c.1910 PHOENIX 8-10HP TWO SEATER
Registration No. EL 1257
Chassis No. 63
Engine No. 836
Orange and green with maroon mudguards and chassis
Engine: vertical, transverse, two-cylinder 90 x 100mm bore & stroke, 1,275cc, water-cooled, with pressure lubrication, and dual ignition; Gearbox: 3-speed and reverse driven by Reynolds silent chain from engine, plate clutch, single Reynolds chain-drive to enclosed differential on back axle; Suspension: front and rear, semi-elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: rear-wheel and transmission brakes. Wooden artillery wheels. Right hand drive.
Phoenix was the name given to the first motorcycles made in 1900 by the expatriate Belgian, Jan van Hooydonk. He called them after the Phoenix Cycling Club, of which he was an enthusiastic member, and made them in premises in the Holloway Road, North London. The bikes were powered by Minerva engines, bought through the English Minerva agency headed by David Citroën, whose brother André was to become somewhat better known. Van Hooydonk was quite willing to publicly express his views on the merits of the Minerva engine when the rival Kelecom motor had been advocated by an interested party as superior, writing to The Autocar in 1902 in lofty tones to state: 'as a matter of business I buy the motor which, in my opinion, is the best on the market'. He could have added: 'because it has both valves mechanically operated'. Reminiscing about the early days, 'Ixion' of The Motor Cycle reported that van Hooydonk showed rather a pompous lack of humour when asked if his Phoenix machines regularly burst into flames, like the mythical bird that bestowed the name.
The motorcycles were a prelude to the Phoenix Trimo of 1903, a tricar with a basketwork seat for the passenger between the two front wheels, and a two-speed hub, designed and patented by van Hooydonk, who registered his business as Phoenix Motors Ltd in 1904. A steady progression of vehicles ensued, quadcars still with the passenger nearest the accident, then more normal four-wheelers that continued to exhibit their motorcycle origins, with more conventional looking cars appearing in 1908. There was a constant in this progression: chain drive both to and from the gearbox. It was really only in looks that the cars seemed conventional, for they had a transverse engine - still provided by Minerva, so van Hooydonk's views hadn't changed - whilst their pyramidal-shaped radiators were distinctive. The firm moved its manufacturing to a new factory in Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire in 1911 and remained in business until 1926.
The 8-10hp model was marketed from 1909 through to 1913, with steady up-datings, at a price of £195 for the complete car including hood, windscreen, and lamps, and was advertised as: 'The Little Car with the Big Heart'.
This example has long been regarded as being of 1910 manufacture, but it should be noted that Bournemouth County Borough issued the registration early in 1912, and a 1911 date seems more likely. It has been known in the veteran car world since at least 1946, appearing in the VCC's first list of 'Members and their Cars' as belonging to a Mr E.R.H. Hill of Ockley in Surrey. It still carries a tax disc, but unfortunately it expired on the 31st December 1948.
The car appears to be mechanically of the correct specification, and interestingly the engine is marked Phoenix, not Minerva, a matter that warrants further investigation. Visually the car has a somewhat idiosyncratic colour scheme and it appears to have long ago shed its 'deep draft-proof doors' of which Phoenix made much play, and it lacks a hood and a windscreen. Nevertheless it does present an opportunity to acquire a car that offers something a little different with which to experience Edwardian-style motoring.