Four weeks left to keep rare Sheffield-made car at city museum

Engineer Keith Wall with the 1908 Sheffield-Simplex car at Kelham Island Museum. Picture: Andrew Roe
Engineer Keith Wall with the 1908 Sheffield-Simplex car at Kelham Island Museum. Picture: Andrew Roe

Time is running out to keep a rare Sheffield-made car on display in the city where it was built 110 years ago - as a call for help has not yet attracted any donations.

Kelham Island Museum is exhibiting a Sheffield-Simplex vehicle dating from 1908 that could leave the country unless £100,000 can be found to buy it before the end of March.

Engineer Keith Wall looks inside the 1908 Sheffield-Simplex car at Kelham Island Museum. Picture: Andrew Roe

Engineer Keith Wall looks inside the 1908 Sheffield-Simplex car at Kelham Island Museum. Picture: Andrew Roe

The open-bodied car - one of only three left in the world - is privately owned and up for sale, having been loaned to the city's Industrial Museums Trust, and presently sits beside another of the remaining trio, a 1920 prototype that would have gone into production if the manufacturer had survived the First World War. The later model has been part of the trust’s permanent collection for years.

In January the museum told The Star that donors were being sought to offer the necessary funds, as a crowdfunding appeal was not thought to be feasible. But technical services manager Eddy Foster said there had been little success so far.

"No rich benefactor has got in touch," he said. "We're keeping positive about it. There might be somebody like-minded out there to buy it for the museum, or just buy it and keep it in Sheffield so we know it's nearby."

Sheffield-Simplex cars were assembled at Fitzwilliam Works, Tinsley, from 1908, backed financially by coal magnate Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse who believed the city could produce the finest vehicles in the world. About 1,500 standard passenger models were made to a standard intended to rival Rolls-Royces.

The 1908 car was exported to Australia two years after it was built. It was used as a taxi in Sydney, delivering bricks to building sites in Adelaide, and the engine was removed to power a water pump on a farm.

In the early 1980s the vehicle was bought by steelmaker Lord Riverdale, shipped back to England and restored at a cost of more than £85,000. Its most recent owner, enthusiast John Thring from Pontefract, attempted to sell it on eBay and was offered just under £100,000 at a London auction.

Steve Myers, an expert who has written a book on Sheffield’s vintage motors, suggested the idea of bringing the car to the museum, and John agreed to give the trust some time to find enough money to put it in the Kelham collection.

Eddy said Steve gave a talk to members of the Wentworth Preservation Trust and representatives of Rotherham Council, in the hope the car could at least be kept in South Yorkshire given its links to Earl Fitzwilliam. "We didn't have any attendees that might have had any sway over pledges. It was a nice talk, but they were the sort of avenues we were leading towards."

He said a crowdfunding campaign would struggle 'while there's Weston Park Hospital, and the children's hospital, and stuff like that'. "It doesn't tug at the heartstrings as much."

Eddy added: "It's been pleasant while one has been in Sheffield, and the other's been in Pontefract. In summer there have been a couple of events where they've met up. We might not see them together again. It's such a shame. I'm not going to get to have a drive in it, either."

The 1908 car was originally sold as a single-speed model in chassis form for £750. It has no gear box as such - instead it is fitted with two gears in the back axle - and has a top speed of 60.68mph, reaching 0-30 in 9.7 seconds.

The trust hopes to use the 1908 car for outreach work, as it does with the 1920 model. The third survivor, a four-door, deluxe type from 1913, is on display at a science centre in Perth, Australia.

"We're regularly tweeting the fact we've got two cars on show together to get people down, because time's decreasing now," said Eddy.