1900 LIVER 3½ HORSEPOWER PHAETON
Registration No. Not Registered
Car No. None
Engine No. 2149
Maroon and black with yellow coachlining.
Engine: Benz horizontal single-cylinder, 1045cc, transmission by belts giving two forward speeds plus 'Crypto' extra low gear with final drive by side chains; Suspension: semi-elliptic front and rear; Brakes: foot operated to rear hubs and handbrake, 'spoon' on rear tyres; Steering by tiller; solid rubber tyres.
William Lea was the Benz agent for the Merseyside area of Britian at the turn of the century. In 1900 he decided to build an English version of the Benz at his Birkenhead works, but using the heart of the machines he had previously been selling - an original Benz engine.
The magazine The Motor Car Journal commented in December 1900: Mr Lea produces two types of 'Liver' cars. These are fitted with genuine Benz motors, but all other parts are of English make, including the body, frame, chains, etc. The smaller of the two cars is capable of carrying four persons at a speed from one up to eighteen miles per hour, and is claimed capable of transporting three persons up a gradient of one in four. The engine fitted to the car develops 3 bhp at a speed of 650 revolutions per minute.
It is not known how many cars of each type were made during 1900 and 1901 but this car is the only known survivor. William Lea went on to become a highly successful Darracq agent.
The illustrations in The Motor Car Journal, and at a later date repeated in The Autocar, show both the smaller car and the 6 horsepower vehicle fitted with substantial wooden artillery wheels. The car has Benz-like wire-spoked wheels suggesting, along with the Benz engine number, that the vehicle is one of the earliest of Mr Lea's products. Whilst having similarities to the Benz Velo which it closely resembles, such as primary drive from the rear-mounted engine to the countershaft by crossed belts running on loose and fast pulleys, electric ignition, side tanks for the cooling water and it is left-hand drive, there are differences. The angle-iron frame and cross members are not precisely the same as a Benz chassis, the iron work supporting the front axle is distinctive, as are both axles. The gear-change lever is outside the body, and the Crypto gear lever is mounted on the seat riser, on Benz these are both on the steering column. The curved compartment at the front houses the fuel tank and may originally have been furnished with a cushion to provide a seat for an extra passenger.
When found in the 1930's the car was thought to be a Benz Velo but during restoration by past-President of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, Nigel Bradshaw, the name J L Best was found stamped into the handbrake lever. This gave the clue that the car was not of German origins, despite the engine. Its location in Lancashire led to the William Lea connection and hence Liver identification. The car was given a 1900 date by the Veteran Car Club in 1961 and carries Dating Certificate number 899.
Nigel successfully took part with the car in the 1961 London to Brighton Run and drove it on five more Runs during the 1960's before disposing of the vehicle to a Dutch enthusiast, who took the Liver on its last London to Brighton in 1974.
When examined it was found that the engine turns freely and the rest of the car is in good condition and it should be but a matter of an hour or two to put it into running order. However, since the car has not been used for some time it would be wise to give it a thorough overhaul before venturing too far afield. It is currently fitted with a non-original spray carburettor, but reproductions of the Benz surface carburettor which it undoubtedly had when new are available and if so fitted would provide an additional lever for the driver to fiddle with!
This pretty Veteran is an early example from a British manufacturer, with a direct connection to the pioneer of the motor car - Carl Benz.