RCL Exclusive

This Two-Seater Is the Oldest DIY Project on Four Wheels

The turn-of-the-century model was built using monthly magazine instructions.

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“I got it one piece at a time
And it wouldn’t cost me a dime
You’ll know it’s me when I come through your town
I’m gonna ride around in style
I’m gonna drive everybody wild
‘Cause I’ll have the only one there is around.”
FromOne Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash

In that Cash tune, the protagonist assembles a one-of-a-kind Cadillac by permanently borrowing pieces off the assembly line and taking them home from his job at the General Motors plant in Detroit via his extra-large lunchbox.

It takes a quarter of a century to accumulate all the parts, but by the end of the Billboard hit the singer has a unique “psychobilly Cadillac” made up of components from a number of different Caddy models.

And the best part is that it cost him elbow grease but no cash.

While it was built legally and for a slightly higher price point, the 1900 English Mechanic you see here was also built a little bit at a time by an aspiring motorist who was long on automotive ambition but short on funds. 

The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)
The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)

Published in a motoring magazine bearing the same name, the instructions for assembling the so-called English Mechanic were released in a series entitled “A Small Motor-Car and How to Build It.”

Including diagrams, written descriptions, engine drawings, and cylinder cast patterns the series released the instructions for constructing the car over a period of 31 weeks.

Like the front picture on a box containing puzzle pieces, the schematic for the DIY car showed a simple two-seater with single-cylinder horizontal motor and a belt transmission meant to be quieter than a gearshift model.

The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)
The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)

“While fully recognizing the desirability of having plenty of power, yet it must not be forgotten that a very powerful motor mounted in a light car gives rise to unpleasant vibrations and tends to shake the carriage to pieces very rapidly,” the author wrote. “Therefore, for our carriage, which is intended to carry two persons only, I believe the happy medium will be a three-brake horsepower engine.”

Originally anonymous, the author was building his own model of the vehicle at the same time as his readers using the same instructions. As the project went along, the author revealed himself to be 29-year old engineer Thomas Hyler-White and also made subtle tweaks to the design as he discovered flaws in his original instructions.

The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)
The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)

As you might expect, construction on many of the DIY models was halted at some point during the 31-week process and many of them were never finished.

That wasn’t the case with registration no. A 166 and it is the oldest-known surviving English Mechanic that is still in one piece.

In addition to the way the car was built, that’s also somewhat surprising thanks to the way it was found in 1921 after being abandoned. Discovered in a field in Kent, the classic model had a tree growing through its chassis.

In order to move the car, lumberjacks had to be called to remove the tree.

The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)
The 1900 English Mechanic which is headed to auction on November 2. (Bonhams)

Hitting the market for the first time publicly across the pond on November 2 at a Bonhams auction, the car will take part in the London to Brighton Run – the world’s longest running motoring event -on the 4th.

Featuring an engine that was rebuilt within the last year, the DIY model is expected to fetch anywhere from $84,000 to $110,000.