programme).
In 1959, Gordon Wilson and ‘BB96’ appeared in the BBC TV series Lost Without Trace, which concentrated on the missing engine, designed by Walter Wilson for Percy Pilcher’s Flying Machine. The historical significance of this engine was that the accidental death of Pilcher at Stanford Hall on 30 September 1899 thwarted the partners’ efforts to achieve the first powered flight (not achieved until 17 December 1903 by the Wright brothers).
In 1965, AG Wilson retired from SCG and the Wilson-Pilcher left with him. Appropriately it was displayed at Stanford Hall, the home of Lord Braye, near Rugby, which had a museum. In 1968 ownership passed to Henry Wilson, grandson of Walter. After 15 years at Stanford Hall, ‘BB96’ was relocated to The Tank Museum, Bovington. The Curator was delighted to accept the car on loan in recognition of Walter Wilson’s pivotal role in the invention and development of the Tank during The Great War.
In 1996 the Wilson-Pilcher successfully completed the VCC Centenary Run, driven by the owner, assisted by Patrick Blakeney-Edwards and accompanied by Mrs Rozanne Wilson and the present owner, Patrick Wilson.
In 1999 ‘BB96’ moved from The Tank Museum to the Museum of British Road Transport – now the Coventry Transport Museum. This was another wholly appropriate location given the Wilson family’s long association with both Coventry (through Self-Changing Gears) and the British Motor Industry. The Car was on duty at the Owner’s daughter’s wedding that year.
In 2006 the Owner accepted the offer of volunteers of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust to carry out substantial mechanical repair work. Details are available. The volunteers did the work over the period 2006 – 2011 at the Rolls Royce Works, Derby with the owner paying for the parts. It was exhibited at on the Armstrong-Siddeley stand at The Classic Car Show, NEC Birmingham in December 2009. In 2011 ownership of ‘BB96’ passed to Patrick, great-grandson of the inventor/manufacturer.
This car has never been sold. Although no other examples are known to exist there is a wealth of history with the car due to the family's close involvement with it. The car’s mechanicals and coachwork are in good condition. A comprehensive file accompanies the car detailing its history and maintenance along with: family and VCC correspondences, VCC Dating Certificate, Science Museum Certificate, DVLC Historic Vehicle Registration, V5, MOT and UK road tax.
Sold on the 26.11.2012
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