From the family of the late George Milligen and London to Brighton-eligible,1905 Gardner-Serpollet 18hp Type L Steamer with Tulip Phaeton Coachwork  Chassis no. 1013
Lot 320
From the family of the late George Milligen and London to Brighton-eligible,1905 Gardner-Serpollet 18hp Type L Steamer with Tulip Phaeton Coachwork Chassis no. 1013
Sold for £238,000 (US$ 394,545) inc. premium
Lot Details
From the family of the late George Milligen and London to Brighton-eligible
1905 Gardner-Serpollet 18hp Type L Steamer with Tulip Phaeton Coachwork
Registration no. AH 100
Chassis no. 1013


  • The late George Milligen was no ordinary Norfolk farmer. Born into a privileged family, his father being a successful industrialist, George’s decision to embark on a farming career was a bold one and from the outset he saw the advantages of mechanised farming at a time when the horse was still the most frequent sight on Norfolk farms. This foresight undoubtedly contributed to George’s success in his farming career and this in turn enabled him to indulge his passion for all things mechanical, provided that they intrigued his inquisitive mind. Around his East Ruston Manor Farm at Stalham, the mildly eccentric Milligen was a familiar sight in any one of his amazing collection of early motor cars, whether at high speed at the wheel of his 1929 Supercharged Mercedes-Benz SSK, tootling along in his 1909 AX Renault, keeping an interested eye on his neighbours’ crops, or more spectacularly keeping the pressure up on one of his steam vehicles, his collection embracing not only the 1896 Salvesen Steam Cart, now such a regular sight on Brighton Road, the 1909 15hp White Steamer or this highly spectacular London to Brighton-eligible Gardner-Serpollet.

    When Bonhams was favoured with instructions to offer The George Milligen Collection of Motor Cars, Steam Engines, Locomotives, Models and Automobilia, following George’s death in 2004, the family were to select especially the Gardner-Serpollet as one car to retain as representative of George’s passion for all things mechanical and steam in particular. Time moves on and with some reluctance this fine French steam car now comes to the open market for the first time in fifty-two years. Only one other surviving 18hp Gardner-Serpollet is listed in the current Veteran Car Club Members Handbook, that car being in long-term captivity in The French National Motor Museum at Mulhouse.

    Lord Montagu’s book ‘Steam Cars 1770-1970’ – co-written with Anthony Bird – perhaps best sums up Serpollet’s standing in the steam car world in the following terms:-

    “In effect, the steam car in France meant Serpollet and to the cognoscenti Serpollet was to the steam car what Lanchester, Bugatti, Maybach or Leland were to the petrol car …. Of the three principal steam cars of the Edwardian period Serpollet was the most advanced in the scientific sense; next to it in ingenuity and engineering refinement comes the White, but those who have driven both give the preference to the French car not only because it provides so clever an answer to the engineering problems but because it is rather less heavy in hand than the American machine.”

    Léon Serpollet had developed his multi-tube flash boiler in 1888, driving forward significantly steam vehicle technology and efficiency. With backing from fabulously wealthy American Frank Gardner, (who had built his own petrol-engined cars in Paris between 1898 and 1900), Serpollet was to spearhead steam car production on the European Continent. Early in the 20th Century Serpollets were making their mark in the great Continental City-to-City races, establishing a reputation for reliability, if not for winning speeds. In the Paris-Vienna Race in 1902 all five Serpollet cars entered completed the 615 mile race. In that same year Serpollet took the World Land Speed Record at just over 75mph and in hillclimbs Serpollet cars proved to be formidable competition. In 1904 Serpollet introduced the 18hp model, designed more in line with then current convention, the boiler remaining at the back of the chassis while the four-cylinder engine was placed longitudinally under a bonnet at the front behind a large circular condenser with the appearance of a petrol-engined car radiator.

    It was one of these advanced steamers that was bought by C W Wilding Jones of Hampton Old Hall, Malpas, Cheshire, believed to have been ordered from London agents, D J Smith & Co. Wilding Jones was no doubt much influenced by the striking quality coachwork of the Gardner-Serpollet, a feature of all coachwork on this marque from the very outset. The Parisian coachbuilders in 1905 still retained many of the attractive design features from the horse-drawn era. The history of this car prior to 1946 is not fully recorded but in 1946 it was in the ownership of one H Garrett Adams, passing in 1949 to Paul Fotheringham-Parker of Portman Square, London. In 1950 the car passed to Alec Hodsdon, steam guru and harpsichord maker of Lavenham, Suffolk, who also owned a 1900 Gardner-Serpollet previously owned by the aforementioned Garrett Adams. In 1957, a relatively youthful George Milligen prised this car out of Alec Hodsdon. George’s own notes record:-

    “Car no: L1O13 Engine no 1013 coach body tulip phaeton 5 seater by Labourdette. Acquired from Alec Hudson from Lavenham in Suffolk for £450 in 1957. AH 100 alloted by request in 1959. Heating of burner from cold by calor gas instead of methylated spirit”.

    Milligen was to campaign this car actively in the 1950’s and 1960’s and fitted a new generator in 1959, manufactured by Kirk & Co. (Tubes) Ltd of Paradise Street, Bermondsey, and incorporating stainless tubes. A new water tank was fitted in 1960 with an increased capacity of 24 gallons and therefore giving a total water capacity of 34 gallons.

    Milligen ventured furthest from home in 1959, participating in the VCC Scottish Rally that year in the Gardner-Serpollet. First hand reports to the writer record the Serpollet steaming strongly through The Trossachs, with Milligen on occasion delighting in his own personal pyrotechnic displays to the consternation of other competitors – but to Milligen’s personal great amusement. It was on that Scottish Rally, starting in Edinburgh and finishing in Glasgow, that Milligen visited the collection of John Sword at East Balgray Farm, near Kilmarnock, little knowing that from the two subsequent Sword Collection sales in 1962 and 1965 he would add significant cars to his own collection.

    AH 100 now has that fabulous patina that is only acquired from careful attention over fifty or more years in one ownership. Clearly a highly original car when it came into Milligen’s ownership, that originality has been carefully respected. The car was officially dated 1904 by the Veteran Car Club on 26th June 1950 – Dating Certificate No.908. That dating relied on the knowledge that this model was introduced in 1904. Serpollet records which have subsequently come to light suggest that this car, although being the 1904 model, was in fact manufactured in 1905. The Dating Certificate records the fitting of a White two-speed rear axle, presumably work carried out by Hodsdon to enhance the car’s performance. The coachwork is liveried in vertical green and black striping (peculiarly referred to as Dutch Pink), with fine red coachlining. Driving equipment includes a two-piece mahogany and brass windscreen, a cape cart hood with roll-forward cover for the chauffeur, a brass rear-view mirror and a vertical, double-twist brass bulb horn. Forward illumination is provided by an outstanding pair of Polkey oil headlamps with Frankonia oil side lamps. Dashboard equipment includes a Watford 0-60mph speedometer, a Royal Motor Clocks eight-day clock and the essential pressure and steam temperature gauges to regulate ultimate performance.

    Like all cars from the Milligen Collection, the Gardner-Serpollet comes with a detailed notebook from George recording all trips from 1959 – 1963. It is noted that the car participated in the London to Brighton Run in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1990 and was prepared for the 2001 London to Brighton Run, although did not appear because the transporting vehicle broke down. With this London to Brighton Veteran Car Run history and its previous VCC Dating this car qualifies under present rules for ‘Grandfather Rights’, enabling it to participate in London to Brighton Veteran Car Runs.

    Here is a well-known and distinctive steam car, featured in Georgano’s Encyclopaedia, Bird and Hutton-Stott’s ‘The Veteran Motor Car Pocket Book’ and many other motoring publications. Few contemporary cars have the presence or performance of this steam car and opportunities to acquire cars of this significance rarely arise. AH 100 has not seen use in very recent years and like all steam cars will no doubt require the most careful safety checks in all mechanical areas and the usual careful recommissioning prior to use. It is offered with a copy of the VCC Dating Certificate, Swansea registration document, an old style buff logbook and other related documents and photographs, together with various notes on steam cars from Milligen’s files, the aforementioned notebook and the all-important George Milligen provenance. A further box of Gardner-Serpollet related items has recently been located and can be collected by arrangement with the vendor.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note there is only one sidelamp with this car - as photographed on page 49
Auction information

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