The Siddeley 18 h.p. has appeared on this website before, in Snapshot 14. The link between that Snapshot and this is clear: a test of endurance and reliability. In the early days of motoring such tests were a favoured means of convincing the public to sepend their hard-earned money on a car among so many confusing choices.
In Snapshot 14 there was a contest between the Siddeley and a French de Dietrich. Here in Snapshot 419 we see a different trial: in 1907, the Englishmen Bentley and Wells drove a Siddeley Autocar from the Red Sea coast to Addis Ababa. The route they took is uncertain: some reports state that they started at the Red Sea in Somaliland (part of modern-day Somalia) and travelled through Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia) to Egypt. Whichever route they took, it was a major undertaking. One account suggests that they had to tell people they were going through Abyssinia via Jaldessa but headed instead to Dewele, to mislead potential bandits. So this was a challenge of more than just rough roads and heat.
The picture shows Bentley at the wheel on his arrival in Addis Ababa alongside H.M. the Emperor Menelik II of Abyssinia, a leader who was fascinated by modernity and was keen to introduce Western technology and administrative methods to his country. He founded the first modern bank in Ethiopia, the Bank of Abyssinia, introduced the first modern postal system, signed the agreement and initiated work that established the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway with the French, and introduced electricity to Addis Ababa, as well as the telephone, telegraph, the motor car, and modern plumbing. No doubt, therefore, he would have been pleased to be seen in a motor car that was proving its durability and practicality in tough conditions.
There is remarkably little in the usual sources about the Siddeley Autocar. John Davenport Siddeley started in the Humber factory and had posts in the Dunlop and Clipper tyre companies, until in 1902 he formed the Siddeley Autocar Company in Coventry. His first cars were based on contemporary Peugeots, but he was determined to build a truly British car. This ambition led him to Vickers, who built the cars to his designs, using drawings made by the Vickers subsidiary Wolseley, whose managing director was Herbert Austin. When Herbert Austin left Wolseley in 1905 Siddeley took over as general manager of Wolseley. So this car should perhaps be called a Wolseley-Siddeley.
Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive: www.richardrobertsarchive.org.uk
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