An Edwardian gem

The restoration of NER petrol Autocar to working order has taken many readers by surprise, some apparently unaware such a vehicle even existed. Chris Milner visited Stephen Middleton, who bought the derelict shell of the 1903 vehicle, and has overseen a dedicated team of experts during its lengthy restoration.

WHEN you first set eyes on the pristine North Eastern Railway (NER) petrol Autocar No. 3170, it’s hard to believe it was once a partially vandalised former holiday home which had sat in a North Yorkshire field 15 years ago.

The restoration to working order of this unique and historic vehicle is another remarkable tale in the history of preservation where ordinary people have proved anything is possible.

What is also remarkable is the fact the restoration of the Autocar has generally been under the radar, with little publicity in the mainstream railway press – until now.

Forerunner

Petrol Autocar No. 3170 and sister 3171 were produced by the NER at York works in 1903. Their 85hp Napier petrol engine drove a generator which provided electricity for the traction motors in what was a first for railway propulsion.

Immaculate NER Autocar No. 3170 and trailer No. 3453 at Bow Bridge on launch day, October 19. CHRIS MILNER

They were the forerunner of self-propelled units in use today, but also electric and diesel locomotives.

Considering this was 115 years ago, such developments were incredibly advanced for their time, particularly as steam very much ruled the roost. Such was the vision of assistant mechanical engineer Vincent Raven (he was not knighted until 1915) in pioneering alternative traction, the original drawings for the Autocar were signed off by chief mechanical engineer Wilson Worsdell,

Spending their working life around York, Selby, Hartlepool and the North East, the two autocars were re-engined a number of times during their relatively short life. A 225hp engine was installed in 1923, which allowed the vehicle to haul a non-powered trailer with a subsequent increase in passenger capacity. It was arguably the forerunner of the multiple unit.

However, by 1931, the LNER, which inherited all manner of odd pre-Grouping vehicles, had sidelined the pair, with No. 3171 scrapped and No. 3170 being sold off to become a holiday home at Kirkbymoorside.

Read more and view more images in the December issue of The RM – on sale now!

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