A relatively short-lived French marque, Gladiator produced motor cars from around 1896 to 1920, latterly as a division of Vinot et Deguingand. Société Gladiator had been founded in 1891 in Pré St Gervais by Paul Aucoq and Alexandre Darracq to manufacture bicycles, and a few years later was taken over by a British consortium headed by Harvey du Cros. The latter had recently bought Adolphe Clément's bicycle interests and the newly formed Clément-Gladiator-Humber company soon expanded its activities to include tricycles, quadricycles, motorcycles and automobiles. The first Gladiator cars were rear-engined, single-cylinder voiturettes boasting tubular steel frames and handlebar steering. They were also sold under the Clément-Gladiator name, Adolphe Clément being a prominent board member, as was the notorious fraudster Harry J Lawson.
By 1899, front-engined, Aster-powered models equipped with wheel steering had superseded the originals. Gladiator's biggest market was the UK, which was taking 80% of production by 1903, at that time running at more than 1,000 cars annually. Somewhat confusingly, similar cars bearing the names 'Clément-Gladiator' and 'Gladiator' were being made in the same factory, the essential difference being that the former had shaft drive while the latter were chain driven.
In Britain, Gladiators were distributed by the Motor Vehicle Company Ltd, which had been founded in 1899 by du Cros and S F Edge. Australian-born Selwyn Edge was a prominent figure on the emerging motoring scene in Britain and is associated with a number of makes including Napier (of which he was a director), Clément-Panhard and AC, owning the latter for most of the 1920s. He was also a pioneering racing driver, winning the Gordon Bennett Cup in 1902 at the wheel of a Napier and setting a new 24-hour record at the newly opened Brooklands track in 1907 that would stand for 18 years.
Ever mindful of the value of publicity, Edge entered his protégé, Dorothy Levitt, in various events in 1903 including the Southport Speed Trials, in which her Gladiator won its class. Levitt would go on to become the most famous and successful lady racing driver of her day, gaining the sobriquet 'Fastest Girl on Earth' when she set a new Ladies' World Land Speed Record in 1905.
Adolphe Clément resigned from Clément-Gladiator in October 1903, though the cars continued to bear his name for the next few years, and in 1909 the firm was sold to Vinot et Deguingand, which transferred production to its factory in Puteaux. From then onwards the two ranges became ever more similar until in 1920 the decision was taken to drop the Gladiator name.
Supplied new by S F Edge and similar to that driven by Dorothy Levitt at Southport, the 1903 Gladiator offered here is powered by a twin-cylinder engine displacing 2,250cc (rated at 10 horsepower), which drives via a four-speed gearbox and twin chains. The original owner was Mr Weeks, a bank manager in County Roscommon (now in the Republic of Ireland but at that time part of the UK) who used the car to travel around the local branches. Mr Weeks used the car up until 1910, while a Mr Henry Lyons of County Offaly is known to have been a subsequent owner. There is then a gap in the Gladiator's history until 1966 when it was discovered in Boyle, County Roscommon by the Matthews brothers, who were well know old car enthusiasts in Ireland at the time. They recognised it was a very early and important Veteran car and commenced its restoration. Sadly, a death in the family brought work to a halt and some years later the car passed into the ownership of a Mr Deale. He subsequently was appointed to the World Bank and had no time to devote to the project. Knowing of his interest in collecting and restoring Veteran and Vintage Cars, Mr Deale approached the current vendor, who fell in love with the Gladiator and had to have it. The car duly passed into his ownership in 1978.
The Gladiator's restoration commenced around 1986 and was completed by 1989 when the car entered its inaugural London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which it completed magnificently. Since then the vendor has successfully completed numerous Brighton Runs with the Gladiator, including the gruelling 2009 event. The car has also participated successfully in many other rallies including the 'Tuff Tuff' in France, the Gordon Bennett in Ireland and the Pioneer Run, etc, providing its owner with countless enjoyable trips over the course of the last 34 years.
We are advised that the Gladiator to original specification apart from two items: it has been fitted with a Zenith up-draft carburettor, and the governor weights have been removed to improve its performance on hills (the weights are with the car). The four-seater, side-entrance tonneau body is finished in blue with black leather upholstery, while other noteworthy features include Lucas side lamps and Lucas carbide headlights.
The archive image illustrated in the catalogue is of a similar car