1904 Imperial Touring Car, MOSI


As the 19th century waned, the rising technology was the new ‘motor car’; undoubtedly the earliest companies producing ‘automobiles’ such as Benz in Germany and Peugeot in France had a substantial lead over their rivals, but small bespoke manufacturers of this new-fangled horseless carriage were springing up everywhere. One such company was the grandly-named Imperial Autocar Manufacturing Co. Ltd of Rusholme, Manchester. Founded by William ‘Billy’ Turner in 1900, Imperial’s registered offices were at 6 Faulkner Street, but its works were in the former Manchester Corporation Tramway Company’s horse tram depot on Erskin Street. Two models were introduced in 1901, a two-cylinder, 3 1/2 hp model with the engine located under the front seats, and a 6 hp two-cylinder car, which had the engine located in a more conventional position at the front. Like all cars built during this era, each vehicle was built to the customer’s own order, with the chance to specify body style, fittings and other features determined by the individual customer, in many cases.

For 1902, Imperial offered ‘The Imperial Tonneau’, an open, four-seat tourer with a 7 hp engine, direct gear drive (three forward and one reverse) and what was described as ‘automatic lubrication’. Advertising material made a great deal of the fact that the car was fitted with ‘Michelin Pneumatic Tyres’, but they were still fitted onto wooden, ten-spoked, ‘spoke shaved’ wheels, harking back to the days of horse-drawn carriages. The car weighed ‘9 cwt’ or nine hundredweights (equals 9 x 112 lb = 1,008 lb). Some of the promotional claims included ‘Minimum of Vibration. Maximum of Comfort. Will Climb Any Hill.’

The cost of this car in 1902 was £200. This is equivalent to $28,400 at today’s prices, but must be set against the fact that you could hire a maid for around $200 a year at this time! Cars were clearly only playthings for the rich. However, Imperial cars performed well in various races and trials of the day. A specially built 5 hp model competed in the 6th Annual Liverpool Road Trial in 1902, comprising an 83 mile course, Liverpool – Blackpool – Liverpool. It completed the course (no mean feat in that era) taking 3 3/4 gallons of petrol and no less than 4 1/4 gallons of water! On the Cemetery Brow Hill Trial Test, the Imperial got to the top, at an average speed of just over 6 miles an hour.

In total, Imperial made about 150 cars, offering both two and four seaters, until 1912 when they began to concentrate on sales and servicing of other makes of vehicle, and bespoke coachwork. Billy Turner died in 1947.

The car you see here, on display at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester (MOSI), is a 1904 Imperial touring car with a French ‘Lacoste et Battman’ engine, and is the only remaining example of the Imperial in the world. It has a tubular steel chassis, and was restored by one of MOSI’s volunteers, Mr. John Williams. Mr Williams said that most of the seals had perished, meaning that there were numerous oil leaks; also the oil filler plug on the engine block was hard up against the chassis, meaning that filling the car with oil was extremely difficult. There were numerous problems like this, due to the fact that cars of the period were made from ‘stock’ parts bought in from many manufacturers. Imperials, as with other ‘horseless carriages’, required constant attention in order to keep them running.

John Williams is to be congratulated for his fine work, and MOSI deserve praise for having preserved this unique survivor of the earliest era of motoring.

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