Rare veteran car – a 1904 Wilson-Pilcher – up for auction

An extremely rare veteran motor car built by an inventor credited with the invention and development of the first tank will go under the hammer in London on Nov. 2.

The 1904 Wilson-Pilcher four-seater (estimate £180,000-£220,000 or approximately U.S. $228,000-$352,000) is one of a number of important entries in the Bonhams auction of Veteran Motor Cars and Related Automobilia ahead of this year’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which is sponsored by Bonhams.

Irish-born Walter Wilson (1874–1957), who built the car, was an engineer and inventor with an early interest in aviation that later gave way to all things automotive. The King’s College Cambridge graduate initially focused his creative energy on attempting to develop an aero engine, until the tragic death of his friend and associate Percy Pilcher in a flying accident. After the accident, Wilson started a business in London manufacturing Wilson-Pilcher cars, before moving to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1904, where this car was built.

When the Admiralty began investigating armoured fighting vehicles during the First World War, Wilson — then serving with the navy — was assigned to the experiments. His work with agricultural engineer William Tritton resulted in the creation of the first British tank, called “Little Willie,” which ran for the first time in September 1915.

Post war, Wilson used this knowledge of epicyclic gearing — where one or more outer gears revolve around one central cog — to patent the pre-selector epicyclic gearbox, starting a factory in Coventry to manufacture units that were used in generations of armored vehicles, buses, railcars and marine launches.

Modeled in dark blue with black leather seating, this 12/16 hp Wilson-Pilcher being sold by Bonhams was originally used as a fire-tender, before being renovated by company apprentices in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was later gifted to Wilson’s son, then passed through the family to the current owner. It has been displayed in a number of significant museums, including The Tank Museum in Dorset, and what is now the Coventry Transport Museum, and more recently cared for by the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust.

The car has taken part in the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run several times since its first outing in 1952, and features on the rear cover of the official event programme of 1961.

Among other consignments for the Bonhams sale: a 1904 Richard Brasier 16 hp Four-Seat Side-Entrance Tonneau (estimate £220,000-£300,000 or approximately U.S. $352,000-$481,000) and a 1904 Wolseley 12 hp Twin-cylinder Tonneau (estimate £100,000-£150,000 or approximately US $160,000-$240,000).

To learn more visit: www.bonhams.com.


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One thought on “Rare veteran car – a 1904 Wilson-Pilcher – up for auction

  1. Igor

    Percy Pilcher was ‘mentioned in dispatches’ by Victorian era science fiction writers H.G. Wells and George Griffith in the 1890s. He was the most prominent and advanced Englishman in the development of powered flight at the time. Had he not perished, Pilcher might have become one of the pioneers of British aviation in the 1900s.


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