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Simplex Car Comes Home to Sheffield

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Simplex Car Comes Home to Sheffield

In the early 1900s there were nine car manufacturing companies in Sheffield.  The Sheffield Simplex Motor Company was based at Fitzwilliam Works in Tinsley and received financial backing from Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse who thought that Sheffield could produce the finest cars in the world.

In 1908 the first cars to bear the Sheffield Simplex name were manufactured to a design by Percy Richardson.  In 1913 The Times named the Sheffield Simplex “one of the best and most remarkable vehicles available, representing the highest point to which motor design has yet attained.”

In subsequent years, several models were produced until the early 1920s. During the First World War, the company made armoured cars (at least two were shipped to Belgium and Russia), ABC Wasp and Dragonfly aircraft engines and munitions.

It is estimated that around 1500 cars were made in the company’s history however only three of these cars still exist today: a 1908 open bodied gearless car, a 1913 car with an open four door deluxe cabriolet body and a 1920 car that was the prototype that would have gone into production if the company had survived the post First World War austerity.

We are fortunate to have the 1920 car on display at Kelham Island Museum along with other lone examples of Sheffield car manufacturing past.  The museum also has examples of motorcycles and holds the original engineering drawings from the 1908 Sheffield Simplex gearless car.

The 1913 car is on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Perth, Australia.

The oldest car from 1908 is about to be lost from these shores, possibly for ever.  It is currently privately owned and for sale.  The car was originally exported to Australia in 1910 and has had a colourful history – it was used as a taxi in Sydney, as a lorry delivering bricks to building sites in Adelaide and the engine was used to drive a water pump on a sheep station.  In the early 1980s the car was bought by Lord Riverdale, shipped back to England in pieces and completely restored at a cost of over £85,000.

For a limited time, until early April, visitors can now see the 1908 Simplex on display at Kelham Island Museum alongside the 1920 model.

Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust is hoping to raise the £100,000 needed to purchase the car to add to the Trust’s collection.  The Museum’s policy for the 1920s Simplex is to keep the car roadworthy and used to outreach to promote the Museum.  It is hoped that we would do the same with the 1908 Simplex.  The cars could become the focus of one of our many school sessions around STEM subjects, aimed to inspire the next generation of engineers.

If you can help us bring the Simplex home to Sheffield then please get in touch! Email e.foster@simt.co.uk

Posted in Exhibition | Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust | Kelham Island Museum

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Liz Wade

I've just read with dismay the article in this weekend's Sheffield Telegraph regarding the potential loss of the 1908 Simplex from Kelham Island. My grandfather served his motor engineering apprenticeship in the early 1900s at Sheffield Simplex. As a proud present-day Sheffielder I feel a connection to this historic and rare vehicle as an example of this City's fine engineering heritage. I surely can't be alone with this feeling. I am sadly not a 'rich benefactor' which it seems from the article is viewed as the only way for the Simplex to be saved for the City. I would however have contributed to a crowd fund had this been attempted and publicised. Is it now too late for you to reconsider this? Liz Wade.

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