Scotsman Alexander Govan obtained financial backing from Warren Smith of the National Telegraph Company in 1899 and designed and built his first voiturette using De Dion and MMC engines.

A vertical, single-cylinder engine was forward mounted, driving through a 3-speed gearbox with shaft drive to a live rear axle. A distinctive wrap-around radiator cooled on thermo-syphon principles. Early cars featured tiller steering, but in 1901, wheel steering replaced the tiller.

This car features wheel steering and is a 1901 model. Argyll production records do not survive; however, car no. 85 in the Glasgow Transport Museum has been dated 1900 by the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, and there is one other older survivor.

The first owner of this car was T. Pictom Bradshaw of Dublin, who accompanied the first leg of the Irish Motor Tour in this car in 1901. Pictom Bradshaw had specified robust wooden artillery wheels, adding £10 to the £248 list price. Motor News of November 1901 illustrated this very car.

This car saw minimal use during Pictom Bradshaw's ownership and sat unused for 32 or more years in his garage. It was acquired in 1948 in amazingly original condition by eccentric Dublin painter Paul Egestorff, who parked the car in the living room of his first-floor apartment.

Egestorff paid the princely sum of £25 at auction, as he thought that the brave little Argyll was "gallant and outrageous and deserved saving from the scrap heap." Although a contemporary newspaper report indicates the car bore the registration number RI50, that is believed to belong to Egestorff's 1903 Winton.

The same newspaper cutting states that the car took part in a veteran car run in 1939, when original owner Bradshaw took the wheel. Fifty years later, collector Denis Lucey acquired this car and had to remove the bodywork to get it out of the apartment.

The Argyll then took pride of place as the oldest vehicle in the Museum of Irish Transport at Killarney. Powered by a single-cylinder MMC engine, the coachwork is remarkably original, the fragile spindle back seats supporting the history of minimal use.

The rear-entrance tonneau door still bears the Pictom Bradshaw monogram, and the car is equipped with FLEC oil side lamps and rear lamp. This car was acquired for $227,333 by the present owner in April 2007 at Bonhams's dispersal sale of the Denis Lucey Collection at the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon.

Since then the owner has carried out almost undetectable repairs to the spindle seat coachwork and mudguards, reconditioned the radiator, fitted new tires and tubes, and overhauled the brakes. The seats have been reupholstered in black leather and the engine started for perhaps the first time in 70 years.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1901 Argyll Spindle Seat Rear-Entrance Tonneau
Years Produced:1901
Number Produced:150 approx.
Original List Price:$1,207
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:n/a
Chassis Number Location:Left front of body
Engine Number Location:Likely to be boss on crankcase
Club Info:Veteran Car Club of Great Britain Jessamine Court, 15 High Street Ashwell, Hertfordshire SG7 5NL
Alternatives:1900 Benz Victoria; 1900 Panhard et Levassor MZF; 1901 Curved-dash Oldsmobile
Investment Grade:A

This car sold for $225,310, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’s London to Brighton Veterans Auction on October 30, 2009.

Difficult to master and limited in usability, veteran motorcars are an acquired taste. Consequently, it’s safe to say that veteran automobile collectors are passionate and knowledgeable about their area-no impulse buyers here.

Further, given the technological creativity in early cars, and their great rarity, coupled with the fascination of mastering their operation, I predict that veteran cars will continue to appreciate nicely, with great cars outpacing the general market. While the operating difficulty and generally primitive handling make them unsuitable for modern traffic, these cars are enormously satisfying to drive in appropriate conditions.

By any standard, almost $250k is serious money for an automobile of limited utility. That the marque is obscure further piques our curiosity. Argyll is probably more famous for its extravagant “marble hall” factory, built in 1905 than for the cars that emerged slowly from those premises.

Five factors drive collector car prices

Commencing in 1900 with £15,000 capital, the Hozier Engineering Company, Ltd., under the direction of designer Alexander Govan, produced a light car or voiturette with shaft drive, wire wheels, and a 2¾-hp MMC-De Dion engine, all cribbed liberally from Renault. The same car continued into 1901, now fitted with an MMC 5-hp engine, wheel steering, and side gear lever rather than the diabolical column shift of 1900. Our subject car is one of these.

The factors that drive collector car prices are make and model, coachwork, originality, condition, and provenance. Eligibility for prestigious events magnifies these five factors.

Let’s take the values in order. Make and model are the “it is what it is” factor. This encompasses identity: brand and model reputation; sports and racing record; technological interest; and even the actual experience of driving.

By those lights, Argyll is an obscure, pedestrian Scottish marque that sputtered out of existence in 1928. I’d rate our subject car a C. As Argyll only produced one model in 1901, let’s move on to coachwork.

Here we have a “spindle seat, rear-entrance tonneau.” Access to the passenger area through the rear of the body was a common Edwardian style. This body allows the modern collector to tote four friends in the back, in addition to his co-driver. I leave it to the reader to imagine the car’s performance with six up and only 5 hp. The body features turned spindles that support the seat backs. The alternative-spider seats-were made from solid wood sheet and are less decorative. So, for early veteran coachwork, I’d give this machine a B.

Now let’s look at originality, and here the magic begins. This is an object from 1901 that has never been restored, vandalized, updated (aside from the loss of its spoon pedals), traded from hand to innumerable hands, or exposed to deterioration. It has been conserved. A 109-year-old car in barely used condition is a historic treasure.

A pristine account of early motoring

If we view such antiques as documents of their time, here we have a virtually pristine account of early motoring. Historic objects make distant events current and abstract concepts tangible. This car is fairly marinated in history. I rate it an A-, and with additional age points, an A.

The car’s original condition is remarkable. A restoration would be disastrous, leaving us with a shiny poseur, bereft of age and history. I rate our subject’s condition an A-.

Our subject has a clear, no-stories provenance. It enjoys unblemished historic continuity with very few owners. The greatest asset to historic materials is single long-term ownership. Jeopardy is created every time a new buyer appears. Each has a different set of values and different objectives, and sooner or later, an automobile will fall into insensitive or destructive hands.

Not so with our Argyll. Not only is long-term ownership essential to the preservation of objects, but so are benign storage conditions. Our Argyll’s originality and condition stem from its cosseted existence. I rate the provenance of this vehicle an A.

Finally, it is among the elite veteran cars eligible for the London to Brighton Run. The event is open only to cars officially dated 1904 or earlier, so our subject’s 1901 date commands a desirable early starting position. Given the commodiousness of its appointments and the quality of its design, our Argyll would make the journey to Brighton in fine style. And its impeccable originality would attract much admiration.

I’d add almost 50% to the value of the car for its Brighton Run eligibility on top of its originality. So, while the base automobile is rather ordinary, its miraculous condition elevates it to one of the few “reference grade” veterans extant. Try to find another Edwardian so perfectly preserved. Fairly bought.

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