1903 Vauxhall A719 980cc
Lot 203
Ordered new for Percy Kidner, Vauxhall Managing Director, one family ownership since 1904, believed to be the oldest known surviving Vauxhall,1903 Vauxhall 5hp Two-seater Light Car Chassis no. 0335 Engine no. 0335
Sold for £94,460 (US$ 157,224) inc. premium
Lot Details
Ordered new for Percy Kidner, Vauxhall Managing Director, one family ownership since 1904, believed to be the oldest known surviving Vauxhall
1903 Vauxhall 5hp Two-seater Light Car
Registration no. A 719
Chassis no. 0335
Engine no. 0335


  • Although long established in the general engineering business, The Vauxhall Ironworks Co. Ltd. of Wandsworth Road, London, did not begin motor car manufacture in London until 1903. The first cars were powered by a 5hp single cylinder, water-cooled engine of 978cc, mounted horizontally under the dash with its cylinder pointing to the rear. It adopted atmospheric inlet and mechanical exhaust valves and the engine speed was regulated by a centrifugal governor. Vauxhall's own spray carburettor was used and ignition was by coil and battery. Drive was via a two speed epicyclic gearbox (no reverse gear was fitted until the 1904 models) and final drive was by chain. Steering was by tiller and the little car weighed just 5cwt.

    An advanced feature was the stressed body/chassis construction, the new Vauxhall having a strip steel stiffened and reinforced wooden body serving as a chassis frame to which the engine, transmission, suspension springs and axles are directly attached – a feature almost universally adopted in motor car manufacture some 50 years later. Although many other manufacturers adopted proprietary components, or blatantly copied other manufacturers components, Vauxhall proudly boasted that the new 5hp model was designed and manufacture throughout in house. The new car was advertised for '130 guineas with Dunlop Tyres' and was to be offered as either a standard two seater model or a four seater with two passengers accommodated in front of the driver.

    Vauxhall's works order book shows that car no. 0335 was ordered on 6th November 1903 for Vauxhall Director, Percy Kidner, and it was noted that it was to be at a director's price. It was to be a standard model, liveried in cream with red lining, equipped with a pair of Dietz sidelamps and an acetylene headlamp with generator. This car is illustrated in the Autocar of 23rd July 1904 (p.105) in connection with an article recording a run of 156 miles in 8½ hours carried out in November 1903 in a Vauxhall driven by J.R.Windout, although we do not feel that this run was accomplished by Kidner's car as the report refers to mileage accomplished with three up, suggesting that run was by a four seater car. We feel that Autocar may have used a library photograph.

    0335 clearly remained in Kidner's ownership from November 1903 until April 1904, the car being sold by him then to Dr. Dudley Bernhardt, MRCS, LRCP, of 45 Bell Street, Marylebone, London, in whose family ownership the car, remarkably, has remained ever since. The original cheque paid to Kidner for the sale in 1904 is on file together with a note from Kidner to Dr. Bernhardt advising that he would give the car 'a general tune up and drive it over to you.'

    The remarkable history file with this car contains many invoices and records of repair and maintenance during the Bernhardt family ownership, along with Dr. Bernhardt's driving licence from 1903 and much more, and is well worthy of careful inspection. The car - London registered as A 719 - remained in use as regular transport until about 1920, during which time it was fitted with a 'modern-style' radiator and bonnet, no doubt to assist cooling but also to make the car look a little less antiquated – a common ruse at the time. The car remained laid up until 1948 when renewed interest was shown in the faithful family servant and in 1955 the car was loaned to The London Science Museum for exhibition, being considered truly representative of the early days of the British motor industry. At that stage The Science Museum re-commissioned the car both mechanically and cosmetically and, with assistance from Vauxhall Motors at Luton, re-fashioned the cooling system and bonnet to original specification. Replacement mudguards were fitted, the car was re-painted and the epicyclic gearbox rebuilt. It was noted that the 'Bernhardt lubrication system was re-installed' (referring to the two dashboard mounted lubricators).

    In 1956 A 719 was entered in the London to Brighton Run by The Science Museum, completing the event in just 3¾ hours at an average speed of 15 mph. In 1957 it successfully took part again with the Bernhardt family aboard. In 1965 this car was exhibited at Earls Court at The Jubilee Motor Show. The car remained on loan to The Science Museum for many years.

    Returning to the family's care, the car was the subject of a major refurbishment in 2001/2002, the work including reconditioning of axles and running gear, steering and engine and much besides. Invoices totalling £28,000 are recorded on file together with a detailed summary of the work carried out. The car has seem minimal use since that time and a new owner will be required to carry out the usual careful re-commissioning prior to active use.

    0335 is presented in cream livery and equipped with Dietz sidelamps, as specified in Kidner's original order. It is furnished with brown leather upholstery and minimal dashboard equipment includes a petrol pressure gauge and four drip feed oilers, together with the aforementioned Bernhardt lubrication system. It carries a L'Autophone bulb horn (tube missing) and sports the finisher's medal from the 1956 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

    This is the first time this significantly important car has been offered on the open market for 108 years – since being sold by Vauxhall Managing Director Percy Kidner. Its history is truly remarkable and it represents in our opinion a landmark car in the history of one of England's premier motor car manufacturers.

Saleroom notices

  • We acknowledge research assistance from Vauxhall historian, Nic Portway, author of Vauxhall Cars 1903-1918. The upholstery is leather cloth - not leather.
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