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SNAPSHOT 251: 1906 Bradbury 4½-hp Tri-car

Bradbury motorcycles were manufactured in the firm’s Wellington Works, Oldham, between 1902 and 1925. They were both costly and noted for their fine engineering, and a good number of Bradbury machines are preserved in the hands of discerning members of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club. In acknowledgement of the name of their factory, the Duke of Wellington’s head proudly featured on the tank transfers of Bradbury machines.

As so commonly was the case, Bradbury came to motor vehicle manufacture from cycles and sewing machines, and as again often was the case, the firm gingerly and briefly put a toe in the water to test the opportunities for entering the market for larger motor vehicles. Our photograph shows a 4½-hp Bradbury with fore-car body, and as the Oldham CBC registrations are preserved by the town’s Local Interest Centre, we not only know that it was first registered to S J Mather of Manchester Road, Heaton Chapel, on March 28 1906, but its coachwork was painted maroon.

The large radiator between the front seat and the steering column, and the smooth contours of the engine cylinder seen down by the driver’s foot both prove that the engine was water cooled, and, further, that the firm must have used a dedicated power unit for the tri-car as their two-wheelers were air-cooled. The small steering wheel and the frame, generously-braced small-diameter tubing, are features in common with Ralph Jackson’s Century and, later, Eagle vehicles that concurrently were in production in Broadheath, Altrincham; perhaps some 15 miles away from Oldham, on the distant side of Manchester. Then, as now, manufacturers kept a close watch on the products of others in their field.

Other points of interest in our photograph are foot-boards for the driver, the bulb horn, seemingly attached to the rim of the steering wheel, and acetylene, motorcycle-type lighting. Final drive is by an up-to-date roller chain, most likely sourced from Hans Renold Ltd., of Manchester. The leathercloth or canvas apron would keep at least the lower half of the brave passenger fairly dry!

One might expect the Oldham records to include many such Bradbury machines, as is the case with Rothwell cars, also made in the town, 1902-20. This isn’t the case, and only two other 4½-hp Bradbury tri-cars are listed: BU42, issued February 13, 1905, and BU86 on August 22 1906. Georgano’s encyclopaedia quotes a start date of 1904 for these vehicles, and reveals that other bodies were available, such as a commercial version, presumably with a box of some kind aft; and, even more intriguing, the ‘Governess’, which – amazingly – would accommodate two adults and two children, with access by way of a front door.

A single 12hp Bradbury ‘Motor Car’ was issued with BU39 on January 14 1905. A guess is that this was a one-off experimental vehicle, as no other reference is known to a Bradbury car. Regardless, the records then state: ‘cancelled February 27, 1907’.

Posted in Stockport on July 27, 1906 to Miss Nellie Daniels, our postcard image carries a poignant penned message: “How do you like my new motor. Dear Papa took this photo the day before I had the smash.”

The picture and words of this Snapshot are courtesy of our wonderful and much missed friend John Warburton who passed away on Monday 20 January 2020. He had most generously provided many Snapshots over the years and modestly required no acknowledgement. We post this Snapshot in his memory and with gratitude for his kindness, knowledge and good humour. He sent us three more Snapshots, and we shall post these on occasions over the next weeks and months – always with an acknowledgement to him.

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