1914 HUMBERETTE 8HP TWO-SEATER
Registration No. CL 1534
Car No. E 6317
Engine No. 6377
Red with black upholstery
Engine: V-twin 84 x 90mm bore & stroke, 998cc, air-cooled with drip-feed lubrication and magneto ignition; Gearbox: three speed & reverse, cone clutch, shaft-drive to bevel back axle; Suspension: front, transverse semi-elliptic leaf spring, rear, quarter elliptic leaf spring; Brakes: rear wheel and transmission. Right hand drive.
Trying to establish who invented the cyclecar, and when, is about as fruitful as trying to determine who invented the wheel, and in the case of the cyclecar it is very much a case of 'it all depends on what you mean'. The Auto-Cycle Union (the motorcycle branch of the RAC) when it decided to define the Cyclecar complicated matters enormously by deciding on two categories: maxima of 1,100cc and 6.9cwt; and similarly 750cc and 5.9cwt. Fine perhaps for competition purposes, but it does not really define a cyclecar and it is probably more satisfying to fall back on the adage 'well I know one when I see one' and argue about the details over a pint.
Certainly the cyclecar was a well-established part of the motoring scene by 1912 and had evolved into a 'neither motorcycle or motorcar' species in its own right. Confirmation of this came with two events at the end of November 1912. One was the display at the Cycle & Motorcycle Show at Olympia of almost 40 different makes of cyclecar, the other was the launch of a new motoring magazine by Temple Press, publishers of The Motor, timed to coincide with the Show, called The Cyclecar. It sold 100,000 copies, at a penny each - those being the days when there were 240 of these to the pound.
That respected maker of quality motorcars, Humber Limited of Coventry, was at the Show, on Stand 52, displaying its Humberette that had been launched on the market in October. Humber described it thus: "The Humberette stands ahead of any other cyclecar. It is not a motorcycle on four wheels - but essentially 'a perfect car in miniature. '£125 complete.'' And it was not one of those flimsy construction, wire and bobbin steering, fibre-board bodywork, belt-driven cheap and cheerful lash-ups that some ephemeral hopefuls inflicted on the motoring public and in some quarters gave the cyclecar a bad name. No, the Humberette was properly designed and constructed, it even had rack and pinion steering, and the following year approached nearer to the elusive perfection that Humber claimed when a version with a water-cooled engine was offered - which lowered the decibel level somewhat.
This example carries the supplier's plate of R.O. Clark, Motor Engineer, 2A Upper King Street, Norwich, where he had a motorcycle sales agency and workshop. The car was originally registered on 20th May 1914 with Norwich County Borough Council. Its continuation log book states that by 1954, the car had moved to Brigg, appropriately in Humberside (!) and was the property of Alfred Steeper. Four further changes of ownership are noted, the car moving to Lincoln, Birmingham and Bedford by 1961, after which it was acquired for the collection.
Apart from having been re-painted at some stage in its life, it is about as authentic as it is possible for a motor vehicle of this age to be. All the mechanical elements are correct, the bodywork, mudguards and valances, screen and hood are as period illustrations show, and the dashboard with it minimal instrumentation, lubricator, and filler caps, is exactly as the first owner would have seen it as he puttered busily along the Norfolk highways in 1913. The Humberette has spent many years on exhibit at the Ramsgate Motor Museum where it has greeted visitors at its entrance. Suitably re-fettled there is no reason to think that such motoring could not be enjoyed with the car today in the right environment.