HAD the manufacturers patented their many technical innovations and put the Armstrong car into production, pioneer motoring would have taken a different course.
But they didn’t. The result of their labours was a single machine which languished in an open-sided shed for more than a century.
Now the Armstrong graces the motor heritage gallery at Bexhill Museum. It shares the limelight with three other ground-breaking designs – the replica of the steam car on which M. Leon Serpollet won the 1902 Bexhill Motor Trials; the Bexhill-built 1957 Elva Mark III sports-racer and the electric car built by St Richard’s Catholic College students which took a class world land speed record in 1993.
Tantalisingly, the Armstrong could have advanced automotive technology at a stroke back in 1895, offering motorists:
*Electro-magnetic de-compressor for easier starting
*Automatic ignition advance and retard
It would also have offered electric lighting in an age when only all-electric cars had anything better than candle-in-lantern carriage-lamps.
That Bexhill Museum now has an invaluable new educational aid is down to the generosity of collector and Victorian car enthusiast Robin Loder and the good offices of his friend and fellow enthusiast Michael Kent. Mr Loder’s car collection was a key feature when he ran the famed Leonslee Gardens.
Since selling the gardens he has dispersed his car collection within his family. At the suggestion of Mr Kent, chairman of Old Town Preservation Society, Mr Loder offered Bexhill Museum the Armstrong on extended loan.
The unique vehicle – 10ft long, six feet wide and with a 6.5litre twin-cylinder engine – was man-handled into the gallery on Tuesday, October 2nd by curator Julian Porter, chairman John Betts and volunteers David Hughes and Brian Perry.
Schoolchildren were busily answering questions on what they has learned from their visit as the chairman thanked Mr Loder for loaning such an invaluable asset.
The boss of the Armstrong Tool and Die Company, of Connecticut, built a steam car. His son then countered with a petrol design. But the sole reference to the latter was in The Horseless Age magazine of 1896.
The car rusted forgotten until Mr Loder bought it just before the Millennium. The Smithsonian Institute spurned his offer of it so he imported it to the UK. A design which stood conventional engineering on its head came without a single technical drawing or instruction manual.
Mr Loder, who modestly describes himself as “a gardener, not an engineer,” and an engineer friend had to get themselves into the mind-set of the designers in order to return the Armstrong to working order.