The Lanchester Motor Company Limited was a car manufacturer based until 1930 at Armourer Mills, Montgomery Street, Sparkbrook, Birmingham, England. It operated from 1895 to 1955.
The company was purchased by the BSA Group at the end of 1930 and its activities merged with those of Daimler on Daimler's sites. Lanchester thus became part of Jaguar in 1960. The rights to the Lanchester brand now belong to Tata Motors of India, which purchased Jaguar from the Ford Motor Company in March 2008 though it has been dormant since the last Lanchester rolled off the line in 1955. The Lanchester Motor Company Limited is still registered as an active company and accounts are filed each year though it is currently marked "non-trading".
This business was started by the three Lanchester brothers, Frederick, one of the most influential automobile engineers of the 19th and 20th century, George and Frank as the Lanchester Engine Company Ltd and registered in 1899.
Work on the first Lanchester car had been started in 1895, significantly designed from first principles as a car, not a horseless carriage, and it ran on the public roads in February or March 1896. It had a single cylinder 1306 cc engine with the piston having two connecting rods to separate crankshafts and flywheels rotating in opposite directions giving very smooth running. A two-cylinder engine was fitted to the same chassis in 1897 and a second complete car was built alongside it. This led on to the first production cars in 1900, when six were made as demonstrators. These had two-cylinder, 4033 cc, horizontal air-cooled engines, retaining the twin crankshaft design. Steering was by side lever not wheel. The gearbox used epicyclic gearing. The first cars were sold to the public in 1901. In 1902 Lanchester became the first company to market disc brakes to the public. They were mechanical and on the front wheels only. The discs were very thin and made of a very soft metal like brass. Although probably leaving much to be desired, they completely fit the definition of a disc brake, and beat all others to market by many years.
The Crystal Palace Automobile Show, January 1903
All bodies were made by external coachbuilders until 1903 when a body department was set up and up to 1914 most cars carried Lanchester built bodies. In 1904, despite a full order book, the company ran out of money and receivers were called in. The company was re-organised and registered as The Lanchester Motor Company Limited later that year.
The 1904 models had 2470 cc, four-cylinder, water-cooled, overhead-valve engines featuring pressure lubrication, very unusual at the time, and were now mounted with the epicyclic gearbox between the front seats rather than centrally resulting a design with the driver sitting well forwards and no bonnet. Six-cylinder models joined the line up in 1906. The specification started to become more conventional with wheel steering as an option from 1908, becoming standard from the end of 1911, and pedals and gear lever replacing the original two-lever system of gear changing. George Lanchester was now in charge, Frederick having resigned in 1913, and the engine moved further forward to a conventional position in the sporting, side-valve, 5.5-litre six-cylinder Forty but very few were made before the outbreak of World War I. A distinctive feature of the engine's valves was their use of leaf springs, rather than coil springs.
- 21 hp 6-cylinder landaulette by Maythorn, £1,775, chassis only £1,050
- 31 hp 8-cylinder limousine by Hooper, £2,300, chassis only £1,325
- 31 hp 8-cylinder 6/7-seater coupé de ville by Windovers £2,435
The engines were 3,330 and 4,440 cc respectively, their wheelbase and track:
- 6-cylinder: 11 ft 1in and 4 ft 8in
- 8-cylinder: 11 ft 10½ in and 4 ft 8in
Sale or liquidation
Within weeks their bank called in the company's overdraft of £38,000 forcing immediate liquidation of the company's assets. Because their current premises once had been a part of BSA's Armourer Mills at Sparkbrook a sale to BSA made sense. Thomas Hamilton Barnsley (1867–1930), the principal shareholder, chairman and managing director negotiated a sale of the whole share capital to BSA group shortly before his death on Christmas Day 1930. BSA's purchase of the whole of the shares was completed in January 1931 for £26,000, a fraction of the value of the assets. Car production was transferred to Lanchester's new sister subsidiary, Daimler, at Motor Mills, Sandy Lane, Radford.The Birmingham Small Arms Company A Difficult Trading Year, Important Transactions Effected The Times, Saturday, Nov 28, 1931; pg. 17; Issue 45992</ref>
George Lanchester was kept on as a senior designer and Frank became the Lanchester sales director. The great years for Lanchester were now over and the models were generally overlooked by the company in favour of Daimler models. The first new offering, still designed by George Lanchester, was the Eighteen with hydraulic brakes and a Daimler fluid flywheel. The Ten of 1933 was an upmarket version of the BSA 10. The pre-war Fourteen of 1937, known also as the Roadrider, was almost identical to the longer Daimler DB17 with its 1.6-litre six which anachronistically had a fixed cylinder head until 1938.
The then Duke of York, a repeat customer during the 1930s, preferred this less showy version of Daimler cars and took delivery of a pair of specially built Daimler straight-eight limousines with the Lanchester grille and badges.
Post war, a ten-horsepower car was reintroduced with the 1287 cc LD10 which didn't have a Daimler equivalent and the four-cylinder 1950 Fourteen / Leda was upstaged in 1953 by a six-cylinder Daimler version called the Conquest.
The last model, of which only prototypes were produced, was called the Sprite and in 1956 the Lanchester name was phased out.
The parent company, Daimler, was in decline and in 1960 was absorbed by Jaguar (car)|Jaguar]], who used the Daimler name in the same way Daimler had used the Lanchester name. Both became victims of badge engineering in their last years of production.
Ford's acquisition of Jaguar Cars in 1989 included the rights to the Lanchester and Daimler brand names.
The rights to the Lanchester brand name passed to Tata Motors in 2008, along with the Rover and Daimler brand names, as part of a deal reached with the Ford Motor Company to acquire their Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) business, as announced on 26 March 2008.
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