Bringing Home the Bacon

We’re pleased to welcome another reader turned author. Andrew Miles makes his DTW debut. 

The Hammel car. (c) Wikipedia.com

I love cars. I’m proud to say that they’ve dominated my forty eight years of life. From childhood memories of bashing up Matchbox (c) cars, gaining that hallowed piece of paper allowing me to drive on the queen’s highway and onto only recently discovering this site, it’s been quite a journey and one I’m hopeful of continuing for some time yet.

It is the way my car interest has diversified over time that continues my fascination and finds ever differing avenues to pursue. From motor racing in general to specific drivers. From specific brands such as Jaguar or Rolls Royce for example to focusing on but a handful and delving into their designers, methods, history. That final word is key.

Imagine back in the late nineteenth century that within the whole world, two German fellows living a mere eighty or so miles apart never met, yet sparked the automotive flame. Or did they? Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler are noted by historians for fathering the car. “But what about the Danish side of things?”

What am I talking about? Just who has heard of Danish engineer Albert Hammel? A little while back in the mid twentieth century, some folk (Belgian) thought Hammel la originateur and certainly not those German upstarts who then tagged onto this world changing idea.

With the trip off the tongue moniker Albertus Friedericus Leopoldus Hammel, he was born in 1835 and registered in Copenhagen originally as a plumber, later a mekanikus and finally an engine builder. He patented an engine similar to a gas versioned Deutz in 1882. Somewhere between ‘82 and 1888, the Hammel car was made but the origin of the species depends on which historical reference is used.

With his trusted foreman, Urban Johansen, who could interpret Hammel’s ideas and also very apt at this mechanical lark; that’s the fellow in the natty driving outfit suitably bearded and wearing a typically Victorian dour outlook to proceedings in the topmost picture, these two Danes hit the road causing panic, outcry and newspaper inches.

An undated snippet records, “They have built a carriage without horses, you can hear it on the cobblestones but have no idea where it’s power arrives. There are rumours it has been seen on Copenhagen streets and on route to Skovshoved where engineer Hammel resides.” It took only fifty more years till Arne Jacobsen had his splendid art-deco petrol station built there too.

Arne Jacobsen Benzintank Moerke. (c) wikipedia.com

Talking petrol, where did their supply arrive to run this glorious device? The Benz’s (Bertha becoming the world first car thief due to Karl being busy in the workshop and possessing no sales bent) had to call at apothecaries and hoped their “range” would suffice due to the local ESSO being un-thought of. Copious amounts of pushing occurred for all early motorists one wagers.

Returning to Hammel, no pictures of him could be found but there are a few now of the car. Churning out 3.5 hp from its 2.7litre engine with hot tube ignition and a surface carburettor might not be the genesis of motoring, but it is without doubt one of the oldest original vehicles – the patent Benzwagen and Daimler/Maybach creations being re-creations, the originals being sold at the local German Arthur Daley type yard circa 1889 “für win Lied” once their three years was up.

(c) Allcarindex

The Hammel gathered dust for sometime but was refurbished in 1951 for the cars “Fiftieth “ birthday and took part in the 1954 London to Brighton run afore retirement at The Helsingør Danish Technical Museum beckoned. (Teknikmuseum.dk) There’s Lego in there, too. And curlers.

To compare the first three vehicles – the Benz is spindly, fragile and most notably three wheeled. The Daimler is somewhat more robust in nature and has at least four round wooden things to grip the dirt yet retains the horse-with carriage look. The Hammel is comfortably upholstered for driver and passengers. There’s a tip of the (bowler) hat to ironwork and water suppression from the road, areas for tools and maybe even luggage and is, let’s face it, huge.

One oddity being the steering. One has to turn left to steer right. And vice-versa with the de rigueur bell on said wheel. Was this an engineering faux-par or a Danish “oh well” ? The Hammel does show signs of copying the Germans engineering-wise but reveals how switched on to technology these two Danes were at the time.

The fellow responsible for informing the world The Hammel was the World’s first car was Jacques Ickx, Jacky’s dad. He found documents in the Kongelig Dansk Automobi Klub archives suggesting an 1886 construction date. Some twenty years ago, the then director of the museum, Jens Breinegaard told The Automobile (author Märtin Pfunder on the Hammel piece that inspired me, December 2006) that “It’s thought to be from 1886 but fair to say its really from 1888.” Facts you’ve probably never heard before. Facts I adore.

Click here (britishpathe.com) to see a short video of The Hammel moving in glorious black and white.

Technical matters: Gearbox – one speed forward, one reverse at half speed. Leather clutches at each rear wheel performed as differentials. Models made:1. Pedals, brakes, ashtrays and fuel consumption, unknown. As are any definitive journeys or what became of Hammel, Johansen or the car for so long.

The car world could have been an entirely different creature had the Hammel taken off, rather than those pesky German upstarts…

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

5 thoughts on “Bringing Home the Bacon”

  1. A fascinating and well written piece, Andrew. Well done on an excellent debut!

    Your comment about the steering reminded me of a modified Citröen 2CV I had the opportunity to drive on a track day many years ago. The steering had been altered so that turning the wheel clockwise made the car turn to the left and vise-versa. No matter how much you concentrated, it was impossible to “unlearn” your instincts when trying to drive a slalom course through cones, with hillarious results!

  2. An excellent article Andrew. I’ve read several of his articles in other publications, Andrew definitely has a gift. I look forward to reading more.

  3. Merci pour vos gentils commentaires mes amis.
    New material pending
    And getting to grips with this replying lark. I’ve logged in, logged out, pressed this, that and t’uther. Not in the least frustrated (just a few days late)

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