Chassis No:1 – Engine No:1566
Henry Adolpe Salvesen, nephew of Christian Salvesen, the founder of the Salvesen shipping and transportation empire, graduated from Edinburgh University as a Naval Architect in 1882 and was employed by the family firm in the design of shipping. An inquisitive Victorian engineer, Henry designed and constructed the Salvesen car at the
company’s Grangemouth shipyard in 1893. Surrounded by coal-fired steam of the ship building industry and skeptical of the new fangled ‘oil essence’ engine, Henry designed his car along very traditional lines, around a Merryweather & Jakeman’s vertical tube boiler and Caird twin cylinder, double-acting steam engine.
The first car manufactured in Scotland and one of the very few cars in the world at that time, difficulties in controlling the machine initially meant that it was used only on the family estate at Polmont, near Falkirk. For Henry, and all pioneer car designers, controllable steering was the most vexing problem. The choice was either a single front wheel, resulting in an unstable three wheeled machine, or Henry’s initial choice of a central pivoting front axle; extremely heavy to steer, unstable in a straight line and prone to induce the dreaded ‘sideslip’.
In December 1895, Daimler’s patent of their ‘latest’ front axle design, adopting the Ackermann principal of pivoting stub axles controlled by a tiller, coincided with the formation of the UK arm of the Daimler Motor Company Ltd in London.
Grasping the opportunity to improve his car, Henry installed a Daimler front axle in early 1896, transforming his car into a useable machine, which he would regularly demonstrate by towing a giant whisky barrel round his estate and taking friends and family for rides to the local village of Polmont. Nevertheless, the very rapid development of the petrol engine from 1894 through to 1896 showed that coal fired steam certainly wasn’t the future, rendering his design obsolete almost before it was finished. and in January 1897, after constructing only the one Salvesen car, Henry ordered a brand new Daimler.
Unused from the end of 1896, the car was retained by the family at their Polmont estate after Henry’s death in 1924, passing in 1935 to John Cuthill Sword in Lanarkshire for his collection of early cars.
The Salvesen remained unused by Sword until his entire collection was auctioned in 1963/65, passing to George Milligan in Norfolk and remaining unused within his collection until sold via Bonhams to John Brydon in 2004. For the first time in over 100 years, John Brydon bravely recommissioned the car for the road, wrestling it successfully toward Brighton every year before passing it to current custodian, Duncan Pittaway, again via Bonhams, just prior to the run in November 2017.
The Salvesen has never been fully dismantled or restored and retains its entirely original bodywork, chassis, engine, boiler and running gear. From the engine’s original bronze bearings, through blocks, pistons, rings, conrods, crankshaft, valves and gears; down to drive chains, sprockets, springs, wheels and even the original 127 year old tyres!
Despite suffering the ignominy of a coat of lurid yellow over the chassis and wheels in the 1960s, the original pale yellow paint and fine black coach lining is still visible on the chassis and springs where the 1960s paint has fallen off. The six-seat waggonette coachwork remains ‘eau naturelle’, mercifully spared the 1960s yellow paint, and remains entirely original except only for a whiff of 20th century woodworm. Having been dry stored with little or no use for 108 years, the Salvesen required just rudimentary recommissioning by John Brydon in 2004, with the original 1892 boiler needing solely a replacement pressure gauge to pass its modern safety inspection. The only
significant work entailed replacement of the under seat water storage tanks, although the corroded originals have been retained.
Since being acquired in 2017, the most recent work has entailed re-scraping of the original engine bearings, substitution of the asbestos pipe lagging, “stretching” the piston rings, comprehensive gland packing and ‘tightening’ of the 127-year-old iron tyres. The Salvesen remains a unique, remarkably original, fully functioning 127-year-old survivor from the very dawn of private passenger transport, before the world turned its back on
traditional coal fired steam for the new fangled ‘oil essence’ internal combustion engine.