We profile the father of the British motor industry.
Visionary. Pioneering. Complex. Three words amongst many that could be pinned to the suit lapels to those figures in history that brought about great, if not life enhancing change. Subsequently then filed under section Well and truly in the Past, cobweb covered and practically forgotten. One such figure in need of a Renaissance being Frederick Richard Simms (henceforth referred to by his initials). Born in Hamburg on the Glorious 12th 1863, to a Warwickshire, England based business family. Schooled in both Hamburg and later, London, FRS’ first notable business venture was marketing an overhead passenger cableway with a Blackpool associate named Stansfield.
That cableway was shown at the 1889 Bremen Exhibition, catching the eye of one Gottlieb Daimler. This led not only to a personal friendship with Daimler but FRS also becoming a director on the board of Canstatt based DMG. The cable car was swiftly parked.
In turn, this allowed FRS to form the London based Simms & Co. in 1890, leading to purchasing the patent rights for making Daimler engines and to “exploit their use in England, the colonies but not Canada.” Remember that at this time, the peak of the British empire may have faded a little but that lucrative expansion was irresistible.
First of the Daimler engines was put to use not in a road going vehicle but a boat. Named Canstatt, this deux chevaux plied stretches of the Thames for several years.
1893 now. FRS found to his dismay the company defrauded by (now ex-) partner and solicitor Alfred Hendricks. This forced FRS to negotiate a new Daimler contract and also the founding of the Daimler Motor Syndicate. Selling this two years later to a financier named Harry Lawson, leading to the embryonic British Motor Industry. Lawson moved the Syndicate to Britain’s hub of engineering, Coventry, with FRS becoming a consultant engineer and a now far wealthier man.
Financially secure, restless in nature, FRS upped the momentum towards engine powered vehicles, never having been a fan of the horse. Summer 1895 saw him, along with MP, Evelyn Ellis drive a Panhard et Levassor, Britain’s first imported fully-built car, from Southampton to Datchet, a distance of some fifty six miles. November that year witnessed FRS taking a Canstatt Daimler to the Crystal Palace for “perusals for those interested parties” and by Christmas held Britain’s first Motor show, The Horseless Carriage Exhibition in a potentially rather chilly Tunbridge Wells.
Maintaining close links with his German counterparts saw FRS re-organising the Canstatt factory set up, designing their factory smithy on the one based at Coventry whilst garnering approval from both Daimler and Maybach concerning matters gear related. Another pre-eminent German engineer to whom Simms was introduced was Robert Bosch. FRS has an idea for a magneto to assist with igniting the fuel. He could find no British based firm to engineer such strict tolerances whereas Bosch had also produced a much larger version for larger, more stationary engines.
Between them, the collaboration was highly successful. This German-British partnership blossomed until 1907 when relations between the two men soured, blaming complicated international jurisdictions alongside money problems. Bosch bought out Simms with the latter now making magnetos in Blighty.
Returning to 1896 now, we find FRS and Lawson being key protagonists of the Motor Car Club which heralded November’s famous Emancipation Run from London to Brighton. This was the ridding of that damned red flag, one of the many, more draconian levels of abuse hurled motorists’ way from the very beginning. The very next year FRS initiated the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. Early in the twentieth century, the name changed to the Royal Automobile Club, approved by Edward VII, now that the car had become more acceptable amid the upper classes.
FRS was the founder member of another significant British institution, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the SMMT. To this day, we look to the SMMT for not only production figures – they also have the wherewithal to lobby government as well as promoting Britain’s car exports – a matter FRS would have been most keen on.
A prolific and inventive mind does not always guarantee success. Some of FRS less noteworthy achievements being his Quadricycle with machine gun, the Nairobi headed War Car for their railway system and his three-wheeled Motor Wheel. This device being front wheel drive with a singular rear wheel to do the steering. This Frankenstein has a propensity to turn turtle on a straight never mind attempts at crossing tram tracks.
Concluding our trip back to a time when the car was still a novel idea, Simms barely paused for breath. Far ahead of his time were his ideas for rubber bumpers to “soften the blow,” the prototype indicator called The Traffic Warner, alongside agricultural, military and aeronautical hypotheses. In addition, having founded Simms Motor Units, a nationwide network of workshops for the sales and repair of his magnetos, lights, pumps and all other relevant, early day motoring requirements, this chap also coined the terms Petrol and Motor Car.
A fitting end for a rolling stone, then; no moss gathering here.
* Latin for a forgotten, rolling stone.