1905 Gardner-Serpollet 18hp Type L Steamer

A growing audience is succumbing to the lure of early steamers, resulting in some remarkable transactions

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When eccentric collector George Milligen died in 2004, his family kept one of his cars when the others were sold. Five years later, they have decided to sell George’s 1905 Gardner-Serpollet Type L steam car, only one of two known.

Bankrolled by wealthy American Frank Gardner, Parisian Leon Serpollet developed his flash tube boiler in 1888. By this means, small quantities of water are heated instantly rather than boiling a big kettle, so startup is reduced to a couple of minutes. A Serpollet took the land speed record at 75 mph, and the 18hp model was introduced in 1904.

This Type L Steamer was sold new in London to C.W. Wilding-Jones, who lived 150 miles away in Cheshire, but after him the car’s history is sketchy until 1946. However, the trail since then is clear, and Milligen bought it in 1957. He drove it a great deal in his 47 years of ownership, recorded his trips in detail, and rebuilt and improved it mechanically. He and the car participated in the London-Brighton run in 1984, ’85, ’86, and ’90 and would have been there in 2001, except the transporter broke down.

The car is large and sophisticated for its time, with Tulip Phaeton four-place coachwork, Cape Cart top, two-piece windshield, and a roll-forward cover for the chauffeur. Lights are Polkey oil headlights and Frankonia oil sidelights. Dashboard equipment includes a Watford 60 mph speedometer, Royal Motor Clock eight-day clock, and pressure and steam temperature gauges.

The car was dated 1904 by the Veteran Car Club in 1950, though subsequent evidence suggests it was built in early 1905. However; the period document means it is “grandfathered in” to the London-Brighton event.