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Lot 715: 1909 Silver Stream 18/24hp 3.1 litre Roi-de-Belges Tourer

Collectors' Motor Cars, Cycles & Automobilia, Bonhams (30 April 2007)

Philip T. Somerville-Large was born into a privileged family in County Kildare in 1848. Inspired by rapid developments in the industrial, scientific and transport fields, he took up a career as a civil engineer venturing to India as a 21 year old to work in the field of railway construction with the India State Railway. In 1897 ill health caused his retirement from his senior position as Superintending Engineer and, following a brief break, he later accepted a similar position in China, this position again being vacated soon after because of ill health. He returned to his home in Kilcullen in Co. Kildare but his active and fertile mind demanded a new project. He had already taken an active interest in the development of the motor car and indeed is said to have owned a De Dietrich 16/24hp motor car in 1906. His careful study of motor cars generally convinced him that he could build his own car to a better specification, improving on engineering design that already existed, rather than innovating. In this respect there was a close parallel of minds with Henry Royce. Somerville-Large decided in 1907 to carefully research the possibility of building his own car, diary notes kept by him carefully recording the expected needs for establishing his own manufacturing business. Somerville-Large’s note book documenting his plans and investigations survives and is offered with his Silver Stream motor car.

Somerville-Large embarked upon a fact finding exercise, involving gathering catalogues and specification details relating to chassis and all mechanical components required to build a motor car. His researches were thorough and Europe-wide and all of the technical brochures and literature which he amassed are offered with this car. His standards were high and broadly speaking only the highest quality and the most expensive items were selected. Essentially the finished product is an Anglo-French hybrid, meticulously assembled by Somerville-Large in Ireland. It can be no coincidence that the construction of the car took place during the period 1907-1909, a time when the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was establishing its credentials. Our intrepid designer no doubt set his standards at those levels and aimed to enter production in Ireland with a car of similar quality.

The chassis he chose was from the French manufacturers, Malicet et Blin, a shaft driven Type 53 unit on a 10ft wheelbase, ordered to Somerville-Large’s specific instructions. He turned to Soc. des Moteurs Gnome for the engine, choosing a six-cylinder type 6DMB unit with a bore and stroke of 85 x 90mm and a cylinder capacity of 3,065cc. That engine cost £67.10s. A German Bosch DR6 dual ignition magneto was chosen. A single Dosan carburettor provided the fuel feed and the only significant modification to the car in more recent years was carried out by Denis Lucey who tracked down a similar carburettor at the Beaulieu Autojumble, converting the car to twin carburettors and thus providing a more balanced fuel feed to all cylinders. (PTS-L. would have approved). A Hele-Shaw multi-plate clutch provided drive to the four-speed gearbox. The coachwork design in Roi-de-Belges style was conceived by Somerville-Large while holidaying in Switzerland. After much research Salmons of Newport Pagnell were commissioned to construct the coachwork, a task which they completed in just three weeks at a cost of £60. The blueprints for this design survive and come with the car. The Roi-de-Belges coachwork design embraces a removable rear tonneau which can be replaced with a platform ‘mother-in-law’ rear seat. The hood and windscreen are to a design and manufacture by Lowe, Bevan & Co. of Birmingham, the hood arrangement allowing for either two seat or four seat configuration. The total cost of the car for materials alone amounted to some £370, by no means inexpensive, and with notional labour costs added on the finished car would not have been commercially viable had series production commenced.

The car remains in outstandingly original condition, having been acquired by Denis Lucey direct from the nephew of its designer and builder. It is superbly liveried in aluminium paint finish, as specified by its builder and retains most of its original blue leather upholstery – ‘Harts leather – best horse hair stuffing’ – as specified to Salmons of Newport Pagnell. The Silver Stream is equipped with nickel fittings throughout including CEJ of Belfast acetylene headlamps, Frankonia oil side lamps with auxiliary smaller ‘get-you-home’ side lamps, carries a Royal Irish Automobile Club radiator badge while dashboard instrumentation includes a clock and seven dash oilers. The nearside running board carries an acetylene generator box by the Acetylene Illuminating Co. Ltd. of South Lambeth Road, London. Other essential touring equipment includes a running board toolbox, spare wheel and rear luggage carrier.

In short, here is a luxury motor car, built to the highest standards from the finest components – the Irish-conceived and built car that came so close to entering production but yet remains the one and only example to be built. The history file and all documentation with this car bear the closest inspection as they record in extraordinary detail one man’s dream – indeed more than that - to produce the finest Irish-built motor car of its time.

Lot Details
Auction Collectors' Motor Cars, Cycles & Automobilia
Bonhams, RAF Museum Hendon, London
TypeCar
Lot Number715
Estimate£60000-£80000
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£130000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£144500
Year1909
Condition rating0
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis number
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors