First operational car produced in 1896 by U.K.-based firm
LA JOLLA, CA. — You might not have been familiar with the high-end Maybach brand until Mercedes-Benz reintroduced it as a luxury model in 1997.
Similarly, the name Lanchester probably does not immediately come to mind as a car builder, having ceased producing vehicles way back in 1955.
The Lanchester name has been dormant since, but as a company name, it is still listed as active and could quite easily be revived by the current owner, the Tata Group, through its Jaguar and Land Rover connections.
The company’s history dates back to 1895 when the three Lanchester brothers — Frederick, George and Frank — secured funding from Charles and John Pugh of the Rudge-Whitworth company to open a facility in Birmingham, England.
The first Lanchester car was operational and running on public roads in February of 1896. Six demonstrator cars were built and tested in 1900, leading to full-scale production of cars being available in 1901.
A year later, Lanchester became the first company to market and fit mechanically operated disc brakes, though these were only fitted on the front wheels.
As one of the earliest motor car manufacturers in England, the bodies were built by independent coachbuilders up until 1903, when an in-house body department was established. Up until 1914 most cars carried Lanchester built bodies. These Edwardian cars were very expensive but built to last forever.
As part of the First World War effort, the company made artillery shells and some aircraft engines.
Postwar production reverted back to cars and progressed up until the Wall Street crash of 1929. Within weeks their bank called in the company’s overdraft of 38,000 pounds, forcing the immediate liquidation of the company’s assets.
The principal shareholder, chairman and managing director, Thomas Hamilton Barnsley, negotiated the sale of the entire share capital to BSA for 26,000 pounds, a fraction of the value of the assets.
The cars would now be built by Daimler at Daimler’s Coventry factory. George Lanchester was kept on as the senior designer and Frank became the sales director.
Daimler sales declined resulting in BSA selling the Daimler premises and business to Jaguar Cars in 1960.
As a result of the Jaguar purchase the Lanchester name then fell into the hands of the following owners: British Motor Corporation (1966), British Motor Holdings (1966–68), British Leyland (1968–84), Jaguar Cars (1984–89) and Ford (1989–2007).
When the Ford group sold Jaguar, the Daimler and Lanchester names ended up with Tata Motors.